Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t




Subscribe RSS

Subscribe to SPO.

What It Takes

What It Takes

Write Your Bio (a.k.a. an answer for Michael Beverly)

By Callie Oettinger | Published: June 10, 2016

What was her first bio?

What was her first bio?

In addition to ripping off chunks off Shawn’s work last week, I’ve stolen his spot this week to answer a question from Michael Beverly (See Michael’s full question in last Friday’s comments section.)

Do I think an author bio is necessary for a fiction author?

Necessary? No.

A good idea? Yes.

When I started writing tip-sheet (one-pagers about a book) copy for sales conferences, I learned how much bios play into sales.

The sales reps used these tip sheets to help sell the new season to book buyers.

Without having read the books, the reps would make decisions on which books to emphasize most during sales calls, based on two things: marketing/PR plans and author bios. The reps wanted the first bit because they knew it would grab the buyers’ attention — to confirm sales would be fueled. They wanted the second bit — the bio — to confirm the author had the chops and/or to fuel local sales.

Let’s break down the local and the chops.


Posted in What It Takes

What It Takes

What It Takes

Always Be Closing — A Promotional Steal

By Callie Oettinger | Published: June 3, 2016

Finest Kind.

Finest Kind.

I’m stealing Shawn’s May 27th post — lock, stock and barrel — for this week’s “What It Takes” post.

Last week, Shawn advised readers to “Always Be Closing” when it comes to back cover copy.

Take what he wrote and apply it to promotional copy, whether for pitch letters, e-mails, web site content, or whatever else you’re cookin’.

That book you’re happy with? Don’t kid yourself into thinking the heavy lifting is over. Outreach copy is up next. It might not be as long, but it can sandbag your book.

This is a fundamental mistake (yes, Shawn, I’m stealing…) publicists and authors make again and again. The book is well-written and beautifully packaged, and then launched with half assed promo copy.

A half-ass example I’ve used in the past hit in 2006, following the death of Enron’s Kenneth Lay. Though it was ten years ago, my memory of reading about the pitch is still as clear as if it hit yesterday. Memorable. The pitch was sent to various media outlets, by a publicist who was pitching a book and an author. One of the columnists on the receiving end of the pitch took issue with it and shared it on the pages of BusinessWeek magazine. The following is the beginning of the pitch:

One of the top reasons why CEOs get fired is “Denying Reality.” In milder cases, a CEO will quit rather than let a horrible truth puncture their fantastical views. Or they’ll blame their workers or board. They’ll craft all sorts of psychological defense mechanisms to avoid shouldering culpability.

One could argue in Lay’s case that the truth he would be forced to confront (bankrupt company, displaced workers, destroyed nest eggs, prison, etc.) was so horrible, and so unavoidable, that his body simply shut down rather than confront a terrible reality.

Lay’s death may be the equivalent of a child sticking their fingers in their ears to avoid hearing something bad. But a lot more final.

XXX is CEO of XXXX, a Washington, D.C. based management consulting firm.

XXX has some interesting thoughts on the demise of Ken Lay and how others can avoid his fate.

Please let me know if you would like to speak with him.

Thanks for your time.

The publicist traveled a bridge too far with that copy. Just because you can sometimes force a circle into a square hole doesn’t mean you should.

So what should you write? (more…)

Posted in What It Takes

What It Takes

What It Takes

Always be Closing

By Shawn Coyne | Published: May 27, 2016

So you’ve got a cover image that you’re happy with.

Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross...remember your ABCs

Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross…remember your ABCs

  1. The title and the image Yin and Yang around the territory of the global theme of the work.
  1. You’ve also got a solid short quote from a respected source and/or a respected figure in the book’s genre featured prominently on the front. Something like “The best book on extreme spelunking bar none!” –Lon Fuller

So you’re done right?


Don’t forget the back cover copy.

This is a fundamental mistake self-publishers make again and again.

They go all the way to the finish line and then they half ass the back cover.

Hey, I’ve done it myself. The back cover is the last battleground with book packaging Resistance. It’s the place when we just want the damn thing to be over with.

We’re exhausted. We went through 30 different cover ideas and almost destroyed our relationship with our designer.

We’ve burned every bridge possible calling in every favor we can to get advance quotes. Now we just want to get this sucker out in the marketplace so we can move on with our lives.

Totally understandable.

Now go have a cup of coffee and then close this sucker.  Burn through this last grind and don’t quit until you’re sure the copy is as good as it can be.

So what are you going to write?

  1. Keep it simple.
  2. Have a tagline at the top of the back cover.
  3. Do two paragraphs of body copy that explain the three stages of the book (beginning hook, middle build, ending payoff) in a dynamic way.
  4. End with an author bio (and perhaps photo too if you can make it look good).
  5. Realize that it will never be perfect…

So Steve has a new book at the printer now that we’ll be bringing out very soon. (Don’t worry all of our peeps who are part of First Look Access, which you can sign up for here, will get preferential treatment before it goes wide…)

What did we decide to use as our tagline at the top?


We’re cool honing in on that single simple eight-word pitch because the book is perfect for anyone who’s read, heard of, or is mildly interested in The War of Art.

Steve’s new book isn’t for everyone…so we didn’t try and pitch everyone.

Obviously, you don’t need to read The War of Art to go mad for the new book. I won’t spoil it here, but let’s just say it has a very provocative title.

So the trick for the back cover copy is to CLOSE THE SALE!

So one way to CLOSE THE SALE is to speak to people you absolutely know will be ready to buy.

Don’t try and convince people who aren’t inclined to turn over the book and read the back cover!

Because guess what? They haven’t even made the choice to read the back cover copy. And if you write your copy for those who don’t really care…you might turn off your core audience.

There is nothing more off putting than generic back cover copy written to no one in particular. A book is an invitation to deepen a person’s relationship to the author…even if they’ve never read anything by him/her before.

So write copy that speaks to the reader you know will love the book.

If you’ve written a thriller about online gaming…use language that online gamers use so that those people will see the book as authentic. Not some lame attempt by a 50-year-old editor trying to get a piece of that hot new market. The copy needs to sound like something the reader has heard tangentially in his chosen area of interest or something he understands deeply.

So for those two body paragraphs after the opening hook of the tag line…use the strength of the book’s theme as represented by its inciting incident to compel the reader to just BUY THE THING ALREADY.

“What if an insatiable killer shark starting eating Hamptons summer swells and the only person capable of stopping the shark is terrified of getting into the water?”

“What kind of man has the inner fortitude to defend a society’s scapegoats from the prejudice and tyranny of a nation’s starving underclass?”

“Is there ever a time to forgive an unforgivable act of malice?”

Use the story to sell the story.

Lay down the landscape of emotional terrain for the reader with a juicy question for them to ponder so that they “get it.” They’ll understand the genre the book is living in just from that question. They’ll understand the stakes involved in the story (the central value inherent in each external and internal genre must be conveyed in the back cover copy) and they’ll understand what generally the ending payoff of the entire thing will be just from that question.

What you need to do with the back cover copy is build up the reader’s expectations and make them promises that you will pay those expectations off in ways that they will never see coming.

Use the back cover copy to Close the sale. ALWAYS BE CLOSING.

And if the book delivers on those promises, it will be discussed among the lovers of that particular genre. And it will gain word of mouth. It will live.

Lastly, if you have a renowned author with incredible bona fides, don’t waste them!

Put his/her bio (and if they’re interesting and warm looking too…their photo) on the back cover so that anyone still not sure to try it will be convinced by this last bit of salesmanship.

The subtext of the bio/photo is “Dude, this woman or man is awesome…you’re not going to find an expert better than her or him…so buy it!”

And keep the whole thing under 250 words.


Posted in What It Takes
Sign up for first look access.

Enter your email to get free access to every new thing I do.

No spam, I promise!

Gates of Fire
The War of Art
The Authentic Swing
The Lion's Gate
Turning Pro
The Profession
The Warrior Ethos
Do The Work
Tides of War
The Afghan Campaign
The Virtues of War
Killing Rommel
Last of the Amazons
The Legend of Bagger Vance
Additional Reading
Video Blog