Why I’m Struggling to Write A Book Proposal

It’s incredible how much you don’t know about fields you feel like you’ve been working in for a while. In an earlier post, I mentioned that I had recently completed my first book: A Link to the Past: Stories of Growing Up Gamer. That is true; I did. And it continues to sit in its completed state on my computer, on my jump drive, in my email, in hard copy, in my brother’s inbox, and a few other places –a safety net lest something terrible happen to my computer. The cover is in development and it can be ready for self publication in about two weeks time.

But of course, I don’t want to self publish it. I’ve spent the better part of six years writing music and have seen how easily the self-publish route can result in a project falling into obscurity before it has a chance to find even modest success. That’s led me to wishing something more for my first book. It isn’t that I care more about the book than my albums, I just have seen some of those albums cower in the corner way too long without really having a shot. I don’t want that to happen with this book. I loved writing it, am pleased with how it came out, and, without sounding too flowery, believe in it. Knowing that I have little previous “cred” in the field (writing or video games), it’s not surprising to hear that trying to find a willing party to represent or publish this text is going to be difficult. But I’ve at least started the process.

That process has led me to submit to about two dozen literary agents (so far). But after some cursory searching, I found out quickly that if I wanted to submit to a wide variety, I was going to need to have a proposal. Since I knew nothing about the formal side of this field prior, I had presumed that if I had a finished manuscript, it would supersede the need for a proposal. I was wrong. The only time having the full manuscript already completed actually makes a difference is when you’re working with fiction –most agents want the first 50 pages. My book is nonfiction. Damn.

There’s no one way to define what is all included in a book proposal. There’s a synopsis, an author bio, summaries of each chapter, your marketing ideas for the book, the book’s place in that marketplace, some of the book’s would-be competition and how yours sits alongside those, and so on. These things can go from being two pages long to fifty. It’s a daunting homework assignment to get suckered with after you’ve just completed writing a 200-something page piece of literature.

And there are some agents who haven’t asked for one. They want their query letter and that’s it, but many more want that proposal. I’ve crafted one (not a thorough one, really) so I can adequately represent the text, but when I start being asked all the intricacies of the marketplace and how my book would fit in, and to express how my book fills some sort of “need” in the literary world, I’m left confounded. Not because I don’t understand the question, but because I wrote this book because I wanted to, not because I had previously decided society had some overarching need on this particular subject of how video games affected growing up. It was a story I felt compelled to tell, and took a personalized approach to a belief held by many more than just me. I didn’t write it to fit in the market. I was 100% unaware of my book’s potential “competitors” and if my book fit some specialized niche that was dying to be exploited. Like so many writers before me, I wrote it because I love to write, and because I thought I had a story worth telling. Even if that story wasn’t some touchstone of literary society, and served no other purpose than attempting to entertain for 200 pages. I’ve always thought those stories counted as much as any others.

This type of shoulder-shrugging concerning things like “marketability” could very well keep this book from the hands of a publisher, or an agent, which is why I have the book locked and loaded for self-publication if I get to that point when I no longer want to wait. I can appreciate that if someone is going to invest in you, they want it on their terms and at the lowest risk possible, so I guess I’ll understand if no one ultimately wants to take the chance, but I’ll keep submitting to agents, and continue to tweak my proposal as I continue researching my book’s supposed place in the market, because I think the book is worth the effort. I probably won’t believe it does have that place in the market, because I never intended it to. If it ends up having one, it’ll be purely coincidental. A welcome one, sure, but coincidental no less.

I just wanted to write and tell a story well. And I believe I did. Hopefully, I can convince someone else the same thing. Onward and upward. Oh, yes, and boo on book proposals.