Tuesday, January 06, 2009

What Is a Book Proposal for Fiction Writers

Once you’ve mastered the query letter it’s time to move on to the book proposal. For fiction writers a proposal if fairly easy compared to what nonfiction writers have to do. And keep in mind, if you are writing narrative nonfiction, like a memoir, you should think of your work as fiction. In other words, editors and agents will expect the work to be completed before you even start to query.

Because fiction writers have the book written, polished, and edited before they even start to query, putting the proposal together is really about collecting materials, but since you can never have too much information, I thought you too would like to know what goes into your proposal (sometimes called a partial).
  1. Query Letter. Yes, you’ve already submitted the query, but don’t forget to do it again. Every bit of material you submit to agents and editors should include a reminder of what they are getting. So in the letter you are sending with the proposal mention that you’ve received a request, that this is requested material, include the blurb that first grabbed the agent’s interest and include everything else in the query that grabbed the agent’s interest.
  2. Chapters. Unless you are told otherwise, include the first three chapters (and yes, a prologue is a chapter), but no more than 50 pages of your book. Yes, make sure the chapters are full chapters, make sure they are the first chapters, and yes, if the chapter ends at page 51 send 51 pages. If chapter three ends at page 80 then you only send two chapters. Just use good judgment. Agents really like authors with good judgment.
  3. A Synopsis. I’m not picky. Whatever you have on hand works for me, but do make sure your synopsis is complete and strong. In other words, the synopsis should tell the ending, it should include all key plot points, and it should read in the tone of your book. In other words, if you’re writing suspense, I should get a sense of suspense from your synopsis. If you’re writing erotic romance, I should get a sense of the sex.
Other tidbits to consider:
  • Page numbers. Everything should be numbered.
  • Order. Place the synopsis at the end of the package. Do you really want people to read this first or do you want to wow them with your chapters first.
  • Have others proofread your synopsis to make sure it makes sense.
I will try to post more about the synopsis later, but this is it. When requesting a proposal, this is all we ask for.



Anonymous said...

I'm not sure which blog I love more... Bookends, which seems to be reading my mind, providing the exact information I need right now. Or Cute Overload, which regularly posts pictures of adorable baby otters. I need those, too. Don't make me choose!

As far as a memoir having the same guidelines as a fiction proposal; does it differ in any major way that the writer should take into consideration?

Thanks again,

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Thanks, some great tips - and perfect timing for me too!

Anonymous said...

A synopsis that makes sense? These exist?
*checks computer* I don't think I have one of those yet. LOL.
I wish I'd thought to stick that synopsis in the back.
This is great info! Thank you.

Jean Wogaman said...

Thanks, thanks, thanks for the info on proposals. You've made the guidelines crystal clear. I look forward to reading about what constitutes an effective synopsis.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for yet another great and informative post! I'm printing this out and putting it with all of my other writing/publishing information.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I've heard other agents say that a prologue shouldn't be included in the partial. More evidence that there's no set standard when it comes to this sort of thing, I suppose.

And I am sooo sad! I wasn't online for most of the holiday season, and I didn't know there was a pitch critique until I scrolled down the blog today. :( Oh, well. Maybe next time!

Anonymous said...

Ack! See how long it's been since I posted blog comments? I didn't even sign my name right!

About Me said...

Great information, now if I can only get someone to request a fiction proposal...

me said...

Great information! I just discovered this blog and I have to say, for someone who just started on her path to become a writer- it's a wonderful resource! Thanks!

Marcie Steele said...

Hi Jessica

Just a thanks for running the query blogpost. I put mine on and it made me realise when reading others that you had critiqued that mine needed revising. After scrapping a completely written romance novel, I have the first two of a series of crime novels written and have looked over both blurbs now. I realise that the genre wasn't coming through at all.

Unfortunately for me, living in England means that most of my queries have to be done by snail mail as not many agents accept email submissions...yet. I live in hope! (the first book in the series is out with an agent who has requested the full at the moment)

Thanks. Mel

Anonymous said...

Great info! It was especially heartening to hear that the synopsis should be placed after the chapters. Though I plan to make my synopsis as strong as possible, this certainly takes a bit of the weight off.

Is that definitely it for the pitches, then?

Nayuleska said...

Mel - I'm in England too! It's going to be so frustrating subbing and having to wait months when other agents across the pond take days/hours via email....sigh.

Jessica - wow! Thank you heaps for this post. The word synopsis has me running for cover. I don't do short! Your key points for what's needed in one has helped a lot. I'll still get people to help review it, but I have a bit more confidence about what I'm supposed to include in one. Thank you!

Hopscotcher said...


Are you related to... Oh I'm sure you've heard THAT one before.

Anyway, thank you for further insight into the mind of a literary agent. I've got two novels I'm trying to get published, so any info is good info. Though it does seem like everyone has their own list of what they want.

Oh.... and just a quick note... the if should be an is... up at the top there... sheesh!

Gina Black said...

Hi Jessica . . .

I've been wondering about this one. My first three chapters are short; all my chapters are short. So, a three-chapter partial will be about twenty pages. Should I send a full fifty pages anyway, or just the first three chapters?


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Linda Randall said...

thanks 4 the info about a fiction book proposal. I have to polish my mss first then do the query. I've been working on all of it in bits and pieces. the syopsis I used to create an outline because the timelines in my book were getting out of wack. Now I am going back over the book and organizing it with the outline.