My first book proposal — “Intelligent Pitching”

I’ve been a writer wannabe my whole life, but I’ve mostly worked on fiction and magazine articles (and blogging, of course!).

Now I’m trying to do my first book proposal for a non-fiction book.

For a work of fiction, you basically finish the whole thing and then show it to potential agents and publishers.  The theory — I guess — is that you can’t judge the book by looking at a subset of it.  You need to “experience” the whole thing.

Fair enough.  With non-fiction books, my friend Howard Yoon says, you get a kind of a break: you don’t have to do the whole book to sell it, you just do a proposal.

He showed me a couple of examples, and set me to work on a book proposal about a topic dear to my heart: Intelligent Pitching.  I’ve blogged about this some, and I’ve given lectures and classes on it some.   Now I’m putting together the book proposal.

The format Howard gave me is pretty brutal: you need about five pages of sample for each chapter that will be in the book.  Well, if a chapter is something like 20 pages, that means you have to write about a quarter of each chapter before you actually write the book.

I guess the good news here is that once you’ve written the proposal — and if the your editor/publisher resists the God-given temptation to edit your work — that you then have written a good part of the book, including its structure, the spine.

There’s more to the proposal than the sample chapters: you need to give, in essence, a marketing plan for the book and a pitch for your own bona fides as an author.  There’s other stuff as well.

The book recapitulates what I’ve learned about pitches from 12 years of doing venture capital and 5 years of consulting before that.  My big shtick is that you need to think in detail about what’s on the mind of your audience in order to craft a good pitch.

It seems like motherhood and apple pie, but it’s amazing to me how few pitches act as if their authors thought about the audience beforehand.

For example: investors don’t (especially) want to know what problem your business solves.  They want to know how good your business model is.

If you crafted a pitch with that observation in mind, you would start the pitch with the key elements of your business model.

Very few pitches start that way.  Most start with long, drawn-out dramatizations of how extreme the problem is that their business solves, which is very tiresome to the investor who just wants to know what your business is going to do about the problem.

There’s a lot more like that in the book (or, more correctly, in the book proposal).  And what Howard counseled me to put in was not dry exposition but stories, stories that show and bring to life the principles of the Intelligent Pitch.

It’s been a lot of work to get it up to fighting weight, but very instructive.

One thought on “My first book proposal — “Intelligent Pitching””

  1. Good for you! I like your material. And, it’s a hit topic, what with all the 20-somethings feigning starting companies again.

    The format recommendation is interesting. A lot of these “I have a useful idea” books take that form. In fact, just finished one by Marcus Buckingham (from 130-530 AM Wednesday morning. I was tired on Wednesday.)

    Personally, I’ve mixed feelings about this format — the pack-em-with-story form. I understand that it gives credibility, makes it easier for folks to grok concepts, and allows you to separate the key idea from the implementation details. But, when I’m reading these I keep wondering: was this just one example of many or one of one (if it’s an HBS paper, you know it’s one of one), and: is he stringing me along because there really isn’t any beef here but it’ll take me 150#s to figure that out?

    This problem can be avoided by outstanding layout. E.g., Christopher Alexander’s a Timeless Way of Building tackled the separation of concept from detail in a way that more books could use.

    I really miss manpage format. Give a fast synopsis, the semantic details succinctly, and then put the examples and see-also’s in the last 2/3 if you need them. Why did it fall out of favor anyway?

    You can see why I’m not published in book form.

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