I have to tell you about what happened when my friend Liz and I (that's us in the picture above!) started writing our book proposal. Even though she and I have each written dozens of proposals by now, even though proposals we’ve written have been accepted by publishers and gotten authors book deals, when it came to writing our own proposal…
I got scared.
I feel the butterflies now just thinking about it!
It’s a lot easier to have confidence when you’re helping someone else out. But when you’re trying to advocate for your own ideas??
YIKES. To say the least.
And this is coming from someone who has spent years evaluating book proposals, studying their various components, and teaching others how to do it.
It turns out that no matter how much experience you have with something, when the stakes are different—when your own ideas are on trial—it’s just intimidating.
But we did it.
Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot from Albert Bandura’s research about how to build your confidence to do something, and I’ve become much more intentional about how I take on new challenges. Writing this book proposal was no different! Here’s what worked for us, and what the research says will work for you, too:
Liz and I met every Friday throughout the summer, and we talked through every single piece of the proposal. We broke it up into sections and set little goals for ourselves:
We did this for every single piece of the proposal until it was done. It ended up taking us a couple months. It felt easier as time went on, because we could look back and see how much we had already accomplished, and the gap between what we’d done and what we needed to do got smaller every week.
You already picked up on the most obvious part of this story: I wasn’t writing the book proposal by myself! I had a friend and thought partner I was accountable to. We encouraged each other, we validated each other’s ideas, and we showed each other that if she can do this, I can do this, too. Not only that, but it made an otherwise intimidating process actually fun! I found that I looked forward to our Friday morning meetings when we could talk about what we’d done and plan the next part together.
Not everybody co-writes a book with a friend—but that doesn’t mean you have to write alone! Surrounding yourself with writers who are on the same journey is one of the most validating experiences I have seen. Yes, a lot of writing happens behind closed doors and in the wee hours of the morning. But knowing that there are other people who want to see you succeed and who are invested in seeing you succeed is powerful. Not only that, but as you watch them succeed, you realize that you are capable of the same thing.
When we got most of the way through our book proposal, we stopped and decided we needed feedback from other people in the industry. We knew that, even though we’d both done this before, writers always have blind spots about their own writing.
So we reached out to trusted colleagues and other professionals who we knew could give us some tough love feedback and help us make our proposal shine.
Boy, did they ever!
We were so nervous getting feedback from these pros, but let me tell you: We’re so glad we did. They pointed out things we had missed and helped us reposition our book so that it could truly stand out in a crowded marketplace. They gave us language that we had been struggling to find, and I can honestly say that the book proposal is so much better for their input and feedback!
While we were working on the proposal, my husband was in Ukraine volunteering with an organization he had co-founded when the war started. He was right on the front lines, taking food to refugees in the “Zero line,” the no-man’s-land between the Russian front and the Ukrainian safe zone, where small villages found themselves without food or medical supplies and often caught in the crossfire. To say I was distracted with fear and worry was an understatement.
Not only that, but I was in the midst of one of my heaviest seasons of work. I had deadlines every week for other projects. I had other people’s book proposals due.
And on top of that, our house was falling apart. Of course, every wife knows that as soon as her husband goes away for a while, everything goes wrong. The air conditioning broke when it was 90+ degrees outside. The refrigerator broke and I had to figure out getting a replacement by myself. Our TV broke (I ended up toughing this one out till he got home!). My car’s tires needed replacing. Our lawn mower broke (so I hired the kid next door).
I was overwhelmed. Life just happens sometimes, doesn’t it?
So I handled what I needed to handle with the house and let the rest of it be. I talked to my husband when I could and tried not to worry about things I couldn’t control. I went on long walks in my neighborhood and took warm baths at night. I bought some new decorations that brought me joy. I spent time with friends who helped keep me sane and didn’t let me spend all my time working. I treated myself to cinnamon rolls on my birthday.
Balancing my work life with rest and fun made it possible for the ideas to keep flowing and for work to get done in what was, objectively, a hard season for me.
I also found that having my own project to work on was its own source of light and joy in my life. Writing my book proposal ended up being a huge gift in those months.
Investing the time and energy and money into your own ideas is scary. Writing a book proposal that you’re going to pitch to industry professionals and then try to sell to thousands of people all over the world is terrifying!
But here’s what I honestly believe: If you know something that the rest of the world needs to also know, then you have the chance to give us all a great gift. When writers with incredible ideas don’t take a chance to put them out into the world, we all suffer.
If you attended either of the webinars I did recently with Jeff Goins, then you heard about a new group coaching program he and I are offering. The program is 90 days, or 12 weeks (February 1 - April 19), and in it we’ll be meeting as a small group every Wednesday for an hour. We want to give you the chance to craft your book proposal with all of the training, support, and encouragement we can to help make you successful.
We’ve designed this program to build your confidence in all the same ways Liz and I did above:
We’ve coached dozens of authors through this process before—and we’ve done it ourselves—so we know it works! We’re limiting it to 10 spots, and we have just a few more left.
Is it time for your book proposal to get out into the world?