Writing Versatile: Adjusting Book Proposals

Let’s say you have an excellent fiction or nonfiction book proposal that somehow hasn’t sold. While we’d all love to sell our original ideas or manuscripts, at times it makes sense to alter a proposal to reflect the market.

Writing Tip for Today: Here are a few ideas for repurposing a solid book proposal:

Nonfiction Repurposes

In my case, I created a proposal on a nonfiction topic that could be written as how-to or as memoir. I had created my main proposal as a memoir. After gathering some rejections, I laid it aside until I learned that a certain publisher was looking for a personal story that could also inform or motivate by giving much-needed up-to-date info.

My original proposal was already a couple of years old. When the agent asked if I’d “spiff it up” for this publisher, I quickly saw many things that needed updating or revising. Latest information about my topic had changed in that time, so the folks I planned to interview or quote had changed too. Even my insights and beliefs had grown or changed.

This meant I needed to rewrite my mission statement, my overview and even my chapter outline. I want to be sure I’m up-to-date as well as provocative in my presented ideas. It took me several weeks to redo the proposal parts. I ended up borrowing and combining several book ideas I’d had on the same subject.

Fiction Repurposes

In fiction, you’re more likely to already have a finished manuscript when you do your proposal. But publishing is fickle and hard to break into. Instead of allowing your work to sit in your drawer, you may be able to use the novel in a different way. Instead of a full-length novel of 85,000+ words, think of turning it into a novella or some short stories.

 To start, re-read your story and be sure the writing is as good as you remember. I often find that as I keep practicing and honing my craft, I get better as a writer. This means I’m not the same writer who thought a manuscript was perfect. Revise as necessary.

Learn to distill your story arc. Try my Russian Dolls technique to learn to distill a story or topic to its essence. If you’re able to do this, you can adjust the story to fit different lengths or word counts. Stripping to bare bones will also tell you if your stakes and conflict are high enough. Remember, in shorter work you have fewer words to explain everything.

If you’re willing to repurpose a book proposal, your chances of acceptance are higher.

Platform Updates

As you rework a proposal don’t forget to update your platform, marketing and promotion sections. Be sure that your social media, blog and newsletter stats are current. Many literary agents want a following of around 20,000 to consider representation. Start that newsletter, do free speaking gigs, and build slowly but surely. Most publishers will be OK if you concentrate on only a couple social media sites instead of neglecting them all because it’s too much.

Include the ways and events where you’ve presented or promoted in both the past year or two and for future events. Don’t rely on old data or try to pad your platform. List potential events in realistic ways—don’t promise to appear on GMA unless you have a legitimate connection.

A book proposal is a sales pitch. If your book idea or manuscript has no takers, you can repurpose and tailor to a certain audience: If you write for Christian market, readjust for secular or target a different segment of that market. If your topic is broad, try narrowing it. Update that novel with the changing times. The versatile writer has a better chance than those who let their proposals languish.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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