Writer’s Log: Stardate 24-1-12
My friend Robert Wright, who is a way more successful author than I am, once described a book proposal to me as a “ten minute argument made to a publisher explaining why they should give you $50,000 to write a book for them.” The editors who read book proposals are very busy and most proposals they see are discarded. The goal is to make sure they read enough of your proposal that they get to see why your book is interesting. You have to be paranoid about doing something up front on the proposal that leads them to throw it away—make a grammar mistake, sound boring, show you have no idea how the publishing industry works.
A book proposal has several elements: You have to explain why this is a great topic and show that other books that are similar—but not too similar—have been successful. My agent was helpful here, because some of the books I compared to Saving Adam had not done well. You don’t want to remind your potential publisher that there seems to be no audience for your topic. So I took those books out of my proposal.
You have to make an argument that you are the right person to write this book. This is a combination of showing that you have a “platform,” which is basically a ready-made audience already interested in what you might have to say. You have to show that you know enough to pursue the topic respectably. (This was always a concern of mine. My Ph.D in physics didn’t really prepare me to write science & religion books, but no publisher ever seemed to make a fuss about that.) You have to show why this is a book and not an article, which you do with an elaborate table of contents that provides an abstract for every chapter. And finally, and most importantly, you have to give them a written introduction and one chapter.
The written materials you submit establish that you can write so they need to be polished—as polished as a final draft. I worked my butt off on the sample chapters. On the upside, however, these are materials that will go into your book. I had 15,000 words or so ready before I got word that I had a publisher for Saving Adam.
My book proposal ended up being 80 pages long.
Writer’s Log Supplemental: 24-1-12
I just opened a letter from InterVarsity Press informing me that my book The Language of Science & Faith (with Francis Collins), has been purchased for printing, in English, in both the UK and India. This is in addition to a Korean language version that was launched a few months ago.