Saturday, March 7, 2009

Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave, When First We Practice to . . .

...write a nonfiction proposal?

I know, I one is more surprised than me that I’m even talking about nonfiction. Though I’ve done some newspaper work and some corporate communications, it’s been a long time. Yet I spent the last week–every single working hour of every single day–crafting the proposal for a nonfiction book.

I won’t tell you the subject; I’m not ready to divulge that yet. I will tell you that my agent got me into this trouble. She was talking to an editor who publishes nonfiction, my name came up, and so did an idea I’d tossed at my agent lo, these many months ago.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Do I think the project will ever get off the ground? Honestly, I can’t say. I don’t know enough about nonfiction markets to have a sense of what works and what doesn’t. I do know that I’m excited about the ideas I present in the proposal and that my excitement translates to the page.

Oh, one other thing I didn’t know: I had no idea nonfiction proposals were so very different from fiction proposals. Or so hard to write.

In comparison, fiction is really pretty easy. If you’re a new author, you’re probably going to be presenting three chapters and a synopsis to an editor. If she likes it, she’ll ask to see the rest of the book. Once you’re a little more established, an editor might be happy with just those three chapters. I’m lucky in that my editor asks to hear my ideas. Quick, simple, painless.

Not so with nonfiction! Nonfiction proposals are very definitive. An author needs an overview of the project, a bio, a chapter outline and sample chapter, a list of competing works, even a market analysis. It’s like writing a gigantic term paper and it challenges those oh-so-practical portions of the brain that don’t always come into play when we’re writing fiction.

The good news is that there are plenty of excellent resources online to help an author through the process. OK, I’m a little (or a lot!) biased, but I think one of the better ones is found on the Folio Literary Management site ( Yeah, they just happen to represent me. But if you’re interested, there are other sites that can walk you through the process as well.

And if you decide to go the nonfiction route someday, just be ready to turn on a completely different part of your brain than the one you use when you write fiction.

It’s been an interesting exercise. And I’m glad the first draft is off my desk and to my agent and I can get back to doing what I’m supposed to be doing–writing fiction.

Ah, at this point, it almost sounds easy!


Jess Granger said...

Good luck with your project, Casey!


moonduster said...

Good luck with your non fiction project. I'd be happy if I'd just finish any of my writing projects!

Casey said...

I'll post when I find out more. Knowing publishing, it could be a long, long time.

Angie Fox said...

Well I worked in advertising or almost 14 years and I can tell you marketing numbers tend to be highly fictional, so feel free to let yourself go there. :)

Ann Aguirre said...

Good luck! I don't think I'll ever do nonfiction. I suspect there would be ... *whispers* research.