The soul of a book proposal is sweet brevity

The irony of writing a book proposal is that one must rewrap the events, the characters and the feelings of one’s 200-plus-page book into an outline of eight pages or less.

After toiling over 77,000 words and 10 years of writer’s blocks, I now am composing a vastly truncated version for the proposal that will be sent to potential agents. I cried writing some of those words! Every last one carries meaning and emotion. How can dismiss some of them as pointless?

I managed to boil the outline down to 2,763 words, but it’s supposed to be like a homemade spaghetti sauce that’s simmered on the stove all day retaining the sweetest, most flavorful parts of the tomatoes and garlic and onions all melded together in a sauce of perfect consistency. I’m not yet sure I’ve got the most mellifluous recipe.

“Well, that’s why it’s a book,” has often been my answer when someone asks me what my memoir is about. It’s about so much! Love, sex, marriage, betrayal, crime and punishment, forgiveness, divorce … oh, and it’s about drums and drummers, too.

It reminds me of Six-Word Memoirs, the parlor game (it’s also a book) in which one distills one’s life into six words. I can’t even get the title down to six words. “The Percussionist’s Wife: A Memoir of” is as far as I get. How about “Drummer, writer meet, love, cheat, divorce”? Or possibly “It was and wasn’t about sex”?

In any case, I’m having to dust off the headline-writing skills I cultivated long ago as a newspaper copy editor. Nothing inspires brevity like a wedging a 250-word story into a 30-point sentence two inches wide and three lines deep.


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