Wednesday, September 6, 2017

What Is Your Book's Unique Selling Point?

"So, what's your book about?"

"Well, it's a riff on the old pulp private detective stories. The main character gets dragged into a complicated web of mysteries, and he has to try to parse the truth from what his client, her enemies, and his old acquaintances are telling him is going on. It's kind of my homage to The Maltese Falcon."

"Why would I want to read that when I already have a Dashiell Hammett collection?"

"My book's take on Sam Spade is a demon pulled straight out of the lower hells by a witch who wants him to track down her lost soul."

"Shut up and take my money."

"He looked, rather pleasantly, like a blonde Satan."
There are millions of books on the market right now, and there will be thousands of new ones released by the end of the year. People only have so much time to read, and if you manage to grab that fleeting moment of someone's attention you need to pin them down with something that will hook their interest. To that end, you need to know what the most appealing thing about your book is, and you need to be able to explain it quickly, and efficiently.

In short, you need to know what your unique selling point is.

Where's The Hook?

A USP is, essentially, an elevator pitch that you give to potential readers. If someone is walking by you at a convention, or they've paused for a moment at a signing, how are you going to summarize the multiple years and hundreds of pages it took you to tell this story so they want to pick it up, and take it home with them?

While every book is unique, and special, there are ways you can shorten the pitch so it fits in a sentence or two. For example, "It's the Trojan War, but with space marines," is a description that would make me flip the book over to get the more detailed version. A description like, "It's your classic, macho shoot-em-up, but the protagonist is gay," might also turn a few heads from readers who like Mack Bolan, and who wonder what it would be like if he was into dudes. Maybe your book could be described as, "Lord of The Rings, minus the walking, and with ten times the body count."

Tell me more.
Your USP is about more than just pitching your book to readers, though. It's about knowing what niche you fill in your genre, and in the market. If you were writing fantasy books in the 80s, for instance, then you would know everyone and their mother was trying to be Tolkien. Just like how today you can walk down the fantasy aisle and see the thousands of bastard children George R. R. Martin has spawned. What makes you stand out from all those other books jockeying for space in stores, on shelves, and in customer reading lists?

Is it that your complicated political drama taking place in a fantasy kingdom is seen through the lens of a matriarchal society? Does it have a lot more onscreen sex, bondage, and gratuitous cod piece shots? Or is the cast of protagonists all the old-school, old guard of the world? Like if Tywin, the Queen of Thorns, Maester Aemon, and all the other old farts had been the people we were following around the whole time?

In short, your USP tells people what you're offering that they can't get anywhere else. Because it's not enough to just have a story, and write it down. You need to tell people why they should be reading your book, instead of going back to the authors they already know they like for their next hit of that dream stuff.

And before you go, a steampunk noir collection that takes you on a walking tour of The City of Steam!
That's all for this week's Business of Writing. If you like the work I'm doing, and you don't want to miss the next installment, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter? Lastly, if you want to chip in some support, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. All it takes is $1 a month, and you'll get free books on top of my everlasting gratitude.

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