Apr 28 2012

The Third Draft of My Guidebook Proposal

Published by at 2:21 am under Superhero Nation


Don’t Forget the Death-Ray!: How to Write Compelling Superhero Stories will help prospective authors write superhero stories that are as effective and unforgettable as the titular doomsday implement. It will cover storytelling elements such as characterization, plotting, dialogue, and how to craft villainous schemes that will make would-be Supermen wish they were back in Smallville.


In particular, this book will appeal to:

  • The 450,000 people that have read my superhero-themed writing articles at Superhero Nation.
  • Prospective authors that have been inspired to write a novel or comic book but want help developing and distinguishing their ideas beyond the 25 blockbuster movies that have come out since 2000.
  • The 180,000 people who search Google for superhero writing advice each year.
  • Adults who want to encourage younger superhero fans (relatives and perhaps students) to practice and sharpen their writing. Several English and creative writing teachers have asked me for class handouts and posters based on my articles and I’m certified to teach ESL.
  • Anybody that loves death-rays, which have been a mainstay of doomsday shenanigans since Archimedes’ senior prom.

The main competition would be books about how to write comics and/or graphic novels. Don’t Forget the Death-Ray! has several competitive edges:

  • My book is entirely about writing. In contrast, most comics guidebooks spend many chapters on art and lettering (e.g. 9 out of 20 chapters for The Everything Guide to Writing Graphic Novels). My bet is that comic book writers would rather share space with novelists than with artists, because material for novelists is more likely to help comic book writers develop their skills than material for artists would. My goal for the table of contents is that comic book writers and superhero novelists would both feel that almost all of the content will be helpful to them.
  • My book is superhero-specific. Superheroes dominate the comic book industry (landing around 280-290 of the top 300 bestsellers in any given month), but surprisingly few comic guidebooks focus explicitly on superheroes. My book will cover material especially helpful for superhero authors—for example, in addition to general material on how to write interesting villains, I’ll have specific material on how to write supervillains, mad scientists, terrorists, and government/police antagonists, which are mainstays of superhero stories but would probably not get much attention in a more general work.
  • My book would be the only one on the market that covers superhero novelists. This is useful for several reasons. The market of prospective superhero novelists could be rather large. Each year, Google users do about 87,000 ambiguous searches which might be for a superhero novel or a comic book (e.g. “how to make a superhero” or “superhero story ideas”). When I asked my audience whether they were more interested in writing comic books or novels, my 164 respondents split 25% for comic books, 43% for novels and 32% for both/undecided. If my survey respondents are representative of prospective superhero writers as a whole, those 87,000 ambiguous searches per year could represent thousands of sales for a guidebook which covers both novels and comic books.
  • Educational appeal. Parents and teachers usually find novels more mentally challenging and meaningful than comic books, so they might be more receptive to buying a guidebook which covers novels and comic books rather than just comic books. Additionally, I’m certified to teach ESL and have two years of experience tutoring in high school English.


Would you want to read this book and/or keep reading this proposal? If not, please let me know how I could make my pitch more effective. If you might be interested, please sign up for the email list so that I can let you know when it comes out. Thanks! (If I can show publishers that many people are interested, it’ll be easier for me to get published).

25 responses so far

25 Responses to “The Third Draft of My Guidebook Proposal”

  1. M. Happenstanceon 21 Apr 2012 at 4:31 pm

    I most certainly would. I’ve seen a lot of writing guides, but almost never one that catered exclusively to one genre – and even then, it’d be fantasy or romance, not a more obscure subset like superheroes. Since I write superheroes, such a guide would extremely useful, especially if it tackled subjects that most amateur superhero writers would not usually consider.

  2. B. McKenzieon 21 Apr 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Since the superhero angle is already sort of niche, going after young adults specifically might be too narrow. I’ll think more about that.

  3. Carl Shinyamaon 21 Apr 2012 at 4:55 pm

    I’m curious enough to keep reading, yes, but I’d need more info to want to read the entire book. For example, he seems to addressing primarily doomsday devices for the superhero genre, and I’d want to know just what other topics he plans to cover and how well-rounded they are.

  4. Cuddleson 21 Apr 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Walking into this blind, I would keep reading the proposal, but based on the above paragraph alone, I would not buy the book. If I were at a book store, I would go to the contents page and then flip through a few random pages to check the writing style of the author. My one big worry in this case would be how serious the writer takes the genre itself (especially since the two most common mistakes I’ve seen with non-comic superhero stories is that they are either campy to the point of insulting people who actually read comics, or it waters down the grandeur of the superhero concept until we’re left with second-rate airport reading).

    As for B. Mac’s comment, on one hand the idea of a genre writing book for young authors in particular actually sounds like a pretty brilliant idea, especially since I didn’t really know my way around genre when I was in that bracket. To qualify my initial statement, I could imagine buying a book like that for a younger family member. In this case, I think the genre constraint would actually push a younger writer closer to actually starting on a project because it would give them a ballpark to start out in.

    I should also mention that I’m heavily biased towards a superhero writing book that would track the evolution of the genre (particularly in terms of plot structure, character types, and world-building) through the five ages of comics and discussing how those aspects could be mixed and matched to create new characters. But of course, I want a book like this to exist because I’ve had to do most of my research the hard way.

  5. Contra Gloveon 22 Apr 2012 at 9:42 am

    The proposal begins with death rays, not superhero fiction. It should be more obviously about superheroes from the start. Also, drop the age specification; just say “young prospective readers” to make it less rigid.

  6. Nightwireon 22 Apr 2012 at 9:56 am

    I agree with Contra Glove that the blurb might be a bit misleading to prospective readers. The first thing that came to my mind when I read the first sentence is that this book is a superhero parody featuring a supervillain or some such.

  7. B. McKenzieon 22 Apr 2012 at 10:12 am

    CG and Nightwire, if leading with death-rays is misleading and/or ineffective, should I change the title as well?

  8. Nightwireon 22 Apr 2012 at 10:31 am

    Yeah, I think a rename might be in order.

    But I’m terrible at naming anyway, so I’m afraid I cannot offer you any suggestion.

    How about… Superhero Nation? XD

  9. Contra Gloveon 22 Apr 2012 at 10:44 am

    I don’t find the title bad or even misleading — beginning with “Don’t Forget the Death-Ray” is a good bit of rhetorical flourish, suggestibg that the book will be comedic and lighthearted. The subtitle id okay too, since it clarifies things, but you should remove the word “catastrophically.”

  10. B. McKenzieon 22 Apr 2012 at 2:37 pm

    “But I’m terrible at naming anyway, so I’m afraid I cannot offer you any suggestion. How about Superhero Nation?” I’d prefer a title that makes sense to people that are not already SN readers.

  11. Mynaon 22 Apr 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Absolutely. I really like the concept for this guide and the fact that it caters to the superhero genre makes it better for me–instead of the generic “here’s how to write a book!” guide, it helps define the craft in terms of superheroes and villains, meaning it’ll stand out more while still being a good help to amateur authors. I think it can make it a good read even for people who aren’t writing superhero stories, helping with villain motivations and stuff like mentioned in the blurb–many authors, not just of the superhero variety, tend to have issues with that.

  12. deadmanshandon 22 Apr 2012 at 5:38 pm

    I’d buy it but I really like reading genre based writing guides.

  13. Cuddleson 22 Apr 2012 at 7:49 pm

    I feel like the bit about the death ray could really strengthen the proposal if you gave tips in the book about mad science (for example, the fact that a blast of radiation would not in any force a person back or knock them down). If not…it might be better if you put it further down in the proposal if you were talking about villain plots or story structure or something like that.

  14. MoguMoguon 23 Apr 2012 at 9:37 pm

    I like this new version, it feels more organized than the previous.

  15. Carl Shinyamaon 23 Apr 2012 at 10:26 pm

    I agree with MoguMogu. Additionally, where do I pre-order? 🙂

  16. B. McKenzieon 23 Apr 2012 at 11:46 pm

    I like your thinking, Carl. You can sign up here and I’ll let you know if/when it comes out.

  17. Nightwireon 24 Apr 2012 at 12:15 am

    The latest draft seems mighty good! I’m especially fond of “Archimedes’ senior prom”. XD

    Count me in with the deathray-loving demographic!

  18. Cuddleson 24 Apr 2012 at 1:02 am

    This new proposal really makes the title pop and goes a long way in communicating the rationale of the book. I didn’t really understand the bit about the death ray before, but this new proposal has made me a convert, because it strikes me as the kind of book I would pick up first at a book store.

    Two parts that really stuck out for me were: The joke about Supermen going back to Smallville gives me a really immediate comedic image that gives the proposal a kind of credibility. The fact that this book explicitly aims to help authors differentiate their own superhero plots from those that have dominated Hollywood for the past 12 years is great because that is such a huge concern (one that, sadly, I don’t think too many published superhero writers take seriously enough).

    The style of the proposal also seems like a bit of a throwback to Smilin’ Stan without coming off as patronizing, which is quite a feat in itself.

    I’d buy it.

  19. steton 24 Apr 2012 at 5:37 am

    I think that’s fine, and wouldn’t sweat it right now, though you’re perhaps trying to do too much too soon, combining elements of the introductory blurb (which is rather like jacket copy) with elements of market research.

    I’d just keep going. Write the next section, where you list the chapters and include a blurb about each one. That’s more important. And not so hard given all the articles already on the site. You’re a marketeer at heart, which I suspect publishes will love, but I also suspect that the marketing section won’t much affect the advance. It’s a niche book. On the other hand, you developed this site, and if you have a marketing plan in place–how you intend to promote the book–that’ll help.

    I love “Adults who want to encourage younger superhero fans (relatives and perhaps students) to practice and sharpen their writing,” btw. It’s a niche book, but that shows one way of broadening the appeal.

  20. Milanon 25 Apr 2012 at 8:58 am

    I’d be a sucker for this book, I love the site and the whole theme. But specific to this proposal, I think the best part of this thread was said by Cuddles (albethat in relation to the first draft): don’t water down the grandeur of the superhero concept. Death rays are grand, but so is one grand thinker against a sea of apathy (Brazil) or one set of principles against a sea of scum (Punisher). I don’t mind a good parody, but good humour often works on half-truths, which put superheroic ideals behind the slapstick.

    Now, your book might hit this on the head. I just got a sense of satire from the proposal. I hope you’ll read this even though I’d probably buy this regardless.

  21. B. McKenzieon 25 Apr 2012 at 10:09 am

    Thanks a lot to everybody that has signed up for the email list for my guidebook. (If you might be interested in a book about how to write superhero stories, please sign up now).

    For the most recent demographic information on my email list, please see here. Here are more dated findings on the first 46 responses (last updated on May 2, 2012).

    –91% want to buy a copy for themselves
    –24% want to buy a copy for a friend
    –9% want to buy a copy for a class or library
    –9% want to buy a copy for a young relative
    –0% want to buy a copy for an adult relative

    –30% are between 13-17
    –53% are between 18-34
    –17% are 35+
    The median age is 22; the average is 24.
    –> This suggests to me that I can probably remove any paragraphs on the book’s educational appeal.

    52% male
    48% female (not that you needed me to tell you that, you math genius)

    13% would only consider buying a physical copy.
    38% would prefer a physical copy.
    18% would prefer an ebook.
    0% would only consider an ebook.
    31% don’t care.

  22. B. McKenzieon 25 Apr 2012 at 10:19 am

    Milan: “I just got a sense of satire from the proposal.” Hmm. I tried to convey that I incorporate humor into many of the articles, but the book itself is not satirical. The tone and content will be very similar to SN articles.

  23. Anonymouson 01 May 2012 at 3:03 am

    Um, I don’t know if this is intentional for some reason, but I’m sure you repeated yourself about the ESL.

  24. Anonymouson 01 May 2012 at 3:11 am

    Also, out of curiosity: B.Mac, will the book be largely new material or not? I only ask as you said the content and tone will be very similiar to SN articles.

  25. B. McKenzieon 01 May 2012 at 12:05 pm

    There are a few points where I’ll intentionally repeat key details (e.g. I’ll use the 450,000 readers figure in the overview and in the biography/platform section). But you’re right on the ESL–I don’t think that’s particularly important. I’ll probably take out most of the educational references because it looks like that will be a small part of the market for the book.

    I will probably pitch it as about half new material and half adapted from my current articles, but the publisher might ask me to do more original content. That’d be fine.

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