July 16, 2019

Nonfiction Book Proposal Voices: Can You Find Your’s?

CarolPenn-Romine1Carol Penn-Romine at BookLife offers insights into writing a nonfiction book proposal. Her comments on voice are especially worth repeating and underlining:

Show your personality, but be sure the prose is tight. Publishers already have way too much to read, so get your point across as succinctly as possible. If you’re relying on your folksy charm, hold it in reserve for later. Not that you want to use one voice in the proposal and then shift to another in the book, but you don’t want to use up good will of a publisher who is slogging through your precious prose.

Show your personality

Authors writing nonfiction proposals seem especially prone to writing in a mechanical way or monotone voice. The words aren’t wrong, just so devoid of human character behind them that any newscaster or commentator could speak them.

One reason this occurs is that writers abhor this task and want to write a single proposal to fit several different literary agents (or publisher’s editors for nonfiction). See an earlier blog on writing your proposal as the first thing, not last.

Chuch Sambuchino, at Writer’s Digest, offers a number of book proposals based on recent, popular movies. (See my post.) Read these to see how one author expresses his personality through a rather wide range of genres.

… but be sure the prose is tight.

Leanness is important because it demonstrates that your stories or directions or insights will be pithy and move quick enough to keep a reader’s attention and interest.

Mike Wells is not only a recognized fiction author but also a professor at Cambridge University, UK. In a previous post for fiction book proposals, I show how even his work can be reduced and infused with more action.

In a query letter (which often today is sent as an email), you will have no more than 350 words between the salutation and the closing. Each word has to do double, even triple work.

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