Authors Write Washington is seeking authors to use the form at writerswrite.org/overview by Dec. 23. Readers can vote and add their own descriptions as well. As part of the discussion, the opinions of more than 50 Washington Post journalists will be included.
Just two days after submitting a book proposal, Jai Churcher immediately started to worry when she got feedback:
“First, it was ‘No, no, that’s not how I imagined things’ and that ‘I don’t think you have to feel like you’re ugly when you’re writing a book’ and that there was no ‘cool’ in storytelling. This [was] when I realized this was more about herself than her book,” Churcher said, “and that ‘it’s not about a book’ could actually be part of that next chapter of the publishing process.”
The kind of questions you get when your book proposal is sent in are more common than you might think. And the outcomes you’re seeing often aren’t exactly what you hoped for.
But a recent survey of some notable authors by Thrillist Media Group found that while most told stories about their writing process in their autobiographies, many — 52 percent — wanted to share more than that.
“When asked what they wanted to write about the most, the list was very likely dominated by personal stories of frustration and heartbreak,” the survey reads. “However, writers like Jess Walter (who’s been writing since age 8), Brandon Mull (‘The Forgotten Pearl’), Marisa Silver (‘Hounded’), Jonathan Cape (‘A Woman Addicted to GIFs’), Cristina Cornell (‘Annihilated’), Harlan Coben (‘Pastoralia’), and Chris Pasetto (‘How to Drive People Insane’) listed crime, interviews, beards, romance, and sharing their work.”
Of course, some authors, such as Colson Whitehead, shared more in their submissions than others: 32 percent of Whitehead’s proposal, for example, included blurbs, background information about himself, and quotes from others. Whitehead shared four answers to the question, “What do you want your book to say about yourself?” — something he considers important, given that he writes about “a society which doesn’t really trust people,” he told Thrillist.
“Alyssa Rosenberg. She revealed that she never drank or smoked while she wrote, which seems a little strange,” says Washington Post Book World Editor Michael Cavna, who is the chair of the Washington Press Club’s Writers & Publishing Committee. “She wrote about feeling good about the work she had done.”
“I wanted to explore my craft as deeply as possible,” said Ted Kim, the author of “The Tomorrow Gang.” Kim focused on getting “as messy as possible,” although he did write about his baby-filled marriage and attempted suicide.
Antheos Aylett, author of “Mama, Miss Joan,” made sure to include as much about his wife as possible:
“The part that excited me most, of course, was the ability to include all of the truly wonderful aspects of my wife, Joan, without sacrificing the things that have always interested me about her … Mary Hunter of MC Hammer fame had a run for president, and she spent most of her life writing for kids.”
The answer with the most support from authors in their survey? Self-deprecation. Fifty-five percent of respondents said they wanted to share that they struggle with writing and then get inspired.
But sharing more than you’d like isn’t unusual, as some authors told us when they wrote.
“Everyone eventually gets a break after a certain number of rejections,” said Chris Caldbeck, founder of Agile Books, which provides services to help authors publish digital books. “They realize they’re onto something, and they’re ultimately self-deprecating enough to realize that self-deprecation isn’t so bad.”
As authors work toward publishing success, hopefully these expectations will become more relaxed and less cumbersome.