Breaking Down a Proposal
I am going to break down a proposal anyway, and there's a lot of stuff in here that's going to resonate and be helpful for everybody regardless if you do a proposal because we're talking about the kind of things that publishers look for and will want on some level from you once they pick you up, whatever your book may be. I'm going to be using a proposal that I wrote for my book How to Grow Up as the sort of template, and this a proposal that I created with the help of my agent. Does anybody think of a book proposal, and then just want to die, and crawl under their bed? Yeah, it's like, "Whoa." It was really helpful to have somebody hold my hand through it. I have also lent out this proposal to friends who are trying to put a proposal together. If you are trying to do a proposal, and you don't have an agent or an editor holding your hand, look for templates online, look to see if there's examples, and just follow that. I've used my How to Grow Up proposal as a template for other propos...
als for books, and one of those got picked up, and one of them didn't, so. Okay, let's see. Your title page, duh, right? Okay, if you are being represented by an agent, and we're gonna talk all about agents as we move through this, your agent's information will also be on this page. They'll put it there. They are the ones that will be submitting your proposals to editors, but you can also put together a book proposal and submit your book proposal to agents, as well as if you're going rogue and you're just gonna send them right out to publishers on your own, you can do that. You want your table of contents. Now, this is probably a lot of speculation on your part. If you haven't written your book yet, you don't really know what will be in the book, but while you're crafting your proposal, you just want to take a stab at, what do I think is going to be in this book? I would aim for around 12 chapters, and you just want to show that there's enough material to fill out a book. There's enough material behind your idea to fill out a book. I wouldn't have met much less than 12 chapters. You could probably have more, but I would aim for around that. These are the table of contents for my book How to Grow Up. You know, chapter one, You Deserve This, an overview of how I lived in my 20s using the youthful flophouse I inhabited in my late 30s to highlight the changes. I kept that, that was the first chapter of my book, but as I go through it, this last chapter, how my book about being a struggling feminist and low-rent prostitute was almost turned into a cable television show, it sounds exciting, but as it happened, there was nothing there. It didn't really warrant a chapter, so that got booted out. It's fine that it was in the table of contents. It's going to change. When you're doing your proposal, it's sort of your best guess at what this book is going to be, and everybody involved understands that the creative process is what it is, and some chapters you're like, "Actually, I thought this was gonna be a cool chapter, "but it's really flat." Other things will pop up and be like, "Ooh, I wasn't thinking. "I'm gonna throw that in there." It's just your best guess, and that's what it should look like, a little title, a sentence about what will be in there. You don't have to go crazy with it. The next part is your overview. Who are you, and what are you selling? This isn't a bio. It's more conversational. It's almost like a letter that you're writing to the editor, or the press, or the agent, just basically being like, "Hey, hi, "I'm a female skateboarder, "and I run skate camps for girls. "I want to write a book about falling down, "and getting bruised, and getting back up on your board." That's what you want to do in your overview. It's sort of introducing yourself, and making a case for why you're the person that is so great for this book, like you're the voice that should be telling this particular story. One thing to remember while you're crafting a proposal, the proposal's not your book, but the writing that you do is going to be looked at by these people to see, what's your voice? Ideally, especially in your overview, this is a great place for your native writing voice, the voice that you hope will carry your book, to show up. My overview for How to Grow Up was like, "Hey, it's me over here, the one with the tattooed fingers. "I'm gonna tell you how to live your life," you know. I made it very conversational and fun because that was what I wanted the tone of the book to be. Keep that in mind, that the whole proposal, on some level, is a bit of an audition. No pressure. (laughs) 'Kay. Your bio, so here is where it is a bit more formal, although there's no particular standard way to submit a bio in a proposal. It can look like a resume or a CV. It can be written in the third person or the first person, but it's just where you want to really list everything that you've done. It is where you would put if you've gone to school for writing or for something that's applicable to your book, you would list that. I really push people to look at their whole life's journey thus far, and look at what jobs you might've had, or what other things that might seem somewhat unrelated to your book, but sort of paint a picture of you as a person because, the more interesting you look as a person, publishers love that because publishers are trying to market you. In a big way, and this is depressing, whether or not a publisher picks up your book has a lot more to do with whether they think they can market you than whether or not your book is awesome. If you can be like, "And I worked on a ship," you know, or like random things, you know, that you've done that are cool. There was a writer who blew up a little bit ago, and I swear, everyone was coming off of the same press release where they were just, all the articles were about these crazy jobs she had and all this other stuff, and you're like, "Oh, they loved that." They presented her as this really interesting person, and you wanted to read that person's book. Definitely lay it on. While a publisher is going to be publishing your book, they're also taking you on as an author, and so they love having authors who've had varied lives, and have had interesting lives, so throw it all in there. If you were a nanny for some crazy family, put it in there. Just put it all in there, it makes you look interesting. You are interesting. You want to show them that you're interesting. Are there any questions? I've just laid a bunch of info on you, and I'm not done yet, so we can take a pause right here before I keep moving.
I just wanted to ask, are you also going to cover how to get published in magazines or periodicals?
You know, I haven't worked that into this presentation, but I can address it right now for you during this moment. I have found that the best way to get published anywhere is through personal introductions. If you happen to know somebody who has written for a magazine, and you would like to do that, see if they will introduce you. If you're asking that of somebody, you should already have your ideas of what you want to write, you know? Don't just be like, "It'd be cool some day to do that." Be ready to go. Be like, "I've brainstormed six awesome ideas. "Can you hook me up with your editor?" A lot of people will do that. I've asked writers to do that, and they have. I have done that for other people. Otherwise, I think that, if you look in magazines or on websites, they have submission guidelines. I really don't know very much about literary journals. I've never published that way. That is a whole way that people go to build their careers, and it wasn't my path, so I can't really speak to it.
I was actually interested in how you got published in Cosmopolitan. Like, how'd you do that?
Right, how did I get published in Cosmopolitan? Well, here's something about Cosmopolitan, it's been taken over by millennial feminists, so it's far easier to get published in it, maybe, than ever before. Here's something that happens. As you publish your first book, your second book, your name grows, people become more aware of you, and these opportunities kind of come to you. I was asked by Cosmopolitan through my editor if I wanted to throw some ideas at them for stories. That's something that you can look forward to as you publish, and it can be definitely trickier when you don't have very much backing you up to get in there, but if you have a great idea, and it might be one of those situations where you might have to write the article and show it. I've definitely had to do that when I really wanted to put an article somewhere, I had to write it first to be able to show that this is a cool idea. You might have to do that when you don't have a body of work that you can point to. But try it, you know? I always say, push, advocate for yourself, make contact, try to get your work out there. All these places need content. They need fresh ideas, so if you have them, knock on doors.
I do have something written and prepared, and I was this close to self-publishing on Amazon, and then this opportunity presented itself. How do you decide which route to take? That's really where I'm torn at. My book, I'm calling it Yoga Beyond the Mat: 12 Sutras of Patanjali to Discover Your True Power. It's non-fiction, but it's working with something that has already been worked with a lot, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, but I'm putting my own spin on it and trying to help create access for people who otherwise wouldn't be attracted to yoga. I mean, I can go into certain communities and make it like, "Yo, really, "people that look like us can practice yoga?" That's really my angle, but I've been hellbent on, "I'm self-publishing on Amazon." How do I decide whether or not to even pursue getting it published by a traditional publisher and proposing it to somebody?
I have not done self-publishing on Amazon. I'm also really attracted to it. I think there's been a ton of success on it. Because my path has been through traditional publishing, for better or worse, I would tell you, you try to get an agent, you try to get it on a traditional publisher, and then, if that doesn't work, you take matters into your own hands, and you self-publish. You should check that advice with the person who is leading the self-publishing workshop because they might have more information that, I might be wrong, it might be your best bet to go right with self-publishing, but that's what I do. When my book Black Wave, I had a hard time getting that published initially, and what made me feel calm about it was that I knew there were all these self-publishing avenues available to me, and I knew, if it came down to it, I would just put it out myself. I like going with the traditional route because I like having my books in stores, and I like having my books get reviewed in magazines. You know, you hope that they will be, but I like all of those things. You don't get that with Amazon publishing, but there's a whole other community, and network, and cash opportunities. I think that the next thing I'm going to talk about in the proposal is something that applies to you. Your audience and competition, you're going to list that in the proposal, and that's when you would be able to talk about, "There's a lot of yoga books, "there's a lot of books about this type of yoga. "None have marketed it to this particular community "that I'm a part of. "I can speak to this community "and be the translator of this practice "to people who think, maybe, it's not for them." That's really great, publishers love that. Publishers love a book that's done well already, but has a twist that makes it all new again. Part of your proposal, you will have a portion called Audience and Competition where you write, "This is who I think my audience is, "and these are the other books that are out there "that are the competition. "Here's how my book is a little bit different." Your book idea that's done is a great example of that. It's like you're doing a profile on famous residents of San Francisco, so you're like, "Who's my audience? "People of San Francisco. "Who's in the book? "John Waters, Armistead Maupin." Who else are your readers? Fans of those people, cinephiles, literary people. What's already out there? Well, there's a photography book of San Francisco, but these are interviews. That photography book did great. There's interviews with famous residents of New York City. That book did really great. Now we're gonna bring it over to San Francisco. That's the kind of idea. Do your homework, Google, get on Amazon, see what other books are out there that are kind of like yours, and make a case for how your book belongs in this great club, but it stands on its own. It's so funny, it's what everybody wa- The safe bet that's really different, but not too different, you know. This is how you spin your book. Talking about spinning is marketing and promotion. Your publisher will have their own channels of marketing and promotion. Your publisher ideally will have a publicist. They have their own channels of getting reviews. They have maybe journalists that they have a relationship with. They have magazines and websites who have featured their books before, but they're gonna want you to bring stuff to the table too. If you have any ideas about, what would your marketing ideas be? I did a mermaid book, and I was really into perfume at the time, and I was like, "We can make a mermaid perfume to promote the book." They did it. They worked with this independent perfumer, made these little perfumes, and publishers love these kind of things. They're fun, and they're quirky, and they catch people's attention, so if you have any ideas about tours, guerrilla marketing, things like that that you think you could do, this is the place to load it up, and maybe you'll do none of it, but it gets them excited to see the possibilities, and it can trigger their imagination about what they could do also. Your social network, I'm sorry, you guys. How many friends do you have? How many followers do you have? You will list these numbers on your proposal. I'm so sorry. How many of you hate this part? Yeah, nobody likes it. Does anyone like it? Nobody likes it. I wish it was our work as writers to just write our books, but our success as writers does depend on certain things like how well you're able to conduct yourself professionally, how well you're able to deliver a dynamic reading of your work, and how you're able to cultivate a network of people online who will presumably be interested in your book and buy your book. Whether or not you're creating a book proposal, this is applicable to you. It's applicable to all writers now. I'm sorry. Look, here's my Instagram page. There's me with a Queen Helene mint mask on. I have friends who are doing things like purchasing followers from follower farms in other countries, or following a bunch of people so that they'll follow her back, and then dumping them all. No judgment, do what you gotta do, this is a weird world, but you don't have to do any of those things. You can just be yourself. The best way, I think, if you want to grow your followers and grow your social network, you don't necessarily have to do anything gross or shady. I've not done any of those things. You just post. You just have a presence on the internet. Get a cat. There's something you can do to grow your writing career. Get a cat, and put a cat video up there, right? Promote the stuff that you're doing. Do ridiculous selfies of yourself. There, who doesn't want to follow me now? This is part of my Facebook page. Post things that are literary. Here's a reading that I wish I could've gone to that was in San Francisco. I posted it so my San Francisco friends could go to it. It's a great book, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl. You can just do things like that. It doesn't have to be compromising or embarrassing. It's just about staying present and making a little bit of time for yourself to fit that into your daily work.
Do you have a separate presence for you as the author, or are you combining this with your personal?
That's a great question. Personal social media accounts versus business professional ones. For me, it's really tangled up because so much of my professional work is community building, and all of my friends, so many of my friends are other writers. I have been asked by publishers to create these separate things, and I've done it because I do what publishers ask me to do, but really, it's all one, it's all my personal, and it's all an open book for better or worse. It's easier for me that way. I actually have more personal followers than I do for professional, maybe just because the professional sites are newer, but yeah. You can do it however you want, but if you already sort of have some sort of good start, I would just keep it. Keep your personal one if you feel comfortable doing that, and just beef up the time that you're spending on it. Do not be afraid to promote yourself. Maybe you're doing a no bro comedy open mic like I am. Put your ads up there, promote it. You really want to not be afraid to do that. Don't let it stress you out, again, but if you've got something going on, if you're gonna show up somewhere to do a reading, even if you're gonna hit an open mic, just put it up there. It's good, it's a good practice. This part is also weird, your friends. Here are some of my friends. Are they my friends though? My friends. Your publisher, when you're writing these proposals, they're going to want to know if you have relationships with other writers who are perhaps successful, or any other individuals who might be known to be successful in their field. It's really embarrassing. When I had to do my proposal, I had this whole thing of, like, "This writer is my friend, "and I recently had coffee with that writer." It feels gross, and like you're name-dropping, and you are, but you're name-dropping to people who really want to know whose names you have to drop. If you think that you can get your eventual book into the hand of these people, put them down. If you do have a friend whose book got some attention, put that person down. You studied with somebody whose name is recognizable. Put it down. They're going to later expect you to lean on these people a little bit to help you promote your book. You can fudge it a little bit. If you're like, "I think I can get this person "to blurb my book," maybe you won't be able to, but if it's a friend of a friend, be generous with your network. Consider them part of your social network, and you're gonna have to list them. Here's the final part of your proposal, sample chapters. Really the most important part after all of this B.S. that we just went through. It's what your book is going to be, so you need to have two or three sample chapters that you can submit to a publisher or an agent so they can see, that's great that you know A, B, and C, and you got five million followers, but can you write? Here, you get to show, "and I can write." Full package, can tap dance too. Yeah, that's just what it says. You want it to be as sharp as you can get it before you send it in. It's their first look at you, so yeah, sample chapters. Is there any questions as I leave the proposal? Yeah?
Going back to name-dropping real quick, what if they're in a different category of books? In other words, they write non-fiction, you're a fiction writer?
Oh, that's a great question. I think that, as long as they're writers and they're kind of popular, it's fine. I mean, I've had people blurb my books who aren't even writers, but they are known in other areas. People have had known musicians blurb their books, things like that, so I think it should be fine. It's really, they just want somebody whose name is recognizable if yours is not. That's really what it's about.
Just a followup question on the professionalism versus your own voice, I love that you talked about your tattooed fingers during the bio, but how do you balance that, that professionalism versus who you really are?
Well, I think it might depend on what your book is. I mean, if you're writing a book like our other attendee was talking about that's kind of a business book, then you will want to be able to display that that is part of your voice, presumably, is that you are a businessy person. In my case, I was writing a book that was 100% about my own crazy wacky life, so I could be as crazy and wacky in my piece as possible, as long as I'm making sense, and it's interesting, and it's not so irreverent that it's like nobody can follow me, or it's like... Do you know what I mean? You can kind of let your freak flag fly a little bit, but it depends, I guess. If you are trying to publish a book that has a more buttoned-up sensibility, then maybe do a little bit of a balance between being plain-spoken, which I think is always very attractive to be kind of plain-spoken, but then being able to display that you know what you're talking about.