Proposals and pitching

writing via kimberlyanncoyle.com

This post is the fourth in a series on writing, written for those beginning their journey towards publication. For the first three, click here, here, and here.

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Nearly two years ago, on a hot, southern July afternoon I found myself sitting face to face with a woman who quite obviously did not find my sense of humor funny. She never cracked a smile, and my insides did this weird twisty thing while my hands sweat through the book proposal I held in my hands. The paper went limp, and so did my spirit when she pulled a book out of her bag and slid it across the table to me. She whispered, “You might want to take a look at this.” And then she suggested I try Toastmasters to help me with my increasingly awkward, stuttering book pitch. When I left the conference room, all cold sweat and jitters, I glanced at the advanced copy of the book  she slid to me. The topic was eerily similar to the one I had just pitched. I shoved it in my bag, and released a rough and jagged sigh when I realized I had two more appointments to go, and not an original leg to stand on.

This book pitching craziness all started with Emily Freeman. A year prior to my attending the 2012 She Speaks Conference, I read Emily’s series on writing and how she attended this conference with the same twisted insides and a growing hope for the book proposal she carried with her. She wrote of her journey to publication with such openness and vulnerability, that it made me think for the first time ever, that writing a real book might be possible for me too. That it wouldn’t have to remain a dream scribbled on a piece of paper, but that it might become a living, breathing thing. Emily made me believe in the impossible.

For months a sliver of an idea had taken root and begun to grow in my heart, and after reading Emily’s series, I came away with some concrete steps for pursuing publication. I discovered that non-fiction writers typically write a few chapters of their book, and then write an accompanying book proposal. This proposal has multiple parts including a detailed description, a market analysis, a marketing plan (aka Platform), and a complete outline of the book’s chapters. I purchased Michael Hyatt’s “Writing a Winning Non-Fiction Book Proposal” ebook as well as Mary DeMuth’s tutorial, and I combined the best of the two to write a proposal of my own. I found both of these to be excellent resources that helped me produce a professional proposal. I spent the better part of three months perfecting my proposal, and in July 2012 I flew to the same conference that Emily attended to pitch it.

I met with two editors and the aforementioned Toastmaster espousing lady. Overall, the feedback was positive, but later, when I received their rejections via email it came down to my lack of platform. Books similar to mine hadn’t done as well in the market as the publishers hoped, and they didn’t think a no-name blogger living in Switzerland could compete with other, more well-known writers. It was a blow, but not entirely unexpected. After those rejections, I sent my proposal to every agent representing non-fiction that I could find in the Christian Writer’s Market Guide. My book was roundly rejected. A friend kindly sent my proposal to her own agent, and I received one of my loveliest rejection letters yet.

After a year of rejections, I put that proposal aside. In hindsight, I don’t think the idea is unique enough to grab a publishers attention without a big platform to support it. Maybe I wasn’t ready and neither was my book idea. And here’s what you need to know, your first idea out of the gate may not be the one that hits. It might take multiple proposals and many painful rejections before you whittle your idea down to the core, the true essence of what it is you want to say. I’ve spent the last two years going deeper, peeling back the layers to discover the heart of my message. My first book proposal examined the first few layers, the second proposal (another story for another day) burrowed a bit deeper. The one I plan to begin writing in the next few weeks (an even longer, crazier story with very loose ends), finally reaches down to the heart. It’s taken me two years, two full proposals, six pitches, face to face rejections, emails, phone calls, countless tears, tirades, rages and giving up only to start all over again in the morning, to discover what it is I truly want to say.

My lack of platform may kill it in the end, but this third time around, I feel more certain that my craft and my passion and my ideas are growing. If you take anything away from this post at all, dear writer, let it be this:

According to a well-respected agent, kind enough to share his hard-won wisdom with me, you need two of these three elements:

1. Excellent Writing–craft, craft, craft.

2. A unique and universally appealing idea.

3. Platform–followers, readers, likes, etc.

Did you feel the impossibly heavy door swing open a crack? I know I did.

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What questions do you have about the proposal or pitching process? I’d love to answer them from the perspective of someone who’s still working through the kinks.

 

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  • Kelly Hausknecht Chripczuk

    I don’t know, Kimberly, it all seems so very overwhelming! I wish it was just all up to #1, seems like something you can control, but the other two are more of a stretch. I get stuck trying to figure out what will communicate well, what other people want to read. I’m afraid I might need to go through those two-to-three years of winnowing. It’s hard when people say, “oh, did you ever think of publishing something” these days I feel like throwing something at them, like, “Oh, my, I never thought of that!” Is there an “easy” button for publishing 🙂 Also, how do people afford to go to so many conferences? I get waves of jealousy reading about all of the traveling and connecting the writers I’m friends with on fb are doing. Ok, enough whining. God is in it. Thank God!

    • KimberlyCoyle

      Kelly, I’ll be totally honest, it will take a miracle for me to get published based on platform. I wish it was up to the aspects I could control too, but I think some of it also comes down to sheer luck or serendipity or the hand of God. If you ever find that easy button, please let me know;)
      As for the cost of conferences, I agree. I attended She Speaks twice and I know so many of the writers there said what a stretch it was financially for them to attend. It does seem to put attendees at an unfair disadvantage, especially in terms of networking opportunities.

  • Thank you Kimberly. I am still quite early on and just getting my legs to not shake at the idea of writing a proposal, but my prayer is that I learn through dear writers like yourself. I am going to She Speaks this year, but I totally passed on the whole meeting with an agent thing. I believe that this year will bring some interesting learning opportunities that I can use in writing and in my current job. She Speaks will be my first conference, but I do hope to go to others. Do you have any you could recommend?

    • KimberlyCoyle

      I’m afraid She Speaks is the only one I’ve attended, but I hear good things about the Mt. Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference. I know there are smaller, regional conferences out there, but can’t say with any certainty if they’re any good.

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