Blogging, Writing and the Publisher’s Book Proposal

by Victoria Madden

I haven’t posted on my main blog Re-imagining Warrington for quite some time, mainly because factual posts need a lot more research than opinion pieces and Life has been getting in the way. (Life! Don’t talk to me about Life!) It occurred to me, though, a few days ago, that an outline of how I came to start writing my book, and the things that interest me when comparing how Warrington and York have developed into their modern incarnations, might also interest my blog readers – as well as help me get to grips with a coherent framework for the thing.

As usual, my ‘brief outline’ ran to a good 11 pages and I was scrolling up and down, having managed to get it down to five, when it also occurred to me that what I was doing was very similar to a book proposal. A quick search on Google found these guidelines at the Palgrave Macmillan website.

Palgrave Macmillan are heavy-weight academic publishers but what’s interesting, particularly from my own background in research funding, is the extent to which the work on which the author has spent years of research and re-writing is reduced to its component practicalities: the key selling points of the project; its primary and secondary markets; the competition; the ill-advisability of the diagrams, graphs and quotes beloved of the academic world, due to expense and time-consuming copyright permissions; and the rather plaintive request for a realistic deadline for the submission of the final typescript. Intriguingly, there is also a request for details of any social media activity used to promote the academic’s work, a reflection of the importance such an audience is now seen to be in terms of a potential buying public.

There are no similar guidelines for its fiction division, Pan Macmillan, as they, in common with many other publishers of fiction, only accept unsolicited manuscripts through a literary agent. (There’s an interesting blog post from a French author on the difference she found approaching publishers herself (the French convention) and via an agent over in the UK.) The always useful Writer’s and Artist’s Year Book has some good articles on its website which include tips on finding an agent.

Writing the outline is proving a very useful exercise, helping me to focus on the core elements of my book’s argument. Thinking of what I’m writing in terms of a blog post, rather than an academic essay, is also making me focus on my potential readership, something it’s easy to lose sight of in all the research.

Reading through the various questions in the book proposal guidelines, and trying to think about how I’d answer them in terms of my own work, has shown me that, much like blogging, understanding your readership is equally, if not more, important a consideration in writing a book as the content itself. Social media is much maligned, and a great deal of it justifiably so, but those bloggers who take their work seriously are taken seriously in their turn – Pan Macmillian encourage the best to join their stable of on line reviewers. From my own experiences looking in, only recently from the outside, and beginning to learn this new format, the role that blogging plays in the development of the writer, is becoming more and more self-evident.