Archive for May 30th, 2007

Fast and Fabulous Book Proposal Writing: Part Three


Message from the Managing Editor
Making the Leap from Great Idea to Book Proposal—Part 3
By Sage Cohen

Are you ready to maximize every free minute and every stroke of genius to create a polished, powerful proposal faster than you can say, “I don’t know if I can do it”? Good! Let’s go.

(If you haven’t read Part 1 or Part 2 of this series, I recommend starting there, so you can approach your proposal-writing starting gate raring to go!)

Create a Writing Schedule
With commitment, focus and preparation, you can write a proposal in a month, in the margins of full-time work. Here are a few tips for making it happen:

  • Choose a month that is realistic for you to commit to making this happen. (How about June?) Set a “due by” deadline, and write it down in permanent marker somewhere where you’ll see it every day.
  • Create a schedule for the month that shows exactly what days and times belong to your proposal-writing process.
  • Vary your work time so you get built-in breaks. For example, you may want to work on your proposal on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights from 7:00-9:00 p.m. You could dedicate two of the four weekends to writing; or you could work on one Saturday, the next Sunday, etc.
  • Plan which proposal section(s) you’ll be writing each week, so you can see the big picture of how it will all get done.
  • Post the schedule in your writing space or wherever you and your family will need to see (and honor) them.
  • Stick to that schedule like your future depends on it—because it does.
  • Ask someone important to you to check in on your progress at regular intervals and hold you to your deadlines. Feeling responsible to someone else can make it easier to honor our commitments to ourselves.

Lead with Your Strengths
A book such as “Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write” by Elizabeth Lyon will lead you through the book proposal research and writing process step by step. You can certainly follow the recommended flow, if it feels right for you. But I think the more important way to begin your book proposal is by writing the section that feels easiest––because the more confident you feel, the more successful you’re going to be. For example, I am experienced in marketing communications, so I started with the marketing plan section of my proposal.

With last month’s homework [link to Part 2] under your belt, you already have some great notes about how your book will be similar to and different from other books on your topic. Therefore, the “About the Competition” section may be one of the easier places for you to start. Or, if you feel that your established platform is your greatest strength, I recommend beginning with the “About the Author” section. With the easiest section accomplished first, the rest of the trudge uphill will seem significantly lighter.

Write Down the Bones
If you’ve read Natalie Goldberg’s books, “Writing Down the Bones” and “Wild Mind,” then you’re familiar with the advantages of free writing. If you haven’t, I’ll give you a quick primer. Free writing is basically unstructured writing, where you put your pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write without planning, thinking or stopping for a designated period of time. This can create a kind of writing momentum that allows you to witness your ideas before that big bad editor in your mind ties your hands behind your back with criticism.

Approaching the first draft of your book proposal as a free writing exercise can liberate your creativity by giving you a little distance from any fears or doubts that may limit your performance. Then, once you have your ideas safely captured in writing, you can don your editor cap, and craft it into a masterpiece.

Celebrate Your Success
Writing a proposal is a big deal. Once you’ve crossed the finish line, make sure you take time to reward yourself and your dream team. I got a massage for my typing-sore arms and sent flowers to my cheerleader/editor.

Write a comment here about your proposal-writing success story, and we’ll celebrate with you!

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic, a creative companion for poets forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Oregon Literary Review, Cup of Comfort for Writers, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. In 2006, she won first prize in the Ghost Road Press annual poetry contest. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University where she was awarded a New York Times Foundation fellowship. For organizations including Writers on the Rise and Willamette Writers, Sage teaches poetry writing and publishing workshops. Visit Sage at

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