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Three Tips for Submitting Your Proposal

Sitting down to write your proposal for the 33 1/3 open call? Will Hagle, the author behind Madvillain’s Madvillainy, offers his advice for would-be authors keen to be part of the series. Here are his top three tips for writing your proposal.

Hello,
My name is Will Hagle and I am here on the 33 ⅓ blog to present three tips for submitting a proposal for Bloomsbury’s open call. Before I get into it I’m going to give you a bonus tip right now, which I swear does not come from a corporate sponsor: just do it. Write your proposal and submit it. You have nothing to lose.

If you’re committed to submitting a proposal, I hope these tips will help you in some way. I won’t claim to be an expert, or knowledgeable in any way whatsoever as to how Bloomsbury selects their list of titles, but I’m happy to give you an idea of what worked for me and my thoughts on the process.

I’m going to make the broad generalized assumption that you’re 100% exactly like me: you love writing and music and would consider it a dream and an honor to have your work published in book form. In 2021, I decided I might as well submit a proposal on Madvillain’s Madvillainy. Bloomsbury accepted that proposal, which is now a completely different published book. I still don’t know exactly why they accepted my pitch, but the following list is what helped most.

1. Make a list

You may have an album that you’re dying to write about. You couldn’t imagine writing about anything else. It’s the perfect album for a 33 ⅓. You can’t believe they haven’t published this book yet. (I told you I’m going to make assumptions about you).

If that’s the case, you should almost definitely write your proposal on that album. Before you do, I would encourage you to make a list.

The first thing I did when I saw that 33 ⅓ was soliciting book proposals was make a list of “undisputed classics.” My criteria for an “undisputed classic” is kind of specific. It has to be an album that you can listen to five years after its release date without skipping a single track. It has to invoke emotions and I probably know most of the words. Your criteria can and should be different.

  1. Without looking anything up, write down a list of every undisputed classic album you can think of. The 33 ⅓ series doesn’t only include books on albums—Andrew Schartmann’s Koji Kondo’s Super Mario Bros. Soundtrack focuses on under three minutes of 8-bit tunes!—so just think of the music that connects with you most and write it down.
  2. Go to the 33 ⅓ website and look at the list of books that have been previously published or are forthcoming. Because “undisputed classics” are undisputedly classic, it was unsurprising that many of the albums I wrote down on my list had already been covered by other authors. The Velvet Underground & Nico disappeared. Madvillainy and some others remained.
  3. Cross off every album on your list that has already been published in the series.
  4. Rank the remaining albums on your list in the order of your personal taste. Favorites first. Most undisputedly classic to least undisputedly classic, if that’s even possible.
  5. Make another list from the same albums in order of which albums have the best stories behind them. Which album would make for the best book? What do you think other people want to read about? Put that at the top, and continue on in descending order. I didn’t actually make a list of albums ranked by how good of a story I thought they’d make, but in retrospect I think that’d be a good idea. I definitely looked at Madvillainy and thought: “that would make a good story,” which is part of the reason I picked it, even though it was also at the top based on the initial criteria of being undisputedly classic.
  6. Compare the lists, think as deeply as you can without overthinking it, go with your gut, make a choice, and start writing the proposal.

Even if the album at the top of your list(s) is what you thought it would be, this might not be a pointless exercise. Best case scenario, you’ll realize there’s another album you feel similarly strong about. It has a bigger audience, and the artist hasn’t been covered yet in book form. In my opinion, those shouldn’t be the guiding factors that lead you to writing about a particular artist or album, but you should take the realities of publishing into consideration. 33 ⅓ is an incredible series because of the diversity of topics covered, and the freedom for authors to experiment, but ultimately if you’re writing something you probably want as many people as possible to read it. So look at your list and take potential audience into consideration. (And then throw that out the window and just choose whichever one you’re most excited about.) Also, by making the list, you might have a better idea of what you think makes an album an “undisputed classic,” which should give you even more inspiration to write about the album you knew you were going to write about anyways.

2. Don’t overthink it

Before submitting my proposal, I had both the advantage and disadvantage of not being familiar with the 33 ⅓ series. I just happened to come across a tweet from 33 ⅓ asking for submissions, and got excited. This was a disadvantage because my bookshelf was bereft of many legendary tomes, like Jordan Ferguson’s Donuts and Hank Shteamer’s Chocolate and Cheese, to name two of many that now are on there. This worked to my advantage because I didn’t have any preconceived notions about what “writing a 33 ⅓” means.

If you’re reading this, you must already be familiar with the 33 ⅓ series. You might righteously hold the series in high regard. You might have doubts, and think you’ll never get accepted.

Do anything to relieve the pressure. Remind yourself that you will be okay if you don’t get accepted, and you will be pleasantly surprised if you do. Again, you have nothing to lose. Take a deep breath. Have fun. Be honest. Be yourself. Don’t write what you think 33 ⅓ wants you to write. Write what excites you. Write what you think will make a great book that other people will also be excited about.

When it comes to actually writing the proposal, I have the probably misguided advice to write it as quickly as possible. Edit it, of course, but try to let the first draft flow. You should be able to come up with a pitch for the book, sample pages, and a marketing pitch. If you can’t, you might have trouble writing a whole book about it. It doesn’t have to come easily and it didn’t for me or anyone. Everyone’s brain and process is different. The right amount of thinking and effort is necessary. But I’ve found that overthinking is almost always detrimental. Go with your gut.

No piece of writing is ever really done. It just has a deadline. I could have rewritten my 33 ⅓ book forever. I can’t even look at it now because I know there will be words or sentences or chapters I want to change.

You should obviously triple check your proposal. But three times is probably enough. Hit send and then forget you did until you hear you got accepted or rejected. I know, easier said than done. There are various therapies or ingestible substances that tend to help with this sort of thing.

When you get a response, positive or negative, don’t take it personal. I’ve been rejected literally hundreds of times for other projects. There’s no exact science as to why it worked out for me this time. You have to be prepared for your opportunity to get lucky, if it comes.

3. Write from the heart

This is the sort of advice that would make me mad if I were reading it. “Write from the heart??! What does that even mean?” I might yell at my computer, “Of course I’m writing from the heart metaphorically, and with my fingers literally.” I guess this tip just means write the truest thing possible.

The sample pages in my proposal were about my personal devastated reaction to MF DOOM’s death in 2020, and how I listened to Madvillainy alone in the dark to cope, feeling conflicted about how I wasn’t listening to it a day before.

The proposal got accepted, but none of my sample pages made it into the final version of the book. Fairly quickly into the writing process, I realized that DOOM’s death, 16 years after Madvillainy came out, had little to nothing to do with the album. Also, I didn’t need to put myself in it. During the writing process, I came up with a completely different framework of presenting the story from the perspective of three fictional music journalist superheroes, which the editors at Bloomsbury helped me refine into its final form. But I wouldn’t have been able to get to that point if I didn’t write the most honest sample pages that appealed to me at the time.

Your sample pages don’t need to be perfect but they do need to come from your heart. <3

Sincerely,
Will Hagle

Will Hagle

is a writer from Champaign, Illinois living in Los Angeles, California. He is the author of Madvillain’s Madvillainy (Bloomsbury 2023). His non-fiction has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Ringer, Complex, Passion of the Weiss, Lyrics as Poetry, and more and his fiction has appeared in Across the Margin and Flash Fiction Magazine.

Madvillain’s Madvillainy is out now and available to buy in bookshops and online (including at Bloomsbury.com).

1 thought on “Three Tips for Submitting Your Proposal”

  1. Hi, Will. We actually worked together for a bit years ago through Consequence. I appreciate the tips and words of encouragement. I’m finally ready to submit my own proposal this year. Thanks again for the nudge!

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