Sell the Sizzle, Not the Steak


WEbook's Guest Author Series continues with Grace Coopersmith, author of Nancy's Theory of Style, which will be released on May 18. A bit about the book:

Lively, pretty young socialite Nancy Carrington-Chambers has always believed that an excellent sense of style and strict attention to detail are what it takes to achieve a perfectly chic life. Now, however, her own haute couture marriage is starting to resemble a clearance rack, as husband Todd manifests more and more symptoms of a dread disease—incurable tackiness.

And now, Grace writes about how to make your book sizzle!

Selling the sizzle My first job out of college was a publicity internship for a summer rep theater. I was young and had splendid ideas about standards and art, so I wrote stories about the plays’ themes, symbols, and historical context.

Oddly enough, my boss kept rejecting my pieces.

I was annoyed, so I dashed out a satirical promo story using every publicity cliché I could think of. (In those days, I didn’t split infinitives, but language evolves and so did I.) A jaded coworker who smoked too much, drank too much, and played the saxophone very badly grabbed the column before I submitted it. He sat me down and explained that we were selling the sizzle, not the steak. 

Learning what he meant was painful, but eventually I came to see using terms like “wacky, love-struck comedy” was not a moral failing. I discovered that I did not immediately turn to ash if I used exclamation marks and arbitrary capitalization. I found that I could take an ambivalent review and select individual words for a positive blurb, just as one might pick out the grilled prawns from an otherwise lackluster buffet.

Aspiring writers frequently ask me for advice on their agent query letters. A common problem I see is writers trying to tell every detail of the novel in a one-page letter. However, the agent is only interested in reading the menu now. The steak may be divine, but no one is going to order from crayon scrawl on a grimy sheet of cardboard.

The writers should be selling the sizzle. What makes this book different, irresistible, compelling? What makes the author different, irresistible, compelling? Does the writer have a blog with thousands of daily readers? Has the writer landed a plane in the Hudson River? Is the writer a member of a large cult with a lively book club? Is the writer involved with any organization that will assist in promoting the book?

No matter what stage you’re at with your book, you should begin working on the sizzle now. Start a website with a blog. Join online groups and clubs. Attend book signings. Go to bookstores and talk to the staff, who know what sells and doesn’t sell and why. Interview other writers. Submit articles and columns to your local newspapers and magazines. Promote others and provide advice.

And if you should get annoyed about something, imagine that you’ve got a jaded coworker nearby, reeking of booze and cigarettes and experience. He’d tell you to step away from the computer, play a hand of gin rummy, and calm down. Then get back to selling the sizzle. 

MAcostaGrace Coopersmith's novel, Nancy's Theory of Style, will be released May 18. She's been a frequent contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Contra Costa Times, and Spaces Magazine. She's a graduate of Stanford University, where she studied creative writing and theater. Under the name Marta Acosta, she's written the comic Casa Dracula series, which was a BookSense Pick and Catalina Magazine Humor Book of the Year. Simon and Schuster will publish Haunted Honeymoon at Casa Draculain October 2010.To learn more about her books, please visit her websites, and, follow her sizzle on twitter @GraceCoopersmit.

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  1. Sounds like a very fun, romantic read! Thank you for the review!

  2. I wonder if the "sizzle" needs to be writing related. For instance, if I ran a popular blog that was about off-roading or homestyle cooking, but still had a good following, is that still helpful on the agent/ publisher hunt?


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