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Review: Book Proposals That $ell By W. Terry Whalin

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When I dutifully picked up my new copy of Book Propsals that $ell a few days ago, and knowing that I (a perennial avoider of writing said proposals) really should read this, I admit I thought I’d enjoy it about as much as a handful of vitamins. But this slim volume had more than one surprise in store for me!

From the start, author W. Terry Whalin captured my interest. He did this by not only taking the mystique out of how to write an effective non-fiction book proposal for me, but also by giving me numerous telling glimpses into the world of editors and royalty publishing.

[ADBLOCKHERE]In the first three chapters, Whalin lays the foundation of why such proposals are necessary. He starts by sharing the story of how one of his projects went from idea to published volume via a proposal. Then he goes on to enlighten us about the current state of affairs in publishing and explains why, given the piles of submissions on editors’ desks and the small window of opportunity an unsolicited proposal has with an editor, only the most complete and professionally presented will earn a second look.

The 21 chapters that follow deal with the nuts and bolts of proposal writing. Many chapters address elements that must be included (e.g. #1 – Know the topic of your book; #5 – Know your competition; # 7 – Create a dynamic marketing plan etc.). A few chapters also discuss attitudes that foster writing success (e.g.#15 – Build editor relationships; #21 – Always take the attitude of a learner).

The chapters are short (about three to five pages) and information-packed. They are interesting, thanks to Whalin’s ability to weave personal anecdotes into the instruction:

I once received a large manuscript in a note binder…

I received an entirely handwritten manuscript (fiction). I found it almost frightening to be holding the single copy of another person’s work. [p. 88]

He looked at my name tag and, knowing that our house took children’s material, he reached into his briefcase, pulled out a bound copy of a manuscript and almost threw it into my hands. “You need this manuscript,” he said. “I read it in the elementary schools and the kids loved it.” [p. 110]

His information is authoritative because he is no stranger to the writing and publishing world. He has authored over 60 books, written for as many periodicals, and worked as an acquisitions editor in several publishing houses. Though the type of proposal he advocates takes a lot of work, he is persuasive in explaining how each element adds value for the author and editor alike.

The book ends with a section of Appendices including samples, a list of other books about proposal writing, a checklist, helpful websites, and more.

I read it in a few hours and came away feeling empowered, motivated to give this brand of proposal-writing a try, and asking myself – exactly why have I avoided this for so long?

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