Top critical review
474 people found this helpful
a great resource for a VERY LIMITED type of book
on March 28, 2003
I used this book, along with Larsen's "How to Write a Book Proposal" for my first book proposal, and felt they made an excellent combination:
- Larsen was great on explanation and details describing what each section required and why, but was light on examples.
- This book offered incredible examples, with great commentary, but was extremely thin on guiding you through the process of creating your own proposal. Each chapter--corresponding to each section of your proposal--runs a mere 1-3 pages. Examples are great, but direction is necessary as well. This half the book is grossly inadequate.
If Herman wanted a really great, 5-star book, he would beef up section one dramatically. However, I felt that the two together made a perfect combination, and were well worth the price of two books.
Now here's the rub:
I read two proposals a friend had sold to Random House for six figures each, both guided by a top agent at ICM, and they were nothing like the Herman/Larsen model. Not even close. Then I began working with a new agent--switching from a peddler of mostly crass-commericial work to an agent and recent editor known more for literary bestsellers. She guided me to an approach very much like my friend's ICM agent--what I'll call Model II. Finally, a friend working with an agent at Writer's House also was advised toward a Model II approach.
What I have since learned is this:
The Herman/Larsen model (Model I) is great for cookbooks, business books, coffee table books, self-help books, etc.
The model CAN also be applied to more literary work (memoirs, "serious nonfiction," bestsellers like "Longitude," "The Professor and the Madman" or even "The Perfect Storm." Let's say books with literary aspirations, whether or not you find them literary.)
I say it CAN BE applied to them, because I'm sure many serious books have been sold that way, but it's not a good fit. If you're pitching your book to a more literary niche--including "serious" bestsellers--and especially a narrative nonfiction book, I think you'd be highly advised to use Model II.
For that, see Betsy Lerner's "The Forest for the Trees" and especially Susan Rabiner's "Thinking Like Your Editor;: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction--and Get it Published." (Be advised that Rabiner has a very narrow definition of "serious nonfiction," but the book is still extremely useful for somewhat less serious, shall we say "middlebrow" work.)
This did not have to be a big problem with Herman's book (or Larsen's). The problem is, they did not bother to TELL you this in their books. Granted, most of the examples in this book (Herman's) are purely commercial products, but he's got two in there--"Heart and Soul" and "I'm Too Young to Have a Heart Attack" which are narrative memoirish works with literary aspirations. I'm sure he sold those two with this approach, but from what I have learned, most authors would have much better odds selling that type of book for more money with model II (unless of course, Jeff Herman is actually your agent--if he's most comfortable with his model and his clients expect it, go with it. Of course WHATEVER your agent advises, go with it, because he/she has to sell it. But most people using this book probably don't have an agent yet, or are going to be confused when they've studied this and their agent is expecting something very different.)
The big problem with this book is that he's not copping to its limitations, and hence leading a lot of naive writers like me to shoehorn their proposal into an inappropriate format, which does not play to its strengths. This book is by far the biggest seller on book proposals, and I'm afraid vast numbers of writers are getting a narrow view of how they're supposed to be selling their work.
A brief disclaimer explaining which books this is right for and who should look elsewhere for a better model would have been a fantastic service and rated this book 5 stars. As is, it's probably hindering nearly as many writers as it helps.