Deep POV: Confessions of a Christian Writer

The ramblings of an emergent-realistic-edgy-working-for-God-and-the-pay-isn’t-that-great-sometimes-confused-christian-fiction writer (uh, that would be me).

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Preposterous Proposals Pontification

Recently, in a writers' discussion list, someone made the statement that anyone who wrote the book first and then the proposal was ... well, he didn't call such people fools, but he came very close. The list and the person who made this statement will remain anonymous since I have no wish to pick a fight. Nor am I going to argue with him where nonfiction is concerned because I know nothing about the process involved in nonfiction books or book proposals. But his flat statement that (I am paraphrasing) you'll remain unpublished if you insist on writing the book first and doing the proposal afterwards just ... well, it ticked me off.

This approach makes perfect sense, of course, if you're a published author in the middle of a satisfying relationship with a publisher. Why would you go to the trouble of writing a novel first when you could put together a book proposal and get it sold before the fact? Of course, even then, we have to assume you're the type of writer who can, in fact, write the exact book you propose. Is that simply a matter of discipline? I think not. If you get to page 110 in your carefully laid out plan and suddenly Scarlett--realizing that both Rhett and Ashley are boring old fools--decides she's being called into the monastic life, well, oops! That isn't what the scintillating proposal said, is it? Is that a lack of discipline? Or is that creativity? In either case, that could be a problem. So, if you're a published author with a good relationship, etc., etc., and you can stick to your proposal, then this gentleman's idea has merit.

Let's talk about the unpublished fiction writers. The guy who made this statement wants us to pitch our idea to Dave Long, Mick Silva, or any of the other great acquisitions editors out there who don't know us from Adam? Okay, Mick Silva does know me; not well, but he knows something about me. Even so, is he going to trust that I will come back to him six months from now with said manuscript in hand even though I'm unproven in his eyes? Is he going to say, "That Pat is such a swell person. Yeah, sure, she'll do what she says she'll do. I trust her!" Ya think? I'm thinking he won't have his job very long if he's so darn gullible. I might be able to write the most compelling book proposal on the planet, but that doesn't mean I can write the book it's pitching. Does it? What am I missing here?

The problem, in my humble-and-open-to-being-totally-wrong opinion is that people get an idea in their head, one that works for them. Then they start pontificating. Actually, at first, they're probably just talking, telling people their experiences, but soon enough, it turns into their own personal gospel according to [fill in your name]. They make broader and broader statements about their particular idea until it takes on a life of its own. And it's at that point that they risk ticking off others ... as this gentleman did with me. Because the truth is that nothing works for everyone, that for every single documented case of a previously unknown fiction writer who soared to the top of the NYT Bestseller list right after she got her $500K advance (all thanks to an amazing book proposal) there are ten thousand writers whose book proposals got drop-kicked right off the hysterically laughing editors' desks.

So, what's the lesson? Tell people your ideas, definitely. We all need to hear things that may or may not help. Just keep a large helping of humility nearby while you're doing so. Admit that perhaps you might be wrong, that your idea may not be for everyone. Outside of the Gospel, few things really are.