Birthing a Book Proposal

Birthing a Book Proposal
My Saffron Cross muse: Fred and I at DaVinci restaurant in Cancun, Mexico, where I officiated my cousin's wedding in October 2011.

I mailed my interfaith marriage book proposal to a publisher last Tuesday.

After nearly one year of gestation, the proposal for Saffron Cross: How a Southern Baptist Minister Fell in Love with a Hindu was finally ready for the eyes of an eager acquisitions editor.

And by “ready,” I mean good enough to let go of at this point.

If there’s one important lesson I’ve learned during the slow birthing process of a book proposal, it’s that perfectionism is the enemy. I have strong perfection tendencies; my inner critic keeps me from blogging, writing book proposals and query letters, and generally inhibits me from living my writing dreams to their fullest, truest potential.

When I mailed the Saffron Cross proposal last week, I had to let all of that go.

So, how did I do it?

I had suffered from writer’s block most of the summer after Fred’s father’s sudden death and the one-year anniversary of my own father’s death. After several months of piddling around with the proposal and crafting one horrible first draft,  I emailed the editor in late September to tell her I was nearly ready to send her something. This forced me to buckle down, edit my draft, and deliver on my promise.

I made October the goal month. I told myself that the proposal had to be mailed by or on November 1. Unfortunately, I chose the busiest month of the year, which included several trips out of town, officiating a wedding, and the start of a hectic semester teaching undergraduates.

I managed to carve out two weekends of the month in which I sequestered myself to write. Over those weekends, I put in serious hours overhauling the first draft and fighting my perfectionism. I armed myself with soothing thoughts and gathered supporting materials: endless cups of tea, books on writing proposals, my journal entries from India, and data on interfaith marriages/relationships  in America. I wrote and re-wrote, all within the paradigm of the publisher’s specific guidelines and Michael Larsen’s book on How to Write a Book Proposal, which I found to be up-to-date and easy to follow. You can purchase it here.

Over the course of October, I produced a 70 page document (including a sample chapter) that helped me discover what I want Saffron Cross to offer to the reader. The result was a not-too-dreadful second draft. Fred and my mother read it–and for more objective feedback, I sent it to one of my best friends, a genius PhD student in sociology at the University of Virginia who is honest, thoughtful, and has been a strong supporter of this project. They all contributed to nurturing the the better-but-not-great second draft into the healthy third draft more suitable for editorial consumption.

Writing the Saffron Cross book proposal was a meaningful gestational process. Grateful to God for the gift Fred and I have received as a through our Christian-Hindu marriage, the memoir is beginning to develop what it needs to offer an engaging journey for the reader.

How is perfectionism holding you back? How did you feel when you have finished a substantial creative project (e.g., book proposal, manuscript, painting, sculpture, or other piece of art)? What keeps you from getting to that point of creative completion? How do you conquer it?

Editor’s Note: Saffron Cross: How a Southern Baptist Minister Fell in Love with a Hindu is a working title. We like it, but understand that a publisher may not. For now, I consider it to be the infant’s nickname–which, hopefully, will stick. Stay tuned …


4 thoughts on “Birthing a Book Proposal”

  • I can’t wait to read it! I’m a procrastinator due to perfectionism. If I can’t do it perfectly, I don’t even try. A hurdle I work to overcome. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • Gopal Nandini:
      Thanks for the comment! I’m glad you shared your tendencies. It certainly helps me normalize when I realize other people struggle with it, too. We’re on the anti-perfectionism journey together!
      Grateful, as always, for your encouragement,

  • Yay! (genuis is a bit of an exaggeration, btw.) One of my professors always said: “Don’t let perfect kill adequate.” Fortunately for me, perfectionism in writing is not something I struggle with. I probably struggle more with not actually caring that much about what i write….

    Anyway, here’s a great quote I came across that is helping me write my dissertation: “Writer’s block is simply a failure of ego.” (Norman Mailer) I remind myself of this when I sit down and say “I don’t have anything interesting to say about this…”

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