I spent the last four days in a writing fury, committed to taking on the parts of my book proposal that seemed most daunting. I noticed myself feeling like an imposter during the process, as many of us do when we take on something new. But moving past that grimy feeling of being a poser necessary if we want to pave new roads for ourselves. So I wanted to share my experience in today’s post.
I recently finished my manuscript draft after working on it for 6 years. There are still parts I need to iron out and a few anecdotes I want to add, but the draft is done. I did it backwards. It turns out, you’re supposed to write the proposal first. The idea is that in nonfiction, you write a proposal first, secure an agent, get him or her to sell the proposal to a publisher, and get paid an advance to write your book.
That all seemed great…until I realized what went into a book proposal.
I was fine with writing the outline and sample chapters – but a proposal is much more than that. It is a sales pitch for the book – why it needs to be written, why it will sell boatloads of copies, and most importantly, why you are the best person to write it. There’s a bio section to brag about your writing accomplishments, a market analysis to compare your book to bestsellers in your niche (and explain why yours will be better), and a promotional section to describe your plan for creating buzz around the book in order to claim your spot as a New York Times bestseller.
Years ago, when I first took a stab at the proposal, it was too much of a stretch. I couldn’t get out of my own way long enough to do it. I read sample bio sections from proposals in which writers touted all the titles they had published and how well their books had sold. That certainly wasn’t me (I’d never published a book). I read samples of promotional plans where writers bragged about their highfalutin contacts at the New York Times or their plans to be interviewed on The Today Show (I have no fancy contacts). I read market analyses where writers brazenly compared their books to titles that had been comfortably positioned on the bestseller list… for years (I certainly did not have the audacity to make such bold comparisons).
In short, I felt like an imposter.
In addition, whenever I read any tips or advice from agents about selling memoir, it seemed decidedly negative. Memoir is a crowded market, or everyone thinks they’re a memoirist, or your story probably isn’t as interesting as you think it is, or if another memoir passes across my desk, I swear to god I’m going to stab my eyes out (okay, I made up the last one, but that’s the general sense I got).
A few days ago, I leaned in and committed to the proposal. I cleared my work schedule to write it, begin the process of querying agents, launch a platform, and develop a sample website for the book.
The proposal writing process was an interesting one for me… but I made it. I wrote an 80-page proposal (which includes 30 pages of sample chapters I had already written) in four days.
I had to dig deep when I got to the bio and promotional sections. Every time I felt myself start to recoil by something I was writing (either tooting my own horn or making wild claims about how fabulous the book will do), I pushed in further. Each time I did this, my writing got increasingly bold, and I went with it, figuring I could always go back and edit it out later if I really had gotten a little too big for my britches.
What has gotten into me?
Here are some of the more audacious claims I made in the proposal:
- I am committed to doing everything possible to promote the crap out of Into the Wind during my rise to best-seller status.
- I will use my personal and not-so-personal contacts to reach out to press members and create buzz for the book (and then I list the New York Times and O Magazine among the outlets I’ll connect with).
- I will solicit television programs to create buzz around the book, including the following:
- Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday
- Good Morning America
- The Today Show
- The Ellen DeGeneres Show
- I will get Cheryl Strayed and Jon Krakauer to write a cover quotes for Into the Wind (just watch).
- I will pitch This American Life and the Joe Rogan Experience.
- I’ve spent my entire education and career fine-tuning my writing skills and my ability to market, research, and take on all the tasks associated with launching a bestselling book.
So what’s gotten into me? I guess I just don’t feel much fear or rejection around my writing anymore. It’s me, it’s my story, and I’ve done a pretty good job with it. Maybe some agents will think its a garbage heap, but I just need one to take a chance on me.
But before I could expect anyone else to take a chance on me, I needed to be willing to take a chance on myself.