Writing a Book Proposal | First, Blurt It Out

On Thursday lunchtime, I spent an invigorating 45 mins on Zoom with writers who are working on non-fiction book proposals.

This was the first Write Your Book Proposal zoom.
Every Thursday, throughout July 2024.

Book Proposal Zoom.jpg
Unashamedly rough pencil sketch.

Participants included people who have been published already and others who haven’t. Some of their book projects haven’t really started yet, others are substantially complete.

One by one, they briefly described the book they’re writing. It takes courage to share a “pitch” with others. Big congrats to all who did it.

After we heard from everyone, we went around finessing each outline in turn. Mostly, that involved nudging participants gently to get out of their own way and say out loud, with specifics, just how splendid their book will become.

The shift from generalities to specifics is important. I can’t explain why – it’s a mystery to me – but without specifics writing quickly becomes boring.

For instance: one person in the group is writing a work-related memoir. So what? It comes alive when you learn that it’s about the health service (as opposed to an insurance company, say, or a tyre-fitter).

Someone else is writing about an airport. So what! It comes alive when you hear which airport, for reasons that I won’t go into because it’s not for me to say.

I’m sure you get the point.

As part of the drive for specifics, I asked participants to indicate something about themselves. This brought up resistance, on several counts:

  • It feels awkward.
  • It’s really not about me at all.
  • I’m not that remarkable.

In each case, I replied that it’s still worth letting readers know something about who the author of this book is – to help the reader understand what kind of book this is.

Taking those objections in turn, I’d say:

  • It will feel awkward, because you’re putting yourself out there. So that’s great. Awkward means it’s all going perfectly.
  • A brisk note about your credentials doesn’t make the book “all about you”.
  • If you are unremarkable (whatever that even means), well, being unremarkable can itself be a kind of credential. If I saw a book titled The Clueless Outsider’s Guide To High Society, I’d be intrigued.

Write Your Book Proposal
Every Thursday in July, 12.30 pm and 6pm (UK), 45 mins
Free of charge. Attend as often, or as rarely, as you wish.

The series is supported by members of my Special Projects patron scheme (thank you!), and open to anyone.

If you’d like to become a patron, supporting similar things in future, you can do so, here.

Naturally, I hope you will, but there’s no pressure.