Episode 1:
The Proposal

*Transcripts are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

PAUL KIX
Hey it's Paul. This week, Sonya I talked all about what actually goes into the proposal. This is the first step for anybody that wants to be an author and Sonya I compare what went into my first proposal, and then look at the very different aspects that went into my second proposal. There's tons of useful information here, and some pretty cool stories. If you like any of them, and want to hear more, don't forget to sign up for my newsletter at PaulKixNewsletter.com. If you liked this episode, or really the whole conceit behind this season of now that's a great story. Don't forget to rate and review it on iTunes. Let's get straight to the episode.

PAUL KIX
Hey it's Paul. Welcome to the new season. Season Number Two, Episode Number One of Now That’s a Great Story. This season, we're going to be going deep on a single subject how to write a book covering everything from the very early stages, through the research through the writing, all the way up until you actually launch your book and what is this going to coincide with… well, guess what, I have just started to research my own book, the second book, and I thought it would be kind of cool to have a sort of week by week synopsis of like what's going on in my life as a way to sort of teach you about how you can do this.

If you're thinking about it at any point in the future if you want to do it. If you're just sort of curious about it. So I'm joined today by my wife Sonya. Hi, Sonya! How are you?

SONYA KIX
Hello!

PAUL KIX
Alright so let's... She's here today because she is the best bs check that I have in my life. She's the thing I mean she got the dedication and book number one for a reason because she has been there and she will be here today to sort of provide great context. Yep. Great context as well. All right, so let's get into how to, how to get a book proposal and the best way to try to relay how to get a book proposal is going to probably be through my own experience. All right, so let's start at the beginning and what is the beginning of actually writing a book, well the beginning is you have to be fascinated by a subject.

You have to be fascinated enough to want to do the story. So the last time it was Robert de La Rochefoucauld, and you guys have probably heard me and season number one talk a lot about the Sabatour, but this time I want to talk about the civil rights movement, and in particular the Birmingham campaign of the Civil Rights Movement.

Why did I like that so much? Well for a couple of reasons. Number one, it was riveting stuff. It was just fascinating to take in these were people who against all odds were able to go into the most racist most segregated city in the US and begin to enact civil rights legislation that then led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 so just in the broadest parameters it's sort of interesting because there's a conflict there, but then the deeper you get into it and we will get into it fairly deep as a way to teach you and your own life.

How to perhaps write a book, but the deeper you I got into it, the more fascinated I got because it was filled not just with Martin Luther King as a protagonist and Bull Connor, as a racist antagonists but kings deputies who faced so many odds, and were able to succeed at a time when really everybody around them, even their own circle didn't think that success was possible they were able to bring in other people to help carry out this campaign the campaign itself is known as a children's crusade. I mean, look, the point is, and we get, we'll go deep into this in subsequent episodes about how to structure research all this other stuff but the point of all this is the first step to writing a book is to become obsessed with the topic, and I got obsessed with a topic.

Long ago, probably because I was as a white guy I was trying to understand like what it would mean to raise black children, Sonya’s black I'm white, and the photos, the videos you've seen those videos of those kids literally getting firehose from Birmingham you've probably seen those photos of kids getting attacked by canine German Shepherds. I became obsessed with those images, and that obsession led me to this obsession with understanding the Birmingham campaign in a way that I think I can relay better than any other book that's been written, and again, we'll get there in subsequent episodes but the first step is to get obsessed with a topic and Sonya, for how long have we been talking about the Birmingham campaign.

SONYA KIX
I mean, I know we've talked about it. You know, I know pretty frequently I would say it comes up in conversation a lot, especially given the context of what's going on in the world right now. It's, it's a conversation that we've had just between the two of us. And then, when you got the idea to turn it into a book,

PAUL KIX
And that idea of like it predated even the Saboteur’s release.

SONYA KIX
Probably. Probably I read Parting the Waters quite a while ago so, you know, the similarities between the civil rights movement and all the movements that are going on right now has been a frequent topic of discussion.

PAUL KIX
Yeah, no, you know, and that's the other thing like this book that I want to write. It's going to in some ways, it's going to encapsulate what's happening right now is a way to reflect what was happening back then almost 60 years ago. So again, another topic that we will get to in another episode, but start with the obsession. All right, and then once you have that obsession. You have to do something. And the first thing you have to do is you have to research it right and you can't just research it like a week at a time. Okay, so I don't actually think that the Birmingham campaign books on it is a very good barometer of this I think actually the saboteur would be a better like way to sort of guide people, because I had been reading about the Birmingham campaign forever right so it wasn't it wasn't as if I set aside separate times to really now research and in depth, though I would ultimately, but the Saboteur is probably a better model for just the next step of the research itself, so I remember the Saboteur being like four or five months worth of research. What was it like?

SONYA KIX
For you is very intense because you had what it was an obituary. So you had just really basic information about this extraordinary man. And then, you did a deep dive to find out enough material to support a proposal which was….that took months.

PAUL KIX
I remember it being October of whatever that year would have been like 2013, where you and I sat down one night we're like okay we've got to go seriously at this and the first thing we had to do is we had to find Robert’s.... He had written a memoir, but had not been translated into English so we had to first find the memoir, which was his own task. And then we because neither of us spoke fluent French, we had to find somebody who had translated for us, right. And, and then we had to like search for records to back up what he was saying and we had to begin to contact a family and we had to look for sort of supporting documents as well I want to say it was maybe March of the next year. Before I was researching does that square with your recollection, too.

SONYA KIX
Quite possible It was very intense, but i think, you know, what you said about being obsessive, you were obsessed with this topic and really understanding Robert and who he was and because you were obsessed I mean I was right there with you. And it was something that we, had to do as a family particularly because you needed my help. It was just the two of us. So, having an understanding, you know as a spouse of what you were doing and being a part of it like that I think really helped me go through that with you. Because that was a long time and the kids were really small and yeah, it was it was tough, but it was rewarding. I remember you finding out information, and you're getting so excited, you know, I mean that's that's kind of the momentum...

PAUL KIX
…. I think that kept us both going yeah because there's no like there's no guarantee right at that stage you're like, Okay, I hope that somebody might be interested in this, but you just have to sort of take a flyer on yourself and say, Okay, I'm gonna I'm gonna have not only obsession but I'm going to have the confidence to begin to carry this out. So if you have both of those, if there's a subject matter that you are obsessed with if there's a sort of single story that you think you can tell well, then that's a great sign that you can actually begin to write a book proposal.

Okay, so once you've done that research. The book proposal tends to be broken down into three or four major components and I'm going to try to relay these to you, not only in this sort of dry abstract way but try to like tell my own story as a way to relate what it's like.

Alright, so the first step is the overview, and the overview is sort of like, if you're a magazine writer or if you're a newspaper writer, the, the overview is that is that 1000 word opening section, or that extended anecdote in your newspaper feature story or sort of online feature story that just grabs the reader it's sort of like the best of the best stuff that you have in the current book. I used a photo of this guy. This kid is a 15 year old kid getting attacked brutally by a German Shepherd. And in the Saboteur I used Robertr, trying to plot his escape from his own execution. As the means to try to write that overview and like Sonya, you've been with me. We've been together. We've been basically inseparable since 2003, when we started dating. Right. But you have from the start, even our dating life is coincided we're both journalists, it's overlapped with our writing lives. And what is it like for you to know that. Okay now I'm sitting down to write a proposal.

SONYA KIX
Well, when we met, you remember when we met you're in the middle of writing a story. So, I mean as a journalist, you know I understood the importance, but you've always written long format and I wrote much shorter stuff but I learned right away, that when you sit down to write, It's a process when you disappear. It's a, it's something that you need to focus on wholeheartedly. And when you sat down to write the proposal, I knew it was what you would focus on.

PAUL KIX
Yeah. And it wasn't like okay so let's just take that 1000 word, and it's probably somewhere around 1000 word overview probably somewhere like that. It isn't like with that aspect or any subsequent aspect of the book proposal process. It isn't like its undying focus, right? I actually don't think that's helpful. I think you should be writing no more than two or three maybe four hours at a stretch and trying to really understand like just put away all distractions right, you know, be focused on the work that you need to do and just try to write the best you can and do that every day.

I always have a goal of like just a 500 words a day. If I can put 500 new good words down. That's good process that's that's that's good, that's good for me because I have a day job to write like a lot of you out there may be thinking, How can I do this and hold a day job well we're gonna dedicate a whole episode to that in the future but believe me you can. It's just a matter of time management. So the first step is again, writing that great overview…. that overview, somewhere around 1000 words maybe 1500, but just this great moment from your research that you think is going to really grab the editors at various publishing houses and hold their attention. Alright, the next thing is the author's bio and this wasn't so important on the second book because publishers tended to know who I was, but I kind of sweated that author's bio the first go round and I remember my agent telling me you know this should not be some sort of CV. This is not a resume. Write through that bad boy like make it as interesting as you can and also make it as short as you can because the last thing you want is to go on and on and on with and then I did this and then I did that make it a story about your life, which is hard, like it's hard to do. But let's say that you do it. It's an important step and you have a lot of stabs at it I mean Sonia, not just not just those first two components, but the proposal as a whole. You read the Sabbath tour proposal. You read that like multiple times before we handed it in right?

SONYA KIX
Maybe twice.

PAUL KIX
Did you read the Birmingham one? Before I sent it in?

SONYA KIX
I think by the time I read it, it was ready to go.

PAUL KIX
And also because that one had some sort of like personal family stuff in two which is hopefully if this book works like it's going to be not only history but a bit of sort of personal history your memoir. So, I wanted you to read it for that. But regardless, you want that stuff to move fast. Right?

SONYA KIX
Well I think even one thing that we, I think that was kind of interesting and exchange that we had for the first book was when you were writing the proposal. When you were writing the chapters, you were writing, you're writing it like you write a magazine story like very thoughtful you have a very specific audience in mind. And so I always encouraged you to think a little bit differently, you need to think for the every man and woman walking into the bookstore picking up this book and what makes it interesting and so a lot of that was just rhythm and getting it to move very quickly.

Yeah, which is not necessarily you know when you…. I think in your writing. When you write your stories, there's time that you put into building characters and building scenes and creating moods and the writing that you did for The Saboteur, I mean yes you have to do that but it's, I think at a much quicker pace, especially for the proposal, right, especially for the proposal and to pick out a scene, and write something like a chapter is. It's hard. I mean, how do you pick out the…. Robert had such an incredible life. Yeah, to pick out that one moment and try and write about it, make it exciting and then to kind of learn right then and there, like baptism by fire like how do you how do you write a compelling book chapter if you've never written one before and how do you get….

PAUL KIX
Yeah, so that's that's a great segue because that's actually like that's the third component of the book proposal prospects process there's basically four parts of it, and then that one is a sample chapter, and Sundays right like, generally speaking you want that sample chapter to read like a magazine story it needs to have a beginning and a middle and an end, and it needs to be separate from the overview it needs to be another moment from your research needs to be another moment from your subjects live or from if historically group group portrait. You know, you get the idea right? It needs to be something else. It needs to also to sanyas point, it can't be drawn out and take forever. So I think probably 4000 words is probably at the high end of what you should be doing. You may want to do it instead in like 2500 or so. And so for me it was this avid tour one was actually easy because Sonya’s right. Robert led such an amazing life that had just this out, just like, wow, what sort of war did this guy have to do what sort of war did this guy fight that it was actually easy to choose so I chose for the sample chapter, another episode in which Robertr had to escape prison this time he had to kill guards that he was in the prison with as a way to escape and get back to the resistance. So, for me once I knew that okay I had this first escape, where he escaped his own execution. I began to think, Okay. Can I get a second moment.

That's just as compelling and it happened that Roberto's life was just as compelling there. This sample chapter for the Birmingham one was a little bit different because I wanted to show up for characters I wanted there's gonna be four protagonists in this book, and I wanted to show them, they are, you know, Martin Luther King, Wyatt Walker, Fred Shuttlesworth, and James Bevel. I wanted to show them interacting with each other. And so we basically chose this moment in early May 1963, where everything, everything that they have been working toward that entire spring comes to fruition.

And it is both horrifying to witness it is awe inspiring to witness and it literally changes the course of history, it became really the first sort of viral video. And so I knew I had all of those moments, it was just a matter of piecing that all together, and that probably was around 3500 to maybe 4000 words I wouldn't want to press it too much bigger than to make it too much bigger than that I just had to get it include all those four central characters in something, show them interacting with each other. Alright so that's sort of the sample chapter. The next part is the, the chapter by chapter outline and this is the last part and this is, honestly, and I think even book publishers know this.

This is the part where if you're a nonfiction writer, you're kind of winging it, because even if you've done three or four in the saboteurs case, six months worth of research, you actually haven't done that much research yet. Certainly not as much as you're going to end up doing over the course of the book. And so you need to think about alright where might this book go based on the existing research that I've done. And it's almost like you're... it's almost like you're making it up because it's actually one of those points where you know you don't know what you don't know you don't know the sort of things you're going to encounter over the course of the research. And so as a result of that, you don't know how that might change your outline. And so you just have to sort of write something based on right this is basically what I have right now. And I think the book will go from chapter one will cover this chapter two will cover this chapter three will cover this, it can be chronological, you can try to tell a book in a slightly different way like again for this Bergen Handbook, I'm thinking right now, and maybe, you know, the deeper we get into this season I'll find that this isn't the right way to go about it but I'm thinking right now that it should open with a sort of present day moment of me, looking at like, what this spring and summer of 2020 has wrought in terms of social and racial injustice, and then bring it back to the Birmingham campaign. So it might be something like, you know, after George Floyd was killed, Sonya, we had to talk a lot with the boys, because you know, George Floyd that was a viral video what happened in Birmingham, those were viral videos maybe the first viral videos ever, and what we had to talk about with the boys was our twins are nine now, like this is the first time we didn't close them off to that. And we did that for a reason we wanted them to see what basically they're going to have to encounter in their lives. And I remember this one exchange where one of our sons, you know, he's like, we'll just have to be careful when we interact with cops. And I sort of paused because, you know, George Floyd had been careful he had pleaded with the cops, Brianna Taylor had been careful she'd been sitting there behind a locked door. When cops busted in on her. There's, you know, Ahmad arbory had been careful he just been going out for a jog in Coastal Georgia, when he was gunned down by white racist vigilantes so like this is something that that has long been a part of the understanding that Sonya and I have about what it means to be a black person, and it might very well influence the opening is probably the prologue maybe even the first chapter of the book. And I just remember like a ton of tough conversations but also sign at a certain point, we were like this we should probably include this.

SONYA KIX
Yeah, I mean there's no way to tell the story I don't think without including at least some of our story to give it context to really relate to people, how much you know this means to us how personal it is. But I also think that you make a really not to kind of jump away a little bit but a really good point about how dynamic. You know, this whole process is what you write in the proposal, the ideas that are important to you. Maybe are not the same ideas I mean as you go through it, there are things that you discover and learn things become much more important to you, things that you discover that are now incredibly important that you want to include. So, you know, I, my thought when you did the first proposal for the Sabbath tour was that everything you wrote for the sample chapter or the outline you know like what all the chapters would be would be exactly how the book would turn out

PAUL KIX
Wasn't the case at all,

SONYA KIX
Not the case at all. So I think having that understanding, you know, if I were going to write a book, you know, like you're putting your best effort out there with the information you have right now. Yeah, and as it evolves. So does that information,

PAUL KIX
And you know, again,I think that I think almost every publisher is aware of that so they are sort of aware that there's a wink wink nod nod game being played here about those actual sample chapters. But the reason that you include them is because it gives the editors who will be bidding on your book and we'll talk about bidding on your book and what that process is like soon in another episode but it gives them a sense for. Alright, what sort of thinker is this person, does this writer have a sense not only for the immediate stories that I'm reading here but the larger narrative he, she, they want to tell, that's critically important, and that's what the sample chapters can do.


Okay, so we'll discuss this in the next episode in greater detail but I guess maybe the place to end today's discussion is on what happens next. All right, so what happens next is you write the whole thing out. And people are like how long should the proposal be and the reality is man it really doesn't matter right like some proposals are maybe 20 pages and maybe 7000 words and total other proposals are 15,000 words and 50 pages, it's just whatever you think is essential to relay everything that you want to relay. And then you send it to your agent, and then your agent. The two of you go back and forth I mean hopefully you have other readers too I'm lucky enough to have. I'm lucky enough to have my wife read it. So she's been incredibly important throughout this process. So next time we're going to talk about that process of having your agent read it, and then we're going to talk about that process of actually agreeing on what you want to send out and then sending it out to the publishers and what happens when you send it out to publishers and what happens when you meet with him and then what happens after you meet with them. All right, so like we're trying to, I'm trying this season to detail as many steps in the process as we can. So you can get a sense for how to do it yourself. Right. All right. Right. I think that's a perfect place to stop right,

I think you probably will be coming on next week, I think Sania might be. I mean, I mean, I would love to hear from the audience, whether what they think of you.

SONYA KIX
I would love to be a co host!

PAUL KIX
Well it might very well happen, we'll see. Alright so until next time, this is Paul Kix

SONYA KIX
and Sonya Kix.

PAUL KIX
This is season two. Now that's a great story. We'll be back. Hey thanks for listening. If you like this season. Now that's a great story, or just getting caught up on the first, the best way to keep in touch, is to the newsletter, Paul kicks newsletter.com. There, you'll get even more advice on how to be the best writer and storyteller, you can be. In fact, right now, I've got a free PDF for you. The seven rules, top long form writers follow to make more money from their stories, sign up for the newsletter, and you'll get the free PDF there now. PaulKixNewsletter.com.


      ©2021 Paul Kix. All rights reserved.

Read our Terms of Use, Privacy, and Cookie Policies.