You're a music journalist: where's your book deal?

This week I #PassTheAux to Imogen Gordon Clark, an Editor at music-specialist publisher Omnibus Press, who shares all her tips for a successful book proposal

Every journalist thinks they have a book in them, but most of us don’t dare to vocalise it. We writers, soft as molluscs beneath the hard shell of our bylines, live in fear of nobody reading our work, of an editor’s cruel feedback, of receiving that humiliating kill-fee. Getting over the flop of a 3000-word piece is one thing – I’m not sure I could recover if I pumped out 80,000 only to watch them gather dust on my Google Docs.

Which is why this week I’m passing the aux to Imogen Gordon Clark from Omnibus Press, who is here to soothe and inspire our fretful souls with some helpful guidance on how to write a book proposal, and to demystify the entire process. These tips are tailored to music journalists, but there’s plenty to glean here for aspiring authors of any kind. Over to Imogen!

With more music imprints around than ever before, this is perhaps the golden age of music book publishing. Here’s everything you need to know if you’re considering making that first pitch.

Formats and Ideas 

  • These are the sorts of projects we tend to receive from music journalists:

    • Co-written artist/band autobiographies, either as a credited co-author or a ghostwriter.

    • Authored artist/band biographies, either authorised or unauthorised.

    • Authored studies of broader musical topics, such as genres, labels, business elements, cultural scenes, etc. 

  • If you have an artist/band in mind, you could approach them to secure authorisation or gauge interest for a co-writing project. While feature editors may prefer the artist is only contacted once they’ve commissioned the article, having an artist on board already will significantly increase the appeal of your pitch for a publisher.  

  • Once you’ve established a relationship with a publisher, they may come to you with ideas or to help write an artist-led autobiography.

Writing Your Proposal  

  • Check the requirements of the publisher (or agency) you’re pitching to, and tailor your proposal as necessary.

  • As a general rule, a 30+ page proposal includes the following:  

    • Book synopsis, with the overall story, the context, your sources (including prospective and/or secured interviewees). The first paragraph should be a clear, concise summary of the book and why it’s important. It’s essential an editor can understand your book from one simple sentence or brief paragraph.

    • Chapter outlines, indicating how the book will be structured.  

    • Sample chapters (unlike fiction pitches, you don’t need to submit the whole manuscript).  

    • Author bio with relevant career highlights and credentials for writing this book in particular. 

    • Comparable titles and how your book differs.  

    • Useful sales/marketing information, such as tie-ins/anniversaries, your own promotion tactics or statistics related to artist appeal. 

    • Anticipated delivery date. Plan for research as well as writing time, and consider other work or personal commitments. 

    • Estimated word count (between 70,000 and 150,000 is fairly standard). 

Submitting Your Proposal 

  • Some publishing houses do not accept unsolicited (i.e. unagented) submissions. You may wish to sign with a literary agent if you can, but many publishers do sign books direct from authors (ourselves included). Agents help with the pitching process, identifying the best editor for your book, contract negotiation and advice throughout the process, but obviously at a cost. It’s worth looking into further before deciding what’s right for you.  

  • It’s fairly common for agents to send proposals to multiple publishers at once. However, when pitching directly, ideally submit to one press at a time, or at least flag if the pitch is under consideration elsewhere.   

  • Include a covering email, where you could share more about you. For instance, outlining the artists/genres you’re most interested in might help a publisher pair you to a future project.   

  • Unsurprisingly, turnaround times are much longer in book publishing than in journalism. Before offers can be made, potential books have to be costed and internally approved. This process can take several months, so do make it clear if an idea is time sensitive.  

I’ve particularly enjoyed editing Dayglo: The Poly Styrene Story, an illustrated oral history on the X-Ray Spex frontwoman, by her daughter, Celeste Bell, and music writer Zoë Howe; The Velvet Mafia: The Gay Men who Ran the Swinging Sixties, Darryl W. Bullock’s history of LGBT rock’n’roll impresarios like Brian Epstein and Larry Parnes; The Lyrics of Syd Barrett, produced in collaboration with the Syd Barrett Estate, assisted by David Gilmour and featuring an Introduction by biographer Rob Chapman; as well as commissioning Omnibus’ first musical theatre book, from the creators of Come from Away.

As we’re looking to expand our pool of female writers, do feel free to get in touch with any queries or ideas. But wherever your publishing journey takes you, good luck and have fun! | @ImogenGC

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