On Book Proposals And Lessons A Long Time In The Learning

2014 April 25

I spent most of March revising a book proposal after an editor and a literary agent cold-emailed me to ask if I had anything in the works on that front. I dusted off the proposal I wrote in 2010 and never submitted and spent a couple of days wallowing over all the water that’s flowed under my personal bridge since then. That sounds kinda tampon commercial-y doesn’t it? I’ve moved multiple times, ended up in the hospital with mono, got into a relationship, got out of it, met someone else, quit my job, started a business, spoke at NYU, etc. I could see where I was coming from at the time I wrote that proposal, but it isn’t a place I could get back to. The book I wanted to write back then wasn’t something I could see myself writing today, although I’d never trade some of the experiences I sought out as fodder for it (road-tripping across the country, anyone?). I went back to the drawing board. I looked at what I’m known for (analysis related to Millennial culture), what was missing from the current literary landscape on the subject and how my voice (pithy but informed) could fill that gap. The proposal was 17 pages long and extensively footnoted. Pedantry is my hedge against criticism and always has been.

The reception was mixed. One party was enthusiastic and one was ambivalent. The ambivalent one loved my voice, but wanted something bigger and grander and more marketable. What else did I have up my sleeve? she wanted to know. I talked over the feedback with a confidante who urged me to set logic aside and really think about the story or stories I was passionate about telling. If I could write any type of book, what would it be? I thought on this and fired back with my  pie-in-the-sky dream projects*. Market trends and pre-existing platforms be damned. It still wasn’t the right fit for this particular contact, but I felt good about putting all my cards on the table.

The thing is, I thought I’d already learned this lesson last summer and learned it the hard way. I thought I’d gotten my head around the fact that you don’t get what you don’t ask for, at least as it related to my personal life. I thought I had well and truly accepted that pragmatism shouldn’t always supplant desire and that not every course of action lends itself to be evaluated with a list of pros and cons. And yet, here I was being schooled all over again.

There is almost five years’ worth of advice on this blog. And despite the fact that a helluva lot has changed since I started writing here and since I drafted that first book proposal, what hasn’t changed is my need to heed my own counsel and the reality that unlike learning to drive or tie your shoes, some lessons don’t stick the first time around.


*If you ask nicely, I might just tell you what they are. Maybe even in fewer than 17 pages.

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