I rather suck at one of the most important tasks of being an academic: writing proposals for papers or panels. My fortune thus far had lain in the popularity of my subject. Still, even then the Big Guy cannot sell the paper on his own. Famous subject also carry with them the assumption that anything interesting or original has all been said. My proposal must convince the program committee that, yes, yes, there is more to say and I am saying it!
One of my problems, I just realized, it that I think of my proposal as a movie or t.v. episode preview. I want to tantalize, suggesting all sorts of mysterious and curious plot points without actually saying anything. I suppose that would work if, say, I suggested that I had "new and unknown documents" -- which actually did happen once -- but reassessments of the same ole same ole have to bring something more to the table than a suggestion that this will be the most awesome, groundbreaking, amazing revision of the subject. Or something similar.
You need more than the promise, too, if you, yourself, have become so embedded in your story that you sort of forget the ways that you are, in fact, original. I recently had the embarrassment of an eminent historian telling me that she had never heard of or thought of my interpretation before, and I was surprised. I hardly ever think of myself as original; while I KNEW that my point was original, I had been thinking on it for so long that the gleam of originality had worn off. Hence, my surprise, which put me in mind of an English professor saying of a famous writer she had once met that the writer was a creative and brilliant novelist, but not very bright.
Now I'm just giving it all away in the proposal. The proposal, especially if I already have the paper written or outlined in some shape or form, becomes the plot summary of the paper. I can underscore the originality, but the committee can see my work as interesting -- or not -- from the summary. Tell and show, not tell and tease. With any luck, and if they accept me, the title will entice the conference attendees to show up at my panel. The audience should be tantalized, but the program committee needs the goods up front.
Incidentally, if you are wondering the reason that I just figured this out just now since everyone seems to learn this at grad school or early in their career, my earliest advisers told me that conferences were not for students (that was the least of the bad advice), my earliest supervisors thought a proposal should just state greatness without offering even the tease (one of the myriad reasons our project repeatedly lost funding and sent me on the road less travelled), followed by years going it alone. Now, I have lots of good advice and feedback from ethical and successful people. Still, sometimes I'm slow. Hence, I am Queen of Late Bloomers.