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April 19, 2011 / bethan

Proposals

I’ve never proposed for a book before. Oh, I’ve met plenty I like, but none that I’d be prepared to foreswear all others for. I fear I may be counted a mere book philanderer, as it is undeniable that – no matter how much I liked it – I have never put a ring on it.

But this book is different. We will be inextricably wedded for most of this year. Like a new lover, thoughts of the book fill my days and spill over into my sleep. Like an old partner, it can exasperate as well as thrill and delight.

With any proposal (even an invited one) there is always an element of uncertainty. Not only content, but form, is important. If I said to you ‘go on, write a proposal for a book.’ – would you know how to do it? what to include? what to exclude? how long should it be? how much detail? include a synopsis? a sample chapter? promise to sign away all rights and honours in perpetuity if only – please! – they’ll say yes..?

Fortunately, Facet have anticipated this, and have guidelines available. These are slightly different from the ones I was sent (I didn’t have to submit a sample chapter at the time of proposal, for instance), but the fundamentals are the same. They’re useful as they force you to think about audience at the same time as content – not just ‘what do I want to write about?’, but ‘why do I want to write about it?’ and ‘who will read it?’.

I spent a few days thinking in general terms about the content of the book, and had a google doc filled with notes that I kept adding to. I also talked it over with colleagues (by ‘talked it over’ I mean randomly shouted chapter headings at them when they were least expecting it), and then sat down to pull the whole proposal together. The result (if you really want to see it!) is here.

So, I waited, nervous as any prospective suitor, to see how my proposal was received. I did think about finishing this blog post here, and making you wait too, but a simple comparison of that proposal and the current table of contents will reveal the answer: Readers, she said no.

Well, not ‘no’ no, obviously, or you wouldn’t be reading this. More like ‘yeeeeeesssss, but…’. Ok, if I’m being perfectly honest, ‘really valuable advice about the scope of the book that helped me look at the bigger picture, and come up with a range of chapters that will make a much better book than my very limited original vision’. This email feedback was followed by a great face-to-face meeting (we managed to squeeze in a breakfast meeting before dashing off to work our respective stands at Online 10), and I came away with the idea of ‘micro, macro, meta’ which has driven the development of the book.

I can’t pretend that it didn’t hurt – just a little! – to be told that my first proposal wasn’t good enough. Even partial rejection is always tough. And, just as no-one wants to be told that their work isn’t quite good enough or not quite right, no-one wants to be the person saying that! But this editorial process really is necessary and valuable. Looking back at my original proposal, the flaws in scope are glaringly obvious – so much so, that I was almost too ashamed of it to post a link! However, in the spirit of openness and letting people learn from my mistakes, it’s there in all its narrow-focussed glory.

So what came out of the process? Well, a much better proposal! Blogs to follow on choosing topics and contributors šŸ™‚

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