Save the Cat!® – The New Bible for Self-Publishing
Our thanks to the wonderful Sharon Page, the USA Today bestselling author of 15 books of historical romance. She is the two-time consecutive winner of the RT BOOKreviews Reviewers’ Choice award, and a double nominee this year for her 2011 releases Engaged in Sin and Blood Wicked. She is also a two-time consecutive winner of the National Readers’ Choice Award (for romance fiction). Sharon is a frequent workshop presenter at Romance Writers of America and Romantic Times conferences. Her educational background is in product design, working many years for a structural engineering firm before turning to writing. Her current self-published release is Sinful. In Spring 2012, she will be releasing Escape with a Rogue, the first book in the Regency Prison Break series. Her website is www.SharonPage.com.
I’m a USA Today bestselling author of 15 books for three publishers and I am branching out into self-publishing. For those who haven’t heard about the rise of self-publishing, it involves selling books yourself on sites including Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, etc., in digital and print, for a royalty rate of up to 70%. Many published authors are taking the plunge: either exclusively self-publishing, or combining it with their work contracted with major New York houses.
Why is self-publishing so cool? I believe it is because suddenly authors can take control of their careers. Authors now have another viable, author-friendly, flexible publisher: themselves. We have a distribution network we can tap, checks that come monthly, and we can schedule our own book releases. This is the first time in years I have seen so much excitement, drive, and enthusiasm amongst novel writers. You can write hard, get your product out there (immediately), and see if you can make money.
Personally I still love working with a skilled editor and having another enthusiastic voice involved in my work. But I also think it is great to self-publish to keep your name out there and have another income stream. So how can you do it and succeed?
This is where Save the Cat!® is my bible for self-publishing. When you put up your book, here is what you “get” to describe your story and make it stand out:
*A cover and a title
*A short description (under 400 characters)
*A long description (4000 characters)
The logline as explained by Blake Snyder? That becomes your 400-character short description. And it can be the first paragraph of your long description. This is where you must narrow in on what the hooks are of your story… and of your genre. Once again, your logline is your key piece of marketing. It must do everything explained in STC!: it must tell you which “guy” you are rooting for; it must give the reader a mental picture of what the story could be; and it identifies the audience (thriller, romantic comedy, sexy historical romance, etc.).
Don’t forget irony, which is really important here. I think the irony gives you the “narrative drive” of the story, which is so critical to the logline. Narrative drive in romance is the plot framework you are hanging the romance on.
I write historical romance, so what is an irony in historical romance? Here is an example from my latest book Engaged in Sin (this one was published by Dell in November):
A blinded duke falls in love with the courtesan sent by friends to give him ‘sexual healing’, but she is hiding a secret—she is wrongfully accused of murder.
The irony: a duke’s love means a life of happiness, ease, and luxury for the courtesan on the run, but she can’t accept it under false pretenses. The plot of the book is right there in the irony. Love must grow, truths must be revealed, a murder must be solved.
I mentioned getting the hooks of your genre, but first I want to point out the importance of the killer title:
We “get” fairy tale tropes and they are popular, which is why you see romances titled To Tame a Beast (Beauty and the Beast), or Mine ’Til Midnight (Cinderella). Titled men are popular in historical romances, so you get The Duke and I, How to Marry a Marquis, or If You Give a Girl a Viscount.
Harlequin has romance titles in their series that make people laugh—or cringe—but they work to get the “high concept” of the story right in the title. We may make fun of The Billionaire’s Secret Baby Christmas, but we can ‘see’ what the story is about, i.e., what story we are buying.
In self-publishing, as with all publishing, you want to get that hook right in the title. Engaged in Sin is one of my favorite titles that I developed—it is playful, it promises a marriage, and the story is about a hero and heroine who have sex first and fall in love after. My next self-published book, the first in my “Regency Prison Break” series, is called Escape with a Rogue. It’s about a prison break out, a heroine in the run with a prisoner, and romance, of course, is escapism reading.
Here is another great example: My author friend Teresa Morgan has broken into publishing via self-publishing. She writes “Sheikh books.” Previously, the only market was Harlequin. She decided to do it herself and now ranks at the top of the genre on Amazon. Her newest release is Sheikh with Benefits; her previous one was Handcuffed to the Sheikh. The hook is clearly stated. The reader knows what the book is about and the titles let the reader know that she will be getting an updated, edgier, sexier tone.
I also add key words to the title. My Amazon page for my current self-published release reads: Sinful (A Risque Regency novella), to say: this is exactly what you are buying.
What can you do with your product description—the rest of your 4000 characters?
Here you can use the Promise of the Premise. In this description, I include a short excerpt from the story, just a few paragraphs that show the Promise of the Premise. This is where you also want to know the “hooks” of your genre. In historical romance, we want to see the arrogant duke humbled by love. Or the sexually voracious rake tamed by love. Or the blinded, reclusive man healed. In Engaged in Sin, which has a blind duke hero and a courtesan heroine, the promise of the premise is the heroine’s seduction of the hero, but it is also the ways in which she heals and helps him. So the plot includes a scene where she helps the duke shave, and one where she takes him outside in a storm to learn that rain can give scope to his world.
A short excerpt can show how your book will deliver on expectations, and should show how you give them a twist of your own.
This is just a start. Basically, I find everything in Save the Cat! applies brilliantly to the brave new world of self-publishing, and it is my “go-to” bible for story development.
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