I’m attempting to publish my third book. I wrote the initial manuscript last year and finished the first draft this past summer. I am hoping to find a publisher. I solicited 120 agents this summer and have received 20 rejections and have not heard from the others, which is tantamount to rejection. The work is demanding and would be heartbreaking if I wasn’t inured to process. In fact, I have come to see rejection as the proof of work accomplished. If I’m not being turned away, then I’m not doing the work.
Recently, I talked to an editor at a university press. I gave his the elevator speech on the book. He said that the press is publishing fewer memoirs but thought that mine was something he could work with. To proceed, he wants a book proposal. For those of you who don’t know, a proposal is a different animal from the manuscript. A proposal includes a synopsis of the book, an introduction to the author, and chapter-by-chapter summaries or sketches, along with a profile of the proposed audience and the book’s place in the market. It gives the editor, agent, or publisher a complete idea of the arc of the story and the tale’s contents. An agent uses the proposal when soliciting editors. Editors use it in their editorial meetings to see if the book meets the needs of the publishers’ catalogs. If I am lucky enough to submit directly to a publisher, they will determine on the basis of the proposal if they want the book.
What follows is the synopsis of the book I’ve written for the proposal. Please note that the title is for the work-in-progress will likely change as I move forward.
I’d love to hear what you think. You can comment below or reach me personally at email@example.com.
It’ll All Be New: A Missourian’s Tale of Loss and Redemption Spanning Two Continents
In It’ll All Be New: A Missourian’s Tale of Loss and Redemption Spanning Two Continents, a family trip to visit friends in Germany frames a deep reflection on international relationships whose bonds have transcended distance and time. As my family and I visit one friend and then another, each in a different part of Germany, I recount and contemplate how these relationships have developed over the course of thirty years and what they say about the person I was when I first showed up in Germany.
When I was 22, I was already an inveterate drunk. On a whim, I sold and gave away my worldly possessions and left to find work in the vineyards of the Mosel Valley. As a Midwesterner and Kansas Citian, I encounter a world completely different from the one I come from. I have no reference or experience to guide me. I had little money and all my possessions in a backpack. I couldn’t speak German and had no contacts outside an American acquaintance on a tramp around the German republic. Having met a couple of Missouri vineyard owners, I only knew I wanted to work in a vineyard and build my own in western Missouri one day. In the tale, I don’t travel as a tourist but as a hungry laborer in desperate need of a job.
Over the course of a year, I landed a position with a well-reputed winery in Trier and met people who influenced my entire life. They succored and encouraged me. When I was most alone, they let me into their homes and had me over for holidays. They showed me a world much broader than my Missouri upbringing. But a mix of naïveté and Midwestern openness guided me as I learn the intricacies of culture and language. My friends were and remain the closest I have.
Each subsequent visit I make to these friends—from tense days during Cold War under the Reagan Administration to the present—reintroduced me to a changed Germany and friends whose lives were shifting. My friends developed in their careers as craftsmen and artists. I matured from an overbearing and needy drunk to a stable family man. In between, my wife and children formed their own relationships with my friends.
And the Germans visited the United States. We accompanied the Germans Kansas City, Missouri, Colorado (Mesa Verde), Iowa, and Wyoming. During our family visit to Germany in 2014, the trip on which the book is based, my family and I traveled with one of my friends through Germany to the heart of Burgundy in a campervan. We visited French and German historic sites and villages along the way. We also traveled through Belgium, following the tracks of the Battle of the Bulge. All the while, my Midwestern family tries to absorb the new landscapes, languages, and people.
Tales of love, disappointment, and the death of my best friend, a German, escort the reader through a personal odyssey that spans two continents, a trip to the mental hospital, and several careers.
The book is intended for adult readers of travel memoir. Besides being of interest in its own right, the story will find an audience among Missourians and Midwesterners who have traveled or wanted to travel in Europe. The memoir builds quintessentially American story—one of a failure, success, and striving, as well as redemption and new beginnings. It gives insight into American and German culture and the nature of cross-cultural friendships. The manuscript frequently refers to Missouri and Kansas City—places that formed the travelers and gave their mindsets and perspectives from which they perceive European life. The manuscript includes commentary on American and European history that contextualizes the various journeys of the travel companions.
The length of the present draft of It’ll All Be New is 93,000 words (367 pages, Courier New, 12 point).
About the author (see also the attached CV):
The University of Nebraska Press published my two travel memoirs. Seldom Seen: A Journey into the Great Plains (2009) recounts my 1,450-mile walk from Kansas City to Helena, Montana. Canoeing the Great Plains: A Missouri River Summer (2015) takes readers down 2,000 miles of the Missouri River from Helena back to Kansas City. Both are works of personal exploration, as well as solid travel narratives. Seldom Seen won mentions in several book awards contests, including the Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award, the High Plains Book Award, and the 2011 Byron Caldwell Smith Award from the Hall Center for the Humanities at the University of Kansas. Canoeing the Great Plains won the creative nonfiction category of the 2016 High Plains Book Award and the 2016 Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence from the American Association of University Women and the Kansas City Public Library. I have been an award-winning investigative journalist, book editor, college professor, and ironworker. I conduct memoir-writing workshops at the Writers Place, a Kansas City literary center, and the Mid-Continent Public Library. I earned a doctorate in American History and American Literature from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2013.
The American experience in Europe is an important element in this country knowing itself and understanding its still delivering history. Great writers of the early and middle 20th century saw knowing Europe as essential on knowing themselves as an American. I think you intuitively know this.
I think that your phrase “the story will find an audience among Missourians and Midwesterners” sells the story short. I have obviously not read it but, based on the synopsis, don’t see anything that would dissuade me (who, although born in Wisconsin, does not consider himself a midwesterner) from reading it. It also may send a message to the money people that it may have limited appeal. That last comment is pure conjecture as I don’t really know how the book business works.