Book Proposals

How Long Should My Summary Be for a Novel?

Writers often ask about the length of a book summary for a proposal. How long should it be? I can say:

The summary should be as long as you need it to be.

Your goal is to present your story so an editor will want to read the book and then make an offer to publish it. If you can write a compelling summary, that’s a gift you should not be shy to use.

Here are a few more tips:

Present your proposal as single-spaced, so your summary should be single-spaced.

If you have a ten-page summary, separate it into chapters to give the reader a visual break. Another way to separate it is in acts, as in a play. Or better yet, see if you can cut it to five pages. Just make sure there aren’t a lot of enormous blocks of dense text.

If your summary is one page, I recommend expanding it to at least two or three pages. If you’re struggling to make the summary more than one page, especially a double-spaced page, I recommend revisiting your plot to make sure it’s complex enough to compete in today’s market.

So, back to the wordy author with a ten-page summary. Here, I recommend including the ten-pager, along with a one- or two-pager. These can be labeled “Short Synopsis” and “Long Synopsis.” The main issue is that the reader can choose to peruse one, neither, or both. Remember to include a superb back-cover copy section early in the proposal to draw in the reader right away. Your back-cover copy might also act as part of your cover letter.

Bottom line: The longer the reader lingers with your proposal, the better.

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A Literary Agent’s Wish List

People often ask me, “What are you looking for?” It’s a natural question to ask a literary agent, even when the questioner knows that the agent has offered a detailed answer on the agency website (here, for example). After all, something could’ve changed. I may, since updating my interests, have …

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Spoiler Alert!

Sometimes authors submit proposals that don’t reveal the ending of a novel. I’m the first to admit that a teaser will encourage a reader to buy a book. Once the reader has to know how the story ends, they’re hooked! Yes, agents are readers. However, when evaluating a novel for …

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When Your Proposal Doesn’t Sell

by Steve Laube

It happens. Despite all efforts and good intentions not every proposal we shop will end up being contracted by a major publisher. Of course our agency tries our best to keep that from happening. We carefully choose which projects and authors we represent. And our success rate is extremely high.

But that success rate is not 100%.

Here are a few examples of projects that I represented in past years that did not sell to a major publisher.

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Why Is the Book Proposal So Important?

This question has been raised many times: “Why do I have to jump through your hoops to create a proposal only to have it rejected with a form letter?” It’s a Job Application Your proposal is, in essence, an application to have a business (corporate or sole proprietor) to pay …

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A Common Platform Mistake

Some time ago I received a submission that went something like this (names and details have been changed to protect the innocent, guilty, and all those in between): I’ve published three successful nonfiction books. All three, in the area of business and leadership, are still selling very well. One of …

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Your Compelling Cover Letter

In light of my recent posts discussing what we can and cannot overlook in submissions, I think authors may benefit from quick tips on how to add sparkle to an email cover letter. What is the subject line? When you look through hundreds of emails in your inbox, you gravitate …

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What We Cannot Overlook

Last week, I wrote about mistakes we can overlook when considering submissions. However, some mistakes we cannot ignore. Please avoid these: The wrong word count. Sending submissions with an inappropriate word count is the most common mistake we see in the slush pile. We have no current market for a …

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What We Can Overlook

My office receives thousands of submissions a year. We’re thrilled to see proposals so well crafted that they’re ready to submit to publishers. Those submissions are few. Most contain mistakes. We don’t want you to feel stymied, as though agents are looking for reasons to reject proposals and will pounce …

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