Book Proposal Basics: Synopsis, Series, and Sample

These items are self-evident, but I really can’t leave them off. The synopsis, or summary, and writing sample, at least, must appear in any proposal, be the proposed book fiction or nonfiction. The series potential is always a good idea to show you want a career in publishing.

Synopsis (aka Summary)

     Fiction: Remember these are not rules, they are guidelines. Many editors want three pages single-spaced. One fiction publisher likes to see five pages. I’m okay with seeing one page or two pages. However, don’t stress over word count. If you need four pages, go for it. Give me enough that I understand the story arc and logic in a clear way.

Remember that these are single-spaced, not double-spaced pages.

Nonfiction: The synopsis is the difference between a fiction and a nonfiction proposal. In fiction it is the whole story in a nutshell. For nonfiction your summary is a chapter-by-chapter analysis of what is in each chapter. Simply state the name of the chapter and one paragraph of what that chapter will cover.

If you are struggling with your synopsis, take a look at these articles we have posted on the agency’s site.

 

Series Potential

     Fiction: Including ideas for your next books will help me see where you see your career going. Write a half-page blurb or so for books two and three. Note that few publishers will contract beyond three books in a new series. Pitching a twelve-book series will only give a publisher a reason to say “no thank you.” The famous Left Behind series was originally a trilogy. The publisher added more after the first books proved successful.

     Nonfiction: A few nonfiction books have series potential. If so, state your case.

     Future books: If your novel or nonfiction is a standalone book, that is fine. Title the next section “Future Projects,” and give a one-paragraph blurb or so on other ideas. Sometimes editors will decide they like the second or third idea better than the first and will contract for that book instead.

 

Writing Sample

     Fiction: Provide the first three chapters. If you have a prologue, include the prologue and three chapters. If you’ve finished the book, let us know. We can ask to see it.

If you are a first-time novelist, you will need a complete manuscript in hand before approaching an agent or an editor. If your sample chapters get their attention, you want to be ready to submit.

     Nonfiction: As with fiction, include your first three chapters. This demonstrates your style and knowledge. For example, a “girlfriend-to-girlfriend” style should fit with the audience, purpose, and topic, whereas a textbook should be written according to that audience, purpose, and topic.

 

This post is the last installment of this series on proposal writing. There are other categories you can include, such as special considerations, manuscript status (I recommend letting us know how long your book will be and how much is written), audience, and other elements that can help your proposal reach the top of the queue. But I hope this series has helped with some of the most troublesome spots.

Give us your best! And happy submitting!

Your turn:

Have you submitted a proposal yet?

What else would you like to know?

 

34 Responses to Book Proposal Basics: Synopsis, Series, and Sample

  1. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson June 13, 2019 at 4:31 am #

    Even though I’ve submitted a proposal, this is interesting and useful information for future submissions! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Avatar
    J.D. Wininger June 13, 2019 at 6:02 am #

    Thank you for this series Ms. Tamela. We too often take “the basics” for granted and the errors become glaringly obvious in retrospect. I’ll use this series for a checklist before each submission. God’s blessings ma’am.

  3. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 13, 2019 at 6:36 am #

    It’s funny how these things work out,
    to want so badly what you’d loathed,
    synopses and samples (and series, no doubt)
    all in their irritants clothed.
    I wish for a need for comparatives,
    and a bio, that puzzling thing,
    a headshot to draw ladies’ raves,
    and a hook that would make it all sing.
    I so wish I could look to a future
    whose arc did not end in my dying.
    If by God’s grace it happened, I’d nurture
    everything I’d once found so annoying.
    Perhaps I should write in humility,
    a proposal to God, “Please save me!”

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray June 13, 2019 at 7:43 am #

      I have no worthy words, Andrew.

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 13, 2019 at 7:51 am #

        All of your words are worthy, Tamela. Thursday is a high point in my week, seeing your post and simply enjoying the warmth and wisdom you so generously share.

        I think that when God created you, He took a step back and clapped His Hands in delight, for thus is His Grace sent to walk abroad in His Creation.

        • Avatar
          Tamela Hancock Murray June 13, 2019 at 11:49 am #

          Andrew, you are so kind. Thank you for being a wonderful creation of God yourself, and for being such a vital member of this blog group.

          • Avatar
            Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 13, 2019 at 2:02 pm #

            Tamela, to be here is honour and privilege.

            I am convinced that my life has been extended through looking forward to participating in this lovely, loving community.

            I owe you all so much, in joy and learning…would you please tell that to Steve, and everyone else, for me?

    • Avatar
      Linda Riggs Mayfield June 13, 2019 at 10:37 am #

      Dear Andrew–and I write that not as a salutation, but a descriptor. I am weeping for your pain now, and for the way you touch my heart, and I’m sure others’, with each soul-baring sonnet and comment you post. Today although your frank “I so wish I could look to a future whose arc did not end in my dying,” comes from your realizing the imminence of that possibility, I was reminded that ALL of us have that arc–we just don’t all have an idea when the pen that draws it will be lifted from the earthly “paper” to the heavenly “air” above to the extent that you do. Jesus, however, knew about that imminence, too, and felt the way you do about leaving–He was only 33 when He prayed in agony, just before His final entry into Jerusalem, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” then He added, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” He not only sympathizes with you, as I so inadequately try to do, too, every time I read your posts, but He empathizes with you!

      Your last two lines, “‘Perhaps I should write in humility, a proposal to God, ‘Please save me!'” reminded me that God has already answered “Yes!” to that plea, although perhaps not in the exact way you meant it. Paul wrote in Romans 10:9-10, “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” To reassure the young man, Timothy, pastor at Ephesus, he wrote, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1Timothy 1:15). “Saved” is laden with layers of meaning–humanly speaking, we want to be saved from death–especially if we are young. It is something we want to avoid in our mortal bodies, but cannot. We can be saved, however, from not only the penalty of sin, but from our bodies’ limitations to enjoy a new, eternal life beyond the limits of time, space, and mortality.

      I want to bring you some encouragement today. I urge you to read the first three chapters of the Book of John, or at least the first 21 verses of Chaper 3 today. I hope the reminders there will lift your heart. The time of occupying our mortal bodies is not without pain, or without grief, or for some dear sojourners like you, without deep suffering; but what a blessed hope we can have by faith in Christ Jesus! Thank you so much for sharing your heart through your unimaginably difficult journey–you are touching many hearts. May this be your spiritual declaration today: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me,” Psalm 23:4.

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 13, 2019 at 2:22 pm #

        Linda, I am deeply honoured by the time and heart in which you have written…and I did read the first three chapters of John before replying. John 3:17 is written on my heart.

        I know I am saved, but am so very, very frightened of what tomorrow may bring, in pain and other things…and I am completely past my own strength, and can only rely on God, and on the prayers of my friends.

        Please forgive this abbreviated reply; I am so tired now.

    • Avatar
      Mary Kay Moody June 13, 2019 at 12:59 pm #

      Andrew, as always, the refiner’s fire perspective. Thank you for sharing, and nudging those of us who think we have a sprawl of time ahead of us to appreciate each day and do the day’s business. Praying for you, my friend.

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 13, 2019 at 2:27 pm #

        Mary Kay, thank you o much for your kind words, and especially for your prayers.

        I am so honoured by having met you here, and by your friendship.

  4. Avatar
    Sherry Stacy June 13, 2019 at 7:15 am #

    Your series of blogs has been so timely for me as I work on my proposal. Covering the basics of being a writer are always useful, and this series was so well done and helpful. Thank you!

  5. Avatar
    Bryan Mitchell June 13, 2019 at 7:22 am #

    Thanks Tamela! I enjoyed this series. It was very informative.

  6. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D June 13, 2019 at 9:44 am #

    Hi Tamela:
    Yes, I have submitted proposals but never thought about your comments that sometimes a publisher will want to contract for the second or third book, rather than the first one! That was such helpful information! Thanks ever so much!

  7. Avatar
    Kay Turner June 13, 2019 at 10:10 am #

    Gratitude overflows each time I read your advice. You give writers encouragement and the technical ways in which to succeed. How can we say thank you for your care and concern, and for always standing on the sidelines cheering us on? Whatever success is given, please know your posts help make it possible.

    If I were giving an Academy Award speech, it would definitely include the Steve Laube agency at the top of my list.

  8. Avatar
    Linda Riggs Mayfield June 13, 2019 at 11:17 am #

    Tamela,
    I’ve submitted several book proposals and received highly complimentary and encouraging responses from both agents and publishers, but no offers of representation and only one for publication. It was contingent on changes I wasn’t willing to make. I research every individual, agency, and publishing house carefully before I submit a proposal, and make sure there is a match for genre, a fit with the “looking for” list, and compliance with all the submission criteria. I have beta readers of my books who weigh in constructively and one who actually edits, so something else is missing.

    What else would I like to know? I write in several genres. If an agent represents more than one, should I query or propose for more than one at a time? I get “paralyzed” wondering if I should submit a contemporary YA or historical fiction to an agent who represents and is looking for both, and don’t propose either. Thanks!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray June 13, 2019 at 12:00 pm #

      Linda, I suggest that you choose the genre you truly love and want to be associated with for the rest of your life — and beyond! Focus on that to the extent that when you submit, an agent would REALLY be hard pressed not to offer representation.

      You are already past the first step in that you are not getting form letter rejections. Wonderful! Now let’s dig deeper.

      So, when the publisher asked you to make changes you weren’t willing to make, did that publisher have a point at all? Why were the changes requested?

      I’m not saying that you should have made the changes. I’m just suggesting that you look at why they were requested. That might give you some insight. On the other hand, it may not! If not, just consider the advice not applicable to yourself and move on.

      Speaking of moving on, I’d do just that. Look at all the projects you have on hand. Which one is your favorite? Again, focus on that one, develop a full proposal, and present it.

      Aside from rejections, a couple of things may happen:

      1.) An agent offers representation. Great!
      or;
      2.) An agent asks what else you have on file. Then you can discuss those projects with the agent.

      Either way, when an agent does offer representation, I would go ahead and let the agent know you are interested in other genres as well. Then go from there.

      It’s hard for most authors to succeed in several genres. Yes, there are powerhouse authors who do, but they are few. You may end up emerging as one of those authors. But by taking it one step at a time, you can find the right path for yourself.

  9. Avatar
    Abrigail Julian June 13, 2019 at 11:25 am #

    Tamela, thanks for this series! I just re-read every installment and have a question: The proposal and the cover letter seem to include a lot of the same information (bio, contact info, book status). Is that by design, or am I missing something?
    Also, from your article on hooks, is it okay to use a quote from the book as the hook? And I’m assuming the hook leads straight into the back cover copy… right?
    Thanks again!
    Abby

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray June 13, 2019 at 12:02 pm #

      Thanks for asking!

      Yes, the cover letter elements may seem redundant, but you are trying to convince the agent to download the Word document based on the letter. So it’s okay to present the same information in brief.

      Yes, I think it’s okay to use a quote from the book as a hook if that works for your project.

      Yes, that order seems right to me.

      However, always note that the proposal is your personal document. While there are guidelines, there are no hard and fast rules.

  10. Avatar
    Sara L. Foust June 13, 2019 at 11:51 am #

    Thanks so much for taking the time to give us this wonderful series of information!

  11. Avatar
    Mary Kay Moody June 13, 2019 at 12:55 pm #

    Tamela, I haven’t commented often, but have read your proposal posts. So very helpful. And I treasure how you convey respect of and encouragement for an author’s individuality. Early in our writing careers, it is easy for us to be confused by seemingly conflicting rules from various sources, and to let that paralyze us. I appreciate you.

  12. Avatar
    Maco Stewart June 14, 2019 at 7:52 am #

    Tamela, your series came at the perfect time for me. I appreciate the information and the care with which you’ve shared it all. Bravo.

  13. Avatar
    Lillian June 14, 2019 at 12:44 pm #

    Like so many who have responded, I want to add my thanks to you, Tamela.
    The series couldn’t have been more timely. They have informed, inspired, and challenged. Should my proposal land in an agent’s or publisher’s circular file, and I end up self-publishing, your posts will always remain on my “to keep” list. Many blessings.

  14. Avatar
    Tamela Hancock Murray June 17, 2019 at 12:23 pm #

    I appreciate all the thanks for this series. Your words mean so much!

  15. Avatar
    KS June 17, 2019 at 1:20 pm #

    Hi Tamela,

    If a debut author is submitting their proposal, and the manuscript is complete, should he/she be prepared for novella proposals as well? Assuming all goes well and the agent/publisher is interested, they like the manuscript, and want to know how far the story can go do novellas usually come into conversation then or at some point soon after?

    Thanks!

    Kali

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray June 18, 2019 at 11:11 am #

      I wouldn’t stress over novellas first along. You can always say you are open to writing novellas for promotion, though.

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    […] in an uncomplimentary manner in your novel. If you need a book proposal, Tamela Hancock Murray has book proposal basics. And once you have an agent, Nathan Bransford discusses how to work with literary agents on […]

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