What if we wrote a book proposal before we wrote our novel not with the intent to convince someone else this book has value but in order to remind ourselves that it does? Let’s remove the persuasive component of a book proposal and utilize the clarity-bringing aspect of it to cast vision.
Writing a book proposal is a massive undertaking. By the time you are finished crafting this document it hovers around 50 or so pages! 20,000-25,000 words! It’s a challenge, for sure, but it also brings about clarity. And that’s what we need as novelists! If, by the end of writing a book proposal, you cannot clearly state what your book is about, who you are writing it for, and how you will get it into their hands, then you probably should do some more introspective work before writing the novel.
Yes, it’s that significant of a document. And, yes, I believe this applies to fiction as well non-fiction.
I know, we as fiction writers “don’t have to” write a book proposal before writing a novel. In fact, the majority of publishers and literary agents (if not all) require a pre-published author to have the novel completely written before submitting for consideration. In fact, most fiction writers avoid the book proposal for as long as they possibly can.
But, in my opinion, that is a huge mistake!
A book proposal forces you to put yourself in the role of advocate for your novel. It is the moment where your belief in this story is solidified and given words. This is where you don’t tell the story, you tell the reason for the story.
I have hear so many business, marketing, and writing coaches explain the “reason” for a fiction story is to “entertain.” Every time I hear them make this comment, I roll my eyes. We all know story is movement, it is experience, it is community. We all know story is powerful and has the capacity to do. And yet, it gets diminished down into entertainment, a simple thing someone consumes.
But a novel is not a commodity, it is an experience. And the story it contains? It doesn’t just entertain, it engages emotions.
A book proposal helps you articulate what you instinctively understand: this story will help x person do y so that they can z.
So, what’s a fiction writer to do?
Well, write the proposal.
Introducing the Mini Book Proposal Exercise
I honestly think part of the intimidation of a book proposal is the weight that it tends to carry for the future of our novel. We write a book proposal to convince someone else to take a chance on us — at least, that’s what it often feels like.
But, what if we removed that pressure? What if we wrote a book proposal before we wrote our novel not with the intent to convince someone else this book has value but in order to remind ourselves that it does.
It has value because it is meant for someone else: our reader.
It has value because of the effort, work, and skill we put into it.
Your story has value.
And a book proposal helps you articulate that value.
So, let’s remove the persuasive component of a book proposal and utilize the clarity-bringing aspect of it to cast a vision!
I have created the Mini Book Proposal Exercise to help us do just that.
You can download the template here.
As I mentioned, a typical book proposal is lengthy and detailed. And the crazy part? Every literary agent and editor has a slightly expectation as to the outline and format. But the key things they typically are looking for? Is the idea of this book clearly expressed? Can this author write? Can I sell this book?
For the novelist at the beginning stages of things, you need to answer the questions:
1) Can I communicate what this book is in one or two sentences and it still be interesting?
2) Who would pick up this story? Why would they pick it up? What would they gain from it?
3) Do I have a clear vision for how to reach this reader with this story?
So, for this exercise, I have taken the components of a typical book proposal that are helpful for you, the fiction writer, before you write the novel. Working through this mini book proposal exercise will help you articulate the what, why, and how.
Remember, you’re not trying to convince with this exercise, you are trying to cast a vision.
Look over my shoulder: Mini Book Proposal Exercise
The whole point of Look Over My Shoulder is to give you the opportunity to see how I am using the best practices of online business and marketing to craft and sell my novel. So, what follows is me working through the Mini Book Proposal Exercise with my current work-in-progress: Searching for the Charmings. I’m going to be breaking it into three parts, otherwise it’d be way too long to read in a blog post.
I want to point out a few things as I believe they will help you when doing this exercise for your own novel:
1) This is an exercise in vision casting not carving into stone. What I have listed today may get tweaked as I move through things later. The point here is to get to the heart of things that I want to be true when I get to the end of this project.
2) As I did this exercise, I did envision talking to an editor. It helped me treat the exercise in a professional manner. Working through these questions with my “entrepreneur” hat on instead of my “writer” hat helped me to think big picture and work through any objections/questions I thought a reader or editor might have.
3) This exercise is about shooting for the moon. Think big and get creative in the promotional plan area. The ideas you come up with for later may inform how you write the book now. Or it may not. But, if you don’t spend some time dreaming things up, you won’t know. Also, by putting these ideas down doesn’t mean you are committed to doing them in the future.
Mini Book Proposal: Searching for the Charmings
Part One: OVerview
Note: Being able to succinctly summarize what the book is about in an engaging way will give you the wording you need to talk about the book to future agents, editors, readers, interviewers, and event coordinators.
Searching for the Charmings turns the traditional rom-com storyline on its head with girl meets boy’s family. As it does, the story challenges the reader to consider what it really means to leave your father and mother and become one with your spouse—particularly when your parent left first.
Note: Think of this section as the copy that would go on the back of your book. Your premise should answer the following questions: Who is the main character? What is the main character’s main problem? What do they think will help them? What is in their way? Which keywords describe this information in a concise and intriguing way? I give examples of book premise writing in this blog post.
Emily Parker is done with dating. Not because she hasn’t found a great guy–she’s actually dated several–but because without fail, once she falls for the guy, she finds out he has an awful family. And coming from a not-so-great family situation herself, Emily is determined to find the perfect inlaws.
As a joke (with a little truth in it), Emily puts a “want” ad in the local newspaper in search of prince charming’s family. To her surprise, more than one family actually answers the ad and she now has a slew of “dates” lined up.
There’s so many “what ifs” involved with the situation that Emily’s head is swimming. But the one weighing most on her mind? What if she finally finds the Charmings and their son turns out to be a villain?
Note: In this section, you are presenting the case for what this book is about, who it is for, and why you are the one to write about it. It typically is about a page in length. Make sure you start this section with an intriguing hook that draws the potential agent/editor attention.
While in college, I fell head over heels… for my friend’s family that is. Or rather, the idea of having his amazingly cool parents as inlaws. They loved Jesus, loved their kids, and were extremely fun to hang out with. I could envision them with my future kids being the lovingly doting grandparents that I, unfortunately, didn’t have in my life as a teen. There was just one problem: my friend wasn’t in love with me and I wasn’t in love with him. But, the situation wasn’t for naught; it did give me the core concept for the story Searching for the Charmings.
Family is meant to be a beautiful, nurturing community but, sadly, sin has tainted and broken relationships to the point that “family” has become a complicated thing. And valuing marriage as a first-step to forming a family has significantly lowered among adults in the United States. But, despite these things being true, we still love a good girl meets boy story and we root for them to end up at the altar. Because, at the end of the day, God’s design for humanity to leave and cleave permeates our existence. We cheer for love within the community bonds of family because we were created within the loving community of the Trinity.
Searching for the Charmings turns the traditional rom-com storyline on its head and instead presents girl meets boy’s family in a way that challenges the reader to consider the question: what does it really mean to leave your father and mother and become one with your spouse? Especially when you don’t have a parent to leave?
The reader will find herself cheering for Emily Parker as she takes matters into her own hands by searching for the entire Charming family instead of just her prince, and laughing at the resulting snafus that ensue. Familiar with the relationship hurt Emily has experienced and the deep need for a community that can heal that hurt, the reader will follow Emily’s journey with curiosity, wondering how she will both find the people she desires, loving inlaws, and the person she truly needs, a loving spouse?
For me personally, I had to wrestle through these questions when I fell in love with a guy who didn’t have amazingly cool parents (his dad didn’t even show up to our wedding) and my hopes for the idyllic inlaws were dashed. But, years of marriage and various relationship hurts (and healing) have taught me that while people are not perfect, God is. His perfect love includes a posture of forgiveness and forgiveness is what brings beauty, depth, and appreciation into a relationship. And in that space you find your people.
As she reads Emily’s story, the reader will experience what it means to be loved and to belong within the space of marriage, family, and community, prompting her to consider these truths in her own life.
Note: After your overview, you may want to list some reader benefits in bullet points. This is where you state what will compel your reader to pick up the book.
The reader picking up this book will do so because she:
- Enjoys unique storylines that switch up the norm
- Wants a story that will make her go “aww” and also “hahaha”
- Wants a story that challenges her current thought pattern
- Doesn’t want to read another Christian romance novel focused on the main character converting the love-interest to Christianity
- Needs something light, but engaging, to read while in between busy activities
- Appreciates the beauty of humanity that love stories often emphasize
- Wants a bit of positive fun to counteract how tough living in this world can be
Now that I’ve got a good idea of what my book is about now I need to:
- Really dial into who the reader is for this novel
- Continue to cast a vision for this novel
Until next time,