Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office, CA
The first portion of the proposal we’ll examine is what I call Book-at-a-Glance. Many people teach proposal writing and you will come across at least as many different suggested styles. That’s okay. This is how I suggest doing it and I’ll give you my reasons. I think it’s important to present the book in a number of different ways, ranging from bite-sized tantalizing bits to a full course. Each of these components will be used in a different way. Not all are necessary for each book.
Let me break some of these down:
Title (fiction) and Title:Subtitle (nonfiction). Yes it’s true that the working title may not stick but you still need to come up with a superb title. After all, you may not get to use the title to hook your eventual reader but it does have to catch the eye and catch the imagination of professionals.
Promo Pitch (or Hook): This is the book in one or two compelling sentences. This may be the hardest writing you ever do and is important for both fiction and nonfiction. You’ll often see these hooks on the back cover up near the top or sometimes on the front cover. Pick up a few books off your shelves and see if you can pick out the hooks. Does it make you want to read the book? This will be the luscious appetizer– the tiniest bite of all.
The Scriptural Foundation or the Theme: This will not be applicable to all books, of course, but if you are writing Christian fiction, for instance, this is a nice addition.
Back Cover-like Copy: This is the next biggest bite and is an easy one to figure out. Just get a stack of books and study what back cover copy looks like. What does it accomplish? Remember, each little piece, each component, may be used for different things. Take time with these. You’ll see those words over and over again. This might be the teaser that goes to the sales team along with the manuscript. It might be used to develop ad copy. A version of it might even end up as your back cover copy.
Genre: Make sure you figure out the best genre description of your book. Don’t do too many combinations or fusions. Remember this is for simplicity, so the store will know where to shelve your book. Study the stacks in the bookstore if you are unsure. Turn books over and you will see how they are categorized. If you’d like to dig deeper into this, check out the BISAC codes.
Audience: You need to know who is most likely to read your book and communicate this in your proposal. (Don’t say everybody.)
Manuscript: Here’s where you give the details– word count, when it will be done, etc.
Synopsis (For Fiction Only): This is the digest version of your story. I once heard someone suggest that you buy the soap opera digest in the grocery store and use it as a guide to write your synopsis. Remember, write with in general tone of the book. As for how long to make it, you’ll have to research your target proposal recipient. Some publishers want a two-page synopsis others want a very detailed synopsis. For a great tip sheet on synopses, see Fiction Writer’s Connection. The synopsis is your biggest bite next to sample chapters or a full manuscript.
Chapter-by-Chapter Summary (Nonfiction only): When writing a nonfiction book it is paramount to let the agent or editor see how you plan to develop the book. You do this by creating a chapter-by-chapter summary. You list each chapter by chapter title (or number if you are not titling the chapters). Next to each chapter you tell what that chapter will cover. An editor should be able to see how you are developing the book and building the content.
Let me show you a dummy page so that you can see at-a-glance how each bite satisfies a different appetite. Some are quick and quirky, others are detailed.
I know you must have questions. What did I leave out? What still confuses you? (Remember, tomorrow we’ll address the personal info, Thursday, the market analysis and Friday, the sample chapters.) So ask away.
I struggle to come up with a great, compact one-sentence pitch. Do you recommend keeping it to a certain number of words–say 15 or less? Or does it matter?
Thanks for day one of proposal writing, Wendy!
I think there’s comfort even in your passing observation, “Many people teach proposal writing and you will come across at least as many different suggested styles. That’s okay.”
With all the different proposal styles being suggested, exasperated writers sometimes wish there were just one good universal template to follow. Your statement here seems to say, Don’t sweat the details of the exact style; just do a good job of including all the primary ingredients. That’s helpful.
I’m saving this and yesterday’s post for future reference. Thanks again.
This is great! And timely for me. Off to read the link on synopsis writing.
Is it preferable for an author to present a synopsis which leaves out some of the tone / style of the manuscript in favor of making certain story points clearer?
Thank you for this post. I’m so glad you linked to the BISAC codes too — what an incredibly helpful list!
I always assumed that clarity trumped everything else in a synopsis Wendy, but assumptions are about as helpful as a penny at a dollar store 🙂
Melissa K. Norris
The back cover copy should entice and not give away everything, but I’ve been told conflicting things about the synopsis. Should you give away the ending or cliff hang?
Good question, Larry, but a good synopsis can do both– capture the flavor and voice of the author and clearly communicate the story. I see authors who do this all the time.
You definitely don’t want to do a synopsis that has that “and then… and then… and then…” dynamic.
Each part of the proposal must sparkle, including the synopsis. But you are right, clarity is important. Don’t you just hate my answer– I want it all? 🙂
Melissa, you must tell the whole story, including the surprise ending in the synopsis. The agent or editor is not a reader that you want to keep in suspense– he or she is a professional trying to gauge how well you build a story to a satisfying conclusion.
Jill, about the pitch. . . there are no rules about how long or how many sentences. In a nonfiction book, three words might do it– “Is grace enough?” or it may take two or three sentences. In romance, the pitch is often one sentence for him, one for her and one about the conflict question. Or a question like:” She finally found the love of her life. But will she have to choose between him and God?” (Rhythms of Grace, Marilynn Griffith).
How detailed should the audience section be? Is this a general idea to narrow it down, or a very specific target? I’ve been more involved in product/destination marketing in my career, which can get VERY specific.
Can I just say, I love you? Seriously, I live for your great tips and have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog over the past year or so.
Whenever my writer friends at AQ have a burning question, I like to send them your way.
Thanks for being a rock.
I still confuse the query letter and the synopsis. I put together a query for an agent this week, but luckily, I was also taking a workshop on crafting queries, which provided feedback on our examples. With the presenter’s help, I took that query–which really was more of a synopsis–and chopped it down to what it really should be.
Like Jill, I find getting that hook together a challenge. I usually come up with something and run it by my critique groups.
Thanks for this great information. I’ll be needing it soon.
Great question, Sarah! Think of the audience section as your chance to help the eventual marketing team target your audience. In fiction, it’s often hard to pinpoint an audience since a novel may be enjoyed by a twenty year old as well as her grandmother. But consider a book like Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. I’d guess the target age range to be 20 – 40 year old women. That doesn’t mean a 50-year-old man won’t pick it up but if you were going to choose magazines which cater to your demographic for an ad, I’d pick Cosmo over Ladies Home Journal, for instance. And it would probably be a waste of money to target GQ. In other words, the publisher knows you are trying to hit the sweet spot, and probably appreciates that you don’t just say, “Everyone who loves a good story.” How does one market to “everyone?”
With nonfiction, it’s probably more important to target the audience– destination marketing as you called it. If you are a speaker, who generally books you? From whom do you get reader mail? The better we know our reader, the better we’ll be able to hit the target.
Wow, Cat. I’m honored. A rock, eh?
Cheryl, think of the query letter as a simple, can-I-send-you-my-proposal-and-some-sample-chapters? letter. One page. You want to catch attention, give enough about the story to catch the agent’s or editor’s eye and tell a little about yourself. All you’re doing is asking permission to send a bigger chunk.
The synopsis is the detailed description of your story. It’s like the clueless guy who sits next to you at a dinner party and proceeds to tell you, step-by-step the entire plot and subplots of the movie your were planning to see next week– including the surprise ending. While you may not appreciate hearing the whole plot while you’re trying to eat your dinner, the editor will study the synopsis and will be a able to tell if you can pull off a riveting novel. Sagging middles, starting the wrong place, problems with the story arc– all of these can be spotted in the synopsis.
Cindy R. Wilson
Such great information here today. I’m definitely going to bookmark this and get a formula (as much as there can be one, anyway) down for preparing synopses. Thanks so much, Wendy!
Thanks for answering my questions (and all of the other terrific questions here) Wendy. That sums up my current strategy, so I’m relieved!
Mary Ann Weakley
Just discovered your instructional blog. Found you on Query Tracker. I’ll be checking in regularly. Great stuff.
Pamela J. Peterson
In your submission section you also asked for our vision for marketing. Are you simply wanting our ideas for how to market our book after being published?
Thank you for “The Proposal-The Book in a nutshell.”
Yes, Pamela. The publisher likes to see what kind of connections/ ideas you have.
Thanks for this helpful post, Wendy. For some reason the photo/picture you posted to illustrate the chapter-by-chapter summary has disappeared. I would love to see an example of such a summary.