by Brett Battles

When we last left off after part 1, I was finishing my proposal and about to send it to my agent. If you recall, I mentioned that I was doing something different that neither my agent nor my editor was expecting.

Now I can tell you what I did…instead of giving them a single, stand alone book proposal, I gave them three completely different ones.

Yes, I said three…individual…story proposals.

Each included the following: A) a ten to fifteen page outline, and B) sample chapters of around thirty pages for each idea.

I know. You’re thinking, What? Are you crazy?

Perhaps. After all, I turned in approximately 120 pages of written material…for a  proposal!

(Wait. I am crazy.)

Here’s how it happened. Earlier this year I was at a point with the book I was working on that I had a break of a few days, and, as luck would have it, an idea for a stand alone came to me. In a two or three day period I typed up nearly forty pages of the beginning of the book. Then I saved the file (we’ll call this idea #1), and went back to the manuscript I was working on.

When August came around, my publisher and I agreed that the next proposal should be for a stand alone instead of the fifth in the Quinn series. Almost immediately I had a new idea (idea #2) that I was excited about. I worked on it for several weeks, spending a lot of time just thinking things through. I ended up devoting a lot of time on the trip I took in late August working on it, and had things pretty much had it all figured out by the time I got on the plane to fly home.

Funny thing about flying, often I’m struck with random ideas that momentarily consume me. (Many times they involved planes, for obvious reasons. One such idea occurred on my trip to Bouchercon last week.) This moment of inspiration happened to me on the first leg of my journey back to the States, and for three hours I wrote long hand in my notebook the first couple chapters of a new book (you got it, idea #3). When I got home I still had a few weeks before my proposal was due, so I allowed myself some time to flesh out this new idea and see if it was worth sending in. I’m sure my initial thought was that if it was better than idea #2, it would be the proposal I’d submit.

As I continued on it, I definitely liked where it was going, but I also found that I still really liked idea #2. That’s when the scandalous thought hit me: why not send in both and let my publisher decided.

And seconds after that thought crossed my mind I remembered the story from earlier in the year.

Knowing I probably shouldn’t, I went back and reread it anyway. Damn if I didn’t liked where it was going.

Okay, fine, I told myself. I’ll send them three. Because I knew I’d be happy to write any of them. Let my editor weight in on which one should be next.

As a side note, I should say that this method of giving multiple choices was also ingrained in me during my working days in television graphics. The thing was, if someone wanted a main title for their show…let’s say TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORIES (one of the shows on E! I rebranded)…if you show them one idea they won’t like it. But if you give them choices, they’ll feel like you really put thought into it, and will pick one.

In the case of my proposal, reason behind given multiple ideas didn’t equate to my time at E!, but my thinking was definitely influenced by my process there. The real reason I sent all three was because I was happy with all of them so it didn’t really matter to me which one I did.

The last Friday of September, I emailed the proposal to my agent without any warning about what she would receive. Was she impressed? She sounded like it to me. That following Monday, she send it on to my editor.

Since my proposal was rather bulky, and my editor also had other things on her plate, it took a couple weeks for her to get back to me. She finally did the Friday after my last Murderati post (two weeks ago tomorrow.) Thankfully, she was very happy with all the material, and while she liked aspects of all three idea, she went with idea #2.

(Funny tangent…the down side of doing this (besides all the extra work) was that once I sent the proposal in, one of the ideas started to pick at my mind. And since I had nothing else to do, I put in a little time on it, developing it further. And, you guessed it, that wasn’t the one chosen. Oh well, it’ll be the next one if I have any say in it!)

So I’m back at the daily writing thing now, working on making idea #2 into a finished, kickass stand alone. I’m pretty excited about it, too, because I’m using a lot of my personal past in it…(the book is largely set in my hometown.)

Now, would I advise doing your proposal in the manner I did? Ah…no. What works for one person, doesn’t necessarily work for all. I will say I don’t plan on doing multiple ideas for future submissions, though, I guess, you never know.

Questions for today:

Brett…crazy/not crazy? (Perhaps we should skip that one.)

For writers, how much thinking to you put in before you start a new book? (Not talking necessarily about outlining, just working the idea and characters in your mind.)

Readers, does this behind-the-curtain stuff even interest you?

And finally…and this is most important…I would love to hear any ideas on topics you like me, or other Murderati contributors, to discuss!


A special hello to all the new friends I met at Bouchercon, and to the old ones I got to spend time with and get to know better. It was an excellent conference and I can hardly wait until next year. If you weren’t there, try to come next time. Hell, it’s in San Francisco! Who’d want to miss that?



  1. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Brett

    Interesting topic. I like to kick ideas around for a new book before I start, and I often write disconnected scenes with new characters in, just to see how they react in different situations. Sometimes, those scenes even make it into a book!

    One thing that occurs to me, though, is that now your editor has made a choice, lock away those other ideas somewhere you can’t get to them. Because when the book you’re working on hits a sticky patch – as they always do at some point or another – there will be a strong temptation to get out one of those other proposals and suddenly think it seems like a MUCH better idea …

    Oh, and many congrats on the Barry Award at B’con, by the way!

  2. Wilfred Bereswill

    I noodled over the idea for a good year before writing my first book. The writing process only took 6 months (day job interfered). I dug right in on story 2 and the writing process has extended proportionately.

    Brett Crazy or Not?? I’d say not. Let’s call it motivated.

  3. Dana King

    It’s hard for me to say how long I ponder an idea before I start formal work, as I often have several floating around. I worked on a project last year (2008) that had been on my mind off and on since 2002.

  4. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    The preparation you did, while it sounds extreme, seems appropriate for TV/Film projects. I remember writing multiple treatments and proposals for producers when writing screenplays or radio/TV copy.
    It’s great that you are tackling the publishing world this way–I think you will remain a favorite author to every editor and publishing house that employs you.
    Curious – when you started fiddling with the one idea that interested you most, couldn’t you have contacted your editor and told her that you were getting more excited about that one?

  5. Louise Ure

    Congratulations again on the Barry, my dear.

    I’m awed by your multiple submissions as I have about one good idea a year. But your effort reminds me a lot of the way creative departments would present ads at the ad agencies I worked at. They often showed several compelling ideas around the same strategy. Sometimes however, they’d present one idea and a couple of "straw men." Sounds like you went for three good ideas. I hope they all come to fruition!

  6. Brett Battes

    Steve…I actually mentioned it to her, but I think the other idea was more appealing to them as it was presented. There was one aspect of the idea I continued on that they weren’t sure about. Something, though, I could easily fix in the future. No problem. I’ll do that one next. Having dove in this week on the new one (at the sister store of our old favorite coffee shop…where I’m sitting right now) I’m actually enjoying it a helluva lot. Actually have written nearly 8000 words on it in two days. We’ll see what today brings!

  7. Brett Battes

    Thanks, Louise! While I’m still smiling at my good fortune, this week is definitely back to work as I dig in on this new one. Your ad agency analogy is very similar to how we worked in the on-air design department at E! Often we’d through in an idea that was a wild card, something interesting that was unexpected. But we learned early not to include an ideas we really didn’t want to produce, as more than once, these were the ideas that got chosen. Hard to talk a client out of an idea you’ve presented to them.

  8. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Steve beat me to it – that’s exactly what it was like working in Hollywood, you always had three or four projects going at a time like that until one or more landed.

    I think as you get your chops, this becomes easier and even natural to do with books, too. I just gave my agent two different proposals. last week while I’m also working on a spec book. But I also want to just spend some quiet time asking myself what >>I<< most want to do.

    Great luck with it, Brett, and congratulations again.

    Oh, and – crazy, obviously. Thank God!

  9. JT Ellison

    That is very cool. I do the same thing, though not nearly as developed – this last time I sent in 5 ideas, 1 page each and 3 were picked. I just shelved the other 2 for future work and kept plugging along. Though I’m going to have to do proposals again soon, and I’ve already got a million ideas puttering around in my head. I love the idea of doing one book proposal at a time. Hmmm…..

    I’m sorry I almost broke your Barry. I was just so damn excited for you!

  10. Cornelia Read

    Hey there, Brett… it was great to see you in Indy, and I admire your fortitude with submitting three different proposals. I just sent off a rough outline of what I’d like to do with my fourth book to my editors and agent, and am now wishing they’d right me back IMMEDIATELY and say they’re okay with it. I’ve never done such a thorough fleshing out of a novel before, and it’s a little scary to me. But maybe it will make it easier to get it finished? Hope so…

    Bestest to you, dear man, and I hope you have fun with the one they picked.

  11. Brett Battes

    Sorry about the hives, Karen.

    And thanks, Alex!

    JT, the important thing is, you didn’t break it. But if you had…. 😉

    I know that need for immediate feedback feeling, Cornelia! I will say that each of these was way more thorough than I’ve done before, and, so far, this one’s writing easier than anything I’ve done before.

    Oh, and Cornelia, sorry I made you cry. (Not what you think, everyone. Just a parent story thing I told her.)

  12. Melanie

    I love hearing the thought process behind how authors come up with — and then sell — their ideas. This is great! I struggle coming up with ideas but a new one came to me last week and this energized me to start working on the plot & outline. Thanks.

  13. kit

    first off, congradulations on your award!
    and yes, the behind the scenes look at the craft of writing is priceless to anyone beginning or even if they are a published writer.
    The information you and the other Murderati blogger have shared is sometimes what keeps me going,personally.So for that I thank you and them.

  14. Jessica Scott

    Congrats on submitting so much! I think its fab that you were able to get all of those proposals in good shape and have the confidence to ship them off.
    You ask about how much thought goes into the first draft? In my case, ideas will float around in my head until a certain scene takes hold and then the writing starts. I can burn through about 30K words before I have to stop and think about where this is all really going. More often than not, once that first draft is done, it usually gets torched and a new version is written if not from scratch, almost from scratch. I’ve tried plotting but have yet to come up with a process that works for me. So for now, the long drawn out process continues wherein I spent weeks on that first draft, let it sit for several months (no contract deadlines here, yet, I hope) then go back and reread, brutally slashing through and starting over.
    Here’s hoping my process eventually gets streamlined down the road!

  15. Allison Brennan

    Bouchercon’s in San Francisco? Hell yes, I’m there. I haven’t been yet, but I so, so, so want to go.

    Brett, you’re crazy. We all are. I don’t write detailed proposals. I only write them when I absolutely have to. I don’t know where my story is going until I write it, usually after 150 pages or so. People think I’m crazy because I don’t know how a book is going to end until I get there. So . . . embrace your craziness.

    But just because I don’t outline doesn’t mean I don’t think about it. Some books come "easier" than others. Some take awhile. Sometimes a few weeks, sometimes years. Both types of books are still hard to write.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *