Wednesday, January 19, 2011

5 Tips for Writing a Great Lead for a Textbook Proposal

The lead for a proposal should whack the editor upside the head with how great the book will be.

That's right, I said, "whack."

Too often I see proposal leads that sit there like a plain burger on a bun, when really, I should be seeing a burger congested with condiments.

Follow these five tips for making your proposal look yummy. (Hmm, I must be hungry.)

1. Make the first sentence shine

That first sentence is important. It tells the editor right away whether you know what you're doing. Be clear. Be focused. Get to the point.

Here are a few examples of solid lead sentences:

  • This book is meant to build on the quality and reputation of the current series of Notes books, as it applies to the medical student and junior resident interested in Dermatology. [Tells me immediately what the book is and where it fits.]

  • On a daily basis, medical office personnel at all levels in the health-care profession may come in contact with some form of medication. [Tells me why the content is important.]

  • The purpose of the proposed book is to serve as a clinical tool for medical assisting students through their clinical courses as well as their externship and employment in the medical setting. [Gives me a sense of the breadth of the market.]
I'd rather see more active verbs used in these example, but each one gets to the point quickly and helps draw me in. Speaking of active verbs…

2. Use active verbs

I can't say this enough. Active verbs pull the reader into the content and keep him going. Use them!

Instead of "This book will be used by medical assistant students to…," write "Medical assistants need this book to…"

Instead of "The goal of this text is to…," write "This book will provide…"

Instead of "The foundations of practice will be covered in the first chapter," write "The first chapter covers the foundations of practice."

See the difference?

3. Indicate the market

Describe in that first paragraph the specific markets the book will aim for. Don't say, "All healthcare professionals—doctors, nurses, even medical assistants!—will want to buy this book."

Not even Stephen King's books sell to everyone. His book sell to people who enjoy reading scary novels. People who enjoy biographies, say, might not find his books particularly compelling.

Your book will be the same way. It won't meet everyone's needs. It can't.

Ask yourself, If I could describe the perfect reader of my book, what would he or she look like? If the person would be a physician assistant, that's your main market.

4. Point out the academic level you're planning to reach

Many textbooks aim to reach entry-level students. The titles of these books typically include such indicator words as basic, fundamental, essentials, or some such. Same with texts geared for more advanced markets.

You may not include one of those indicator words in your proposed book title, but you should point out in the lead which level your book will hit or at what point in the academic cycle it will be used in.

5. Explain how your approach differs from others'

You may be thinking about writing a textbook because you believe that what's out there already doesn't meet your needs. You have something to say, a unique or interesting approach to teaching the content.

Explain that approach in tight, concise terms.

It's harder than it seems. That's why I ask potential authors to provide a vision statement for their book.

I explain vision statements as a modified version of what you would tell someone about your book if you were on an elevator and had only 5 or 6 floors to explain. The best vision statements communicate the author's rationale and philosophy and declare a promise of benefits to the reader.

You may want to craft a vision statement first and then put into the lead the "meat" of that statement.

OMG, I said "meat."'

I must be starving! Time for lunch.