3 Ways to Find Your Book's Unique Selling Proposition

Agents have to consider where your work fits in a crowded marketplace. By including your book's unique selling proposition in your query letter, you’re making their job easier— and what stands out about your manuscript even more evident.
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Agents have to consider where your work fits in a crowded marketplace. By including that information in your query letter, you’re making their job easier—and what stands out about your manuscript even more evident.

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3 Ways to Find Your Book's Unique Selling Proposition

1. THE SAME, BUT DIFFERENT

“The same, but different,” is what publishing is all about in today’s challenging environment. Publishers are looking for something the same as [insert your favorite bestseller here]; saying your work is “just like a bestselling XYZ,” proves there is a market for that kind of book.

But your concept should also be fresh enough to set it apart from the bestseller and to distinguish itself in a marketplace full of similar stories. The same, but different.

Consider these examples of stories broken down in this way:

  • “Just like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, only based on the War of the Roses.” (George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones)
  • “Just like Jane Austen’s Emma, only set in Beverly Hills.” (Amy Heckerling’s Clueless)
  • “Just like Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, only the slaves are the main characters.” (Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone)
plot, paula munier

Plot Perfect: How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene

In marketing parlance, “the same, but different” statement is known as a unique selling proposition (USP). This term refers to the qualities that differentiate a product. A USP is the marketing angle to your theme. It’s what you need to pitch the book to agents, publishers, booksellers and, ultimately, readers. There’s no point in trying to sell a story that has no USP— that is just “same old, same old,” and cannot find its place in today’s competitive market.

To find your own USP, ask yourself these questions.

• What is my story really about?
• What am I trying to say?
• How is my story different from all the others on the same shelf?
• Why would readers choose to read this story instead of [insert bestseller here]?

Now describe your own story in terms of “the same, but different.” Consider the plot of the work you’re comparing your own story to—and how yours differs from it.

2. X MEETS Y

Another way to think of USPs is to borrow from the classic Hollywood high-concept formula: X meets Y. This works well when your story is a new twist on an old favorite or a mash-up of two genres, ideas or characters.

Successful examples include:

  • “Abraham Lincoln meets vampires.” (Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter)
  • The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Hunger Games.” (Shannon Stoker’s The Registry)
  • Prizzi’s Honor meets True Lies.” (Simon Kinberg’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith)

Try coming up with an X meets Y formula for your story. Once you’ve got it, ask yourself how the respective themes of X and Y relate to your story—and perhaps create a new theme.

3. THE ONLY TROUBLE IS …

If you’re still stuck trying to find a unique selling point for your story, identify the main conflict and rework your USP so that it highlights your hero or heroine’s problem. This is another way of looking at plot, as in the following examples.

  • “A young man meets the girl of his dreams. The only trouble is, she’s a fish.” (Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel and Bruce Jay Friedman’s Splash)
  • “A playboy joins a single parents’ group to hit on single moms. The only trouble is, he doesn’t have a kid.” (Nick Hornby’s About a Boy)
  • “A newly crowned king must comfort his people during troubling times. The only trouble is, he stutters very badly.” (David Seidler’s The King’s Speech)

What’s the trouble in your story? What’s the main obstacle your protagonist must overcome—and how does that obstacle relate to your theme?

Excerpted from Plot Perfect © 2014 by Paula Munier, with permission from Writer’s Digest Books.