Lydia Yadi

Written by

Lydia Yadi

27 October 2021

Course

Lesson 3: Positioning Statement, Summary, Blurb

The Novlr step by step Guide to writing your non-fiction book proposal

This is part of our free non-fiction book proposal course written by Lydia, Senior Editor at Penguin Random House. To see all posts in this series, please click here.


In this lesson, we’ll look at four different things:

  • the function of a positioning statement and how to write one
  • why it’s important to identify a unique selling point (USP) for your book 
  • how you can use the positioning statement and USP to write a longer summary of your book
  • how a book blurb is different from the book summary

What is a Positioning Statement? 

A positioning statement is usually a one-sentence summary of what the book is that illustrates why it is going to sell. 

While you might find the idea of explaining your book in one sentence daunting at first, I assure you can do it and it is an important task. The publishing industry is essentially a book recommendation service where many different people pass on information about your book. Where there is a chain of people talking about the book, information and detail are going to be lost between each link in the chain.

As an editor, I might give a passionate 2-minute presentation to my colleagues in sales on why a book is amazing, my colleagues might then have only 20 seconds to pitch the book to a book buyer at a bookshop who is thinking about stocking the book, and then a bookseller when asked for a recommendation on the shop floor, will only have 10 seconds to convince a customer why they should buy said book.

No matter how big the scope of the book or how world-changing it might be, there is a leakage of information and detail over the course of a book’s journey, so it’s vital that you can sum up and sell your book in one line. A positioning statement communicates essential information about the book with impact.  

It is possible to sum up every great book ever written in one sentence: 

  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – Woman cheats on boring husband with dashing younger man. 
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky – Man kills landlady but is undone by his sense of guilt. 
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Woman thinks man is an arse but she falls in love with him when it transpires he isn’t. 

And some examples of recent non-fiction bestsellers: 

  • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari – A fascinating account of the history and future of our species by an acclaimed historian. 
  • Daring Greatly by Brene Brown – Ground-breaking research into the power of vulnerability to improve our relationships, happiness and work. 
  • Shoedog by Phil Knight – an inspiring and motivating memoir from the founder of Nike, for aspiring entrepreneurs and Nike enthusiasts. 

You might decide to include a short line on you and your expertise as in the Sapiens example, or include a short reference about the audience as with the Shoedog example. 

When writing a positioning statement for a non-fiction book, it’s often helpful to start with a question that your book is answering. This can help you explain what your book is addressing and offering the reader. 

Here are some examples of questions people might want answering with the books that answer and solve that issue:

Q: How do great leaders inspire people into action?

A book that answers this question is Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Positioning statement based on question – Start With Why explores how good leaders can inspire people into action by putting purpose at the centre of their company.

Q: Where can I find healthy, vegetarian and vegan food with interesting Eastern flavours? 

A book that provides this is East by Meera Sodha 

Positioning statement based on question – East is packed full with delicious and easy to follow vegetarian and vegan recipes that are inspired by classic and new Asian dishes 

Q: How can I argue with someone who holds strong opinions and is unwilling to be challenged in their views?

A book that answers this question is How to be Right by James O’Brien 

Positioning statement based on question – How to be Right is a hilarious and invigorating guide to talking to people with strong held beliefs which outlines the key questions you should ask people to reveal their fallacies, inconsistencies and double standards. 

Can you think of a question that your book is seeking to answer?

Now is the time to write your first chapter in Novlr. Give it the title “Positioning statement”. Have a go at posing a question that you think your book answers and then use that to write your positioning statement. 

Demonstrating the USP of your book 

By thinking about your positioning statement and why your audience needs this book, you may have figured out what your unique selling point (USP) is. Quite simply, your USP is what makes your book different from every other book that is out there already. And it’s usually connected to the subject, your audience or your expertise, or a combination of all of those.   

Some examples of USPs descriptions: 

  • Britain’s leading butterfly expert, looking at the history of butterflies and their impact on our planet for the first time
  • The creator and face of a new beauty trend taking the world by storm with 30k very engaged followers on Instagram
  • Exclusive access to sensitive material never seen before on the attack of Pearl Harbour
  • The first inclusive guide to parenthood for parents of all races, genders and sexuality, and all different types of family structures, whether adoptive or biological 
  • Authoritative biopic of Freddie Mercury’s life with sources very close to Freddie and all members of Queen

As you can see from the examples above, the USP of your book might be about you as a writer – your expert knowledge and the unique perspective you’re bringing to the subject because of your upbringing, background or training.

It can be about the style and content of the book, so the sources and materials you have access to and the approach you’re taking to writing.

It can also be about the market and audience, so related to the fact that there hasn’t been a book on this before and yours might be the first, or it might be a fresh or modern look at something, or an unbiased account or analysis than what has come before it. 

Whatever your USP, it’s important to highlight it in your book summary, which we’ll talk about in the next section. 

Writing a Book Summary

A book summary is a description of your book, which expands on the positioning statement. While the positioning statement is a one sentence pitch about your book, the book summary can be several paragraphs, usually from around 300 to 500 words. The positioning statement and book summary usually open the book proposal.  

In the summary, you can give the publisher more information about what your book will address and who it is for. But while this is longer than the positioning statement, it still has to be quite brief so it’s important to really think about what the most vital information is that you need to include in the summary. Note: there will be time for more detail in the chapter breakdowns which we’ll discuss in the next lesson. 

When it comes to the proposal, first impressions really count. Publishers might receive up to 15 proposals a week and this means if they aren’t grabbed within the first page or two of your proposal, they might put it down and not read on.

If the most amazing, important and exciting thing about your book is explained on page eight, a publisher might never learn it. The same logic applies to everyone else who will look at the proposal when it is circulated. Imagine that this brief summary is the only information the publisher might receive on your book. Would reading the summary alone get the publisher excited? 

What should a book summary include?

The book summary should include key information about what your book will address and why. It is a general overview of what your book will cover. It should explain what kind of genre your book is (cooking, business, psychology, history, politics, spiritual etc) and it should also explain what style you will be writing in and how you will be presenting your ideas.

For example, you should include if you will be interviewing people for the book, if you will be including case studies, original source material, maps, diagrams, images etc. If your book will be practical and instructional, will it offer takeaways, tips and things to try at home? Will it be written in normal prose, or will some information be presented in a more digestible format, like in bullet points, tables, lists and boxes broken out from the main text? 

It’s important to give a brief idea of what you will explore in each part or chapter of the book. It’s also good to outline what the reader will learn from the book and how they might feel after reading the book. 

Writing a book blurb

A book blurb is the description that is put on the back of a book to sell it to the potential reader. It is useful to include a book blurb in your proposal because it will show the publisher that you are able to write effectively for the target audience.

There are a lot of similarities between the summary and the blurb as essentially both pieces of copy are used to sell the book to someone – the publisher and the reader. So you will be able to use part of your book summary for the blurb. 

There are a few different features unique to the book blurb that you will want to consider as you are appealing directly to the reader, appealing to their emotions in order to convince them to part with their hard earned money and buy your book. Depending on the type of book you are writing, you might start your blurb with a direct question that engages with the reader or a problem they are experiencing.  

For example, for a practical parenting guide, here’s an example of an opening you might use for a book summary vs book blurb: 

Summary: ‘This book will guide parents through the emotional journey of parenthood and demands of balancing that important role with their career’.  

Blurb:  ‘Are you worried about whether your baby should be walking yet? Are you tired of feeling guilty when you leave your child for work? Do you wish you had more quality time with your children?’ 

Of course, it depends on the type of book you are writing whether you might want to employ this technique of speaking directly to your audience. If you’re writing a practical guide that solves a problem for a reader it’s helpful to engage head on with the issues they are facing. 

If you’re writing a non-fiction book that is more narrative focused (a story of Europe’s most famous bank robbery, a memoir of growing up in the Scottish Isles, or a history of Ballet) your blurb is much more likely to focus on the intricate and enticing details of the story, your research or exciting characters, rather than the reader.  

For example, If you’re writing a history of the Battle of the Somme with access to new sources, it’s unlikely you’ll be addressing your reader directly. With this type of book, I suspect your book blurb will be quite similar to your book summary and as such, you may not need to include a separate section on a book blurb if you don’t think it’s appropriate. 

Summary 

When writing a positioning statement make sure that every word counts. When writing your book summary make sure that all key information about your book is presented first and that the USP of your book is clearly stated.

Make sure that it is compelling and well-researched. If it’s appropriate, accompany your book summary with a book blurb that is more reader focused and will show the publisher that you can write copy that appeals to the emotions of your target audience. 

Remember, the positioning statement, summary and blurb are all about brevity. In the next lesson, we’ll look at crafting a table of contents and writing chapter summaries, which is where you can get carried away with the detail.