Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Worst & Best Thing

MF2-A006I am at work on my book proposal, specifically the part with short summaries for each chapter. I kind of pride myself on being able to communicate ideas in as few words or examples as possible.  That’s one thing for teaching a class, or writing a 20-minute conference paper, or a 1500-word book review, or a tweet.  It’s another thing to condense the massive Great Work For The Ages that I have been tending now for all these years.  That thing started well over 250,000 words, has been cut down to a not-too-slim 150,000, and now it has to get stuffed into a series of 30 short paragraphs?  That’s nuts.  It’s awful.  I hate it.

BUT it’s also a great exercise, painful as it is.  It’s the literary equivalent of those identical nesting Russian dolls: same thing, over and over, smaller and smaller. I’m finding that as I try to winnow my 5,000-word chapters into just a few sentences, the stuff that is really truly important rises to the top, which is going to have the great advantage of helping me slash the main text, once again, as I try to reduce it to be even briefer, tighter, generally more awesome.

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How to Write a Book Proposal

dog

Just when you thought the hard part–actually writing the stupid thing–was over, you have to face the proposal.  I know some folks do this much earlier in the process but for me it’s during the writing/editing process that I honed my story and really figured out what the book was about.  I thought that was much more important than trying to get a contract in hand, and then trying to live up to its deadlines.  So it’s now to the proposal, which is a whole new kettle of fish.

I have some publications under my belt but have never had to go through the submit-to-invisible-editor-at-Intimidating-University-Press experience before now.  Going through this process makes me reflect on all that editing work I’ve been doing as a walk in the park.  I have found guidance from a few articles that I recommend:

This is a dizzying process.  It feels a lot like writing grant proposals, except that the it’s a much, much bigger deal, and there’s only one outcome: yes or no.  It’s not like you can apply for a bunch of grants and be happy if you get one or two.  There’s only one prize here.

To keep from despairing at the largeness of the task, and the humongousness of its implications, I am trying to tackle it part by part, systematically, taking breaks to eat cheese and walk the dog, both of which are highly therapeutic.  And I remind myself that even a great proposal might not be great for all publishers.  And I  chant this (slightly altered) bon mot (which I read in Vitae) from editor Jon Otter: if your [proposal] isn’t rejected at least once, you’ve started too low on the food chain. I may carve that into the window frame in front of my desk.  Or tattoo it on my hands or something.

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How to approach your self-imposed deadline to submit the proposal

This is the best thing ever.  I should skip this whole publication thing, cut to the chase and just contact Scorsese directly to get busy on the inevitable film vision.  It’s so great.  Well it’s pretty great.  It’s very good.  Maybe it’s not perfect.  Maybe it’s not that great. No one wants to read this. I don’t even want to read this anymore. I should have been a pastry chef.

Repeat.

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