10 tips for creating a winning profile


Last week we drew attention to some of the common mistakes we're seeing in profiles.  Now we'd like to suggest a few ways to turn a good profile into a winning work of art.


1.  Learn from the experts

What does a great profile look like?  During the Tournament, we've been featuring a few of the best on the homepage.  Take a look through them to see how they are constructed.  What's special about the bookmarks?  Why does the review stand out?  How is the Setting page arranged?  You might also like to look through the winners of the 2010 Tournament (listed at the bottom of this page).


2.  Make it look good!

Think how a magazine page is laid out, with a tidy mix of text and images.  If there's a lot of white space on your screen, can you rearrange a few elements to eliminate some of it?  Alternate your pictures between the left and right sides of the page, rather than stacking them all on top of each other.  If you're including a map or a video, place it on the left side of the page with a picture on the right.  Use different image sizes for variety, but include a few large (500px) ones to bring colour to your profile.  Wrap text around images where possible by orienting them to left or right.


3.  Strike a good balance of media

A profile that is all words and no pictures feels boring: you're not making the most of Book Drum's tools!  Similarly, an endless column of Google maps plotting out the different places visited by a protagonist gets dull.  The best profiles have a good mixture of text, images, videos, music and maps.


4.  Reflect the tone of the book

Literary masterpieces, thrillers, biographies, children's books... they should all be approached differently.  The finest profiles take on the feel of the original book, be it serious, comic, tragic or authoritative.  One of the best examples is Emma Cave's profile of Bridget Jones's Diary: her review and many of her bookmarks superbly capture Bridget's comic voice. 


5.  Be selective

Once you get into bookmarking, it's very difficult to pass over a referenced fact without writing about it!  However profiles, like the books they reflect, should be engaging rather than exhaustive.  If you find yourself bookmarking a great list of statesmen mentioned only in passing, or a great number of places visited, it may be time to cut back on your bookmarks or risk your audience evaporating.  Focus on the people, places, ideas, things and events that are most fascinating or most central to the book.  We'd rather see an even spread of bookmarks across the whole book than every small detail of the first chapter illuminated in full.


6.  Seek out some stunning pictures

There are countless wonderful photographers out there, and many of them want nothing so much as to see you put their work on prominent public display.  That's why so many publish award-quality photographs on Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.  For unusual subjects you'll have to use whatever you can find, but if you're looking for a general image of a city, or a desert island, or a camel, or an aeroplane, search around for something really special.  Check out the Setting pages of Oryx and Crake, The Kite Runner, In Patagonia, The Alchemist and The Road for some outstanding photographs.


7.  Get your facts straight

Nothing will kill your chances with a steely-minded judge faster than writing something she knows is plain wrong.  We saw it happen several times last year!  It takes a moment to check a date or a bit of geography online, and if you aren't convinced Wikipedia's got something right it's easy enough to pull up an alternative source.


8.  Write crisp, clean prose

There's no getting round the fact that if your writing is full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors you're unlikely to win first prize.  Good writing is as important on Book Drum as in the books themselves, and the judges are all professional wordsmiths.  If you're not a confident writer, you can enlist a friend as your editor to check through your work before you submit it.  A quick editorial polish might be all it takes to pull a work of genius out of an untidy profile.


9.  Reveal something genuinely new

Some groundbreaking facts have emerged on Book Drum, and they really make their profiles stand out.  Victoria Hooper noticed that three consecutive Shakespeare quotes in Dracula - from three different plays - all came from Act III, Scene 4. Coincidence or Code?  Siân Cleaver worked out that Air France didn't actually exist when Evelyn Waugh made use of it in Brideshead Revisited.  If you manage to surprise the author with a new discovery about their own book, as a couple of Contributors have done recently, you're doing very well. 


10.  Let your personality in

A touch of your own panache, wit, acerbity or passion can add winning style to an already competent profile.  Cheryl Donohue's dry humour and occasional asides bring a welcome extra dimension to her Catcher in the Rye profile.  But don't overdo it - your bookmarks shouldn't distract readers from the book itself, and if your writing makes the book look arid then you may have defeated your own object. Or maybe not... perhaps some virtuoso profiles will end up being more famous than the books they spring from!



We hope some of these tips inspire you to new heights of brilliance.  Do get a friend to check through your finished profile before you submit it; they may have a great idea for enhancing it, or they may just catch that last typo.  Beyond that, all we can say is good luck!  And if you're close to finishing you might be interested to know that one Contributor has just started her third Tournament profile...