Book Proposal Basics

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?


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