As I worked on a book proposal for a nonfiction book that I would like to write it became obvious to me that I needed to better hone what the book is about. It is not a broad subject. Rather it is narrowly focused on the Americans who volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War of the mid 1930s and follows their lives from being young men and women to now. I did a number of interviews while these men were alive, which is good, but for a few their memories were somewhat spotty so I don't yet have the complete picture that I need.
The story in general follows the natural arc of their lives, but there are missing pieces and the story simply can't just be a catalogue of experiences, it must actually tell a story. So how do I knit together a story with so many voices and etc. As I read through my first attempt at the proposal I realized that there isn't anything really holding it together.
This I think is probably the fatal mistake that many writers make as they try and attract an agent or publisher to a project. They may have a good topic, but they haven't really identified the story that they want to tell under that topic. In my example, there are a lot of books on these people--everyone from Hemingway to Orwell to Peter Carroll have written books--but none of them really follow these people past Spain and into what their lives were like to the time of their death. But again, simply saying that's what I am going to write in the proposal and hoping that an agent will see something of merit in that won't logically work.
I have to have defined story and lay it out in almost an outline form so that the reader--agent or publisher--sees themselves lost in the proposal and engaged in the story rather than the pitch. That's how to hook them because at heart these people love to read and they are looking to put the best stories out into the public's hands. They want to see good writing and good story telling more than good salesmanship because they will become the sales agent for your book and they have to believe in it and be excited by it.
Causes James Buchanan Supports
Expanding health care in the US, ending war as a viable tool of foreign policy, and issues related to social justice in general.