Writing a good book proposal is, perhaps, the most important step in the publishing process. In many ways, the proposal is more important than the actual book, because, if you don't sell the proposal, you won't get to write the book. Learning how to write a book proposal is challenging, though, because there are so few that are readily available to read. Because of this, I've decided to post the three book proposals (two sold) that I've written. Hopefully, these will be helpful to aspiring authors.
Below, you can read the proposals and the backstory behind them.
SEARCHING: THE LIFE & LONGING OF LUTHER VANDROSS (2003)
This was the first book proposal I ever wrote. I'd always wanted to write a book, but it took a high-speed car accident where a SUV, driven by a Bridezilla racing to get a marriage license, slammed into me from the left and pushed into the path of another car, which hit me from the right. Luckily, I walked--or hobbled--away from the accident, even though my car was totaled. That night, I decided that life was short and that I needed to move forward on my goals.
Shortly thereafter, I got in touch with a book agent through a friend and we discussed various ideas. Most of them were music-related since I was Pop Music Critic at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time. The R&B great, Luther Vandross, had recently had a stroke, and I was telling the agent how I'd always been a fan of Luther and felt that no writer had ever done justice to his life. Thus, the idea was born. I wrote the proposal in a week, and, a week after that it sold, allowing me to take a leave of absence from my job and temporarily move to Toronto. (It's one of my favorite cities and I thought the book would be easier to write if I was surrounded by cute Canadian guys.)
This is the proposal for the book that would ultimately be called (the publisher changed it): LUTHER: THE LIFE & LONGING OF LUTHER VANDROSS.
The ATL Story: How a Group of Power Brokers, Pop Divas, Producers, Playas, and Street Poets Turned Atlanta Into the Motown of the South (2005)
So, my first book was about music and I was a music critic, so it made sense that my second book would be music-related, right? At least, that's what I thought back in 2005. It also seemed perfect that I would write a book about the huge Atlanta music scene, since I'd been covering it for years. I wanted the book to be epic in scope, encompassing how "the ATL" had changed the music scene and how music had transformed the lives of many Atlantans. It took me several months to research and write the proposal. I would work on it every night, until about 4:00am. Then I'd sleep for about 4-5 hours in order to get to work by 10ish. It was a hellish schedule, but I thought it was worth it. I felt like this was the project that would really put me on the map.
By the time I finished the proposal, I'd parted ways with my previous agent over the mishandling of a Luther film deal. I decided that I would shop The ATL Story myself. I now had contacts within the industry. "Why give someone else 15%?" I thought. I reached out to editors at all the major publishing houses. There was a lot of interest, but no hard deals. Finally, it looked like it was going to happen at a really great imprint with an editor who I'd always wanted to work with. We had gone back and forth several times and I was awaiting an email with an offer. Instead I got news that the editor had to pass. The publishing house had recently bought another Atlanta-related book, and they couldn't take the risk on two Atlanta books.
I was crushed. I couldn't believe all the time I had put into something that seemed like a sure thing. I still remember the moment I got the news. I was in a hotel room in New York City, where I'd been sent by Vibe magazine to cover Luther Vandross' funeral. (Weird, huh?) I thought it was over for me as an author. I couldn't imagine going through such a heartbreaking process again.
Now, I'm so glad that this book didn't happen. I still like the proposal, and I think it's a good idea. But the fact that this book didn't sell freed me in a lot of ways. It made me think about what I could write if I couldn't write about music. This set the ball rolling for my next book, the memoir, All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C.
But first, the proposal for THE ATL STORY:
THE RIGHT TO BARE ASS: MY LIFE DANCING NAKED IN THE NATION'S CAPITAL (2006)
So even though The ATL Story didn't sell, it did pique the interest of a lot of editors, who reached out about working with me on a different idea. I had a number of conversations with various editors, and I remember being frustrated that every time I suggested an idea, the editor would try to get me to take a first-person approach. I didn't understand what was going on. Didn't they know I was a serious journalist? This went on for so long that I finally started thinking about ideas that would make sense for me to write about in the first person. Randomly, during a phone conversation with one editor, I mentioned that I had been a stripper. The editor got excited about the idea, and I immediately started work on what would become All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C. (Yeah, the publisher changed the title again.)
Writing this proposal was one of the hardest things I've ever done, because I was still smarting from the disappointment of The ATL STORY. I would wonder constantly if I was wasting my time. I was so on edge that I would break out in tears all the time, listening to songs, during sitcoms and, of course, every episode of "Oprah." I carried a rock around with me that was engraved with the word "BELIEVE."
The only way I got through it was by committing to a work process. I was living in Providence, RI at the time, and I'd work on the book from 10:00 p.m. (I've never let writing get in the way of my prime time TV schedule) until midnight at the Starbucks near Brown's campus. Then I'd go to the Brown library and work until 2:00 a.m. I'd walk home, get drunk, and fall asleep while watching "King of the Hill" reruns on my DVR.
This went on for several months, through numerous setbacks and disappointments. I got a new agent and she didn't like early drafts of the proposal. Then, the editor who encouraged me to pursue the idea decided to pass. But I kept writing. I felt like it was make or break. I ended up writing more than 250 pages, essentially the entire book. I added proposal elements, such as the marketing and competition sections and submitted it to my agent. She loved it. A few weeks later, I had a deal with Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
Here's the core of the proposal. Obviously, if you really want to read all 250-plus pages, you should check out the book-LOL.
I hope you find these proposals useful or interesting or both. Best wishes with your wildest writing dreams - Craig
P.S. Below are the best books I know about publishing. IMHO, you should not even think about writing a book for publication until you check them out.