As mentioned in my recent post on my book’s status, I now begin a series of posts on writing a book proposal. I thought it best to start with a “Part Zero” to establish the context for the series.
Like many here at wordpress, I was once an aspiring writer. While I had written a moderate amount professionally—emails, performance appraisals (a hidden art form!), letters, tactical notes, 10,000 word post-grad thesis, letters, briefing notes, professional journal articles, newspaper articles, etc.-, I had never tackled something as large as a book. I wanted to write a significant non-fiction work.
Before actually starting to write, I did a little internet research as to what writing a book was all about. Self publishing wasn’t on my radar screen at the time, and what I read suggested that professional writers didn’t submit manuscripts to major publishing companies. They instead submitted book proposals.
Put yourself in the place of a traditional publisher. You run a business. You want to publish books that make money, not lose money. You have salaries to pay, rent to pay, equipment to maintain, etc. And you are constantly getting manuscripts from aspiring writers. Which ones are even worth the time (and hence cost) to read and assess? Which are the ones that readers are going to want to buy?
The book proposal communicates to the publisher that you are a professional writer. That is, you understand that publishing is a business, as opposed to the art of writing. The proposal is in fact a business proposal to the publisher to publish your book. It demonstrates that you will (or have) approached your writing in a disciplined and professional manner, and that your book was well thought out in advance rather than you just having hung onto your keyboard by the seat of your pants during NaNoWriMo.
However, the Internet Reformation has radically altered the publishing industry, and the transformation is still in progress. As this recent Canadian newspaper article describes, self-publishing appears to be the new norm for new authors.
From the major publisher’s perspective, there is no longer a need to take a risk on an unknown author. These authors have proven themselves in rising above the herd of self-published authors, and they bring with them an established readership and a degree of personal brand recognition.
The risk to the traditional publisher is that it has become irrelevant to some successful writers. If one becomes highly successful as a self-published author, what value does a traditional publisher add to justify taking a cut of your profits? This is a great article on the topic.
So is the book proposal still relevant in the rapidly changing world of publishing? I think so. It disciplines your approach to writing, and it forces you as a writer to confront the realities of publishing as a business.
In the next instalment, I’ll go over the basic structure of the proposal I wrote. Please keep in mind that I am hardly an expert, as The Mirror is my first book, and it won’t be released until February 2014. And, as the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Alternate views, opinions, or experiences are most welcome.