How to Write a Book Proposal


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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