I’m working on a nonfiction book proposal. I’m passionate about the topic. But I keep worrying: Am I the right person to write the book?
Writing Tip for Today: Let’s look at some ways to determine if you are the right person to write your book:
Every good book proposal must answer the question: Why are you the perfect writer for this book? While few writers enjoy doing book proposals, we all must answer this question. An agent or editor wants to know why you are uniquely qualified to tackle the topic or story.
Some writers go straight to grandstanding. “I’m a better writer than sliced bread,” one might crow. “My family loves my stories,” another announces. Others list their educational or job accomplishments. Yet a PhD in Medieval Literature won’t translate to a book about raising guinea pigs, and editor of one’s high school newspaper usually doesn’t mean much to those in publishing.
These types of proposal pufferies won’t impress agents or editors. The best answer you can give on a proposal is to state your credentials plainly—if they are relevant. If not the best approach is to say as little as possible. You won’t earn cred by groveling: “I don’t have any experience in this field, but gosh I try really hard.” If you have an MFA in Creative Writing and you are writing fiction or creative nonfiction, say so. Otherwise, you’ll need a different approach.
If you don’t have a string of letters behind your name, you may be able to catch attention by listing your life experience. With the book on raising guinea pigs, it will probably help if you say you’ve owned these adorable rodents since childhood, or you run a nonprofit guinea pig rescue. Real organic experience may help convince an agent or editor that you know your subject.
Another way to earn the unique-right-person status is by your storytelling ability. In a proposal, write your qualifications with a hint of your writer’s voice. Many proposals are dry and uninteresting. The details you stress, and your unique style can help sway the powers that be to at least ask to see more.
Beware though, of padding this resume. Avoid the temptation to embellish your experience. You will likely include details that can be easily checked, so don’t make stuff up. Remember, a proposal is a sales tool, but you want to stay within reason.
In today’s publishing climate, numbers rule.
By the Numbers
In today’s publishing climate, numbers rule. The dreaded “platform” really is important. Even if you have stellar credentials, your site traffic, email list and followers must back up your claims. One literary agent recently said that she doesn’t give a second look if a proposal lists fewer than 20,000 followers. To gain this many followers requires a lot of work and time.
If you don’t have a website, get one now. If you offer people something they need—or what you convince them they need—they’ll sign up. Yes, you’ll likely start small. But build a simple website. Wix and WordPress both offer cheap easy sites. Then, decide on one or two social media platforms and establish a presence. Don’t try to do everything. But do something.
Finally, to convince others that you are the perfect person to write a book, learn as much as you can about that topic or story. Writers often hear that research will bog you down, but if you really have a burning desire to write about something, it’s worth your time to immerse yourself in that topic. Then, when you answer the question of why you’re the perfect writer for this book, you’ll have knowledge to back up your claims. Good luck!