Dallas Morning News, June 2008

How To Get Your Book Published: Writing a book proposal

Dallas Morning News, June 24, 2008

All those daunting numbers probably made it seem as if your odds of becoming a published author are only slightly more likely than your odds of seeing the 1,000,000,000 Euro Lottery Winnings promised you by that guy in Nigeria.

What’s a would-be writer to do?

To help answer that question, the Writers’ League of Texas brought in all kinds of people to talk about the business end of things, where humble books editors rarely tread. One of the more helpful speakers I saw was Ted Weinstein of San Francisco, who spoke about writing a book proposal.

For the uninitiated — and that would include me — he explained that a book proposal is basically a business plan for your book. Who is your audience? How big is that audience? Which shelf in Barnes & Noble do you expect your book to end up on?

“This is a product,” he said. “You have to think about who is going to buy the product.”

And you have to make yourself a brand.

“It feels commercial. It feels corporate. It feels craven,” he told the writers. “I’m sorry, but that’s the way the world works.”

For the nuts and bolts of creating a proposal, you can go directly to his Web site. His session offered additional practical advice, such as:

— Think of yourself as the CEO of your own multimedia empire. You’re the “head of content,” but you need a team of experts who can give you reliable advice on legal, financial and publicity matters. Maybe you’ll do more than one role. But you need to know who will be taking care of each job.

— Get in a writers group. “You need systematic feedback from somebody who isn’t being paid,” he said. Examples of novels you might have heard of that he says were gone over extensively in workshops: The Lovely Bones and The Kite Runner.

— If you’re proposing a nonfiction book, you’ll need to have enough of an outline to show a publisher you really know the book you want to write. But if you’re writing fiction or a memoir, you need to have a complete manuscript.

— “Don’t call your agent when drunk. You’d be surprised,” he said. I wish I’d gotten him to elaborate on this one later than evening.

Finally, take heart. A successful writer needs to be good at business, but it’s still about the words on the page, Ted said: “The writing still needs to be gorgeous. Unless you are a celebrity.”

©2008 The Dallas Morning News, Inc.