In case I run out of handouts at the "Love Is Murder" workshop on 'fiction proposal guidelines,' here is the handout. These are guidelines taken from The Steve Laube Agency web site and from the web site of Regina Doman, the acquisitions editor for Sophia Institute Press. These are rather typical of fiction proposal guidelines. I've edited them for brevity; you can visit their respective web sites for all the technical details and other good advice they offer along with the guidelines.
From The Steve Laube Agency:
There are a number of ways to do a good book proposal. I’ve met many writers that get bogged down in the details. The bottom line is whether your idea has traction and if your writing delivers. Your book proposal is like a job application, you want to present yourself in the most professional manner possible. Your proposal will be a simple vehicle to convey your idea to us, and ultimately to a publisher.
COVER LETTER: The cover letter should include your name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. It should sum up the plot or idea in a single paragraph, as well as giving the book’s title and estimated word count of the entire manuscript (not page count). The cover letter should not be more than one page.
SAMPLE CHAPTERS: The sample should be the first three chapters or fifty double-spaced pages, printed single-sided and unbound. Please make sure the pages are numbered. (Please use Times Roman 12pt font or a similar very readable font.) Do not print out the pages so they look like actual book pages. Print double-spaced on one side of the page in black ink on 8″ x 11″ white paper, use 1″ margins all around and don’t justify the right margin.
SELF-ADDRESSED STAMPED ENVELOPE: We will not reply to you unless you include an appropriately sized SASE with sufficient postage. A letter-size SASE for a written response is preferred.
Your non-fiction book proposal should include the following; fiction proposals include most of these:
A one-sentence summary of your book.
Create a 75 word summary of the book. Imagine that this is what will go on the back cover of the book.
A half page to one page overview of your book including (a) an identification of its uniqueness (the distinguishing “hook”that will draw your reader in: What will motivate a person to pick up your book?) and (b) what you hope to accomplish in the way of transformation in the life of the reader:
A brief profile of your reader with a clear explanation of the problem he or she faces and how your book provides a solution. Also, list any additional audiences you expect your book will attract:
A listing of other books available that are similar to yours and a brief explanation of how yours is both different and/or better:
A description of potential marketing channels to which you have access (e.g., contacts you have in key organizations, groups you speak to regularly, key people you know who might endorse your book, etc.):
Your qualifications to write on this topic and a list of your writing experience and educational/career background. If you have published previously, what are the titles and approximate sales to date of your books?
A chapter-by-chapter annotated outline that clearly summarizes the overall content and key ideas of each chapter:
Projected word length of the manuscript:
Expected completion date of the manuscript:
Three sample chapters of your book (for fiction, the first three chapters)
· FICTION Proposals:
· Follow the basic information above in the non-fiction proposal section, but realize that the biggest difference between the fiction and non-fiction proposal is the synopsis. While the non-fiction proposal requires a chapter by chapter analysis, the fiction proposal should be a maximum of three single spaced pages that present the entire story. Don’t worry, your synopsis will be the worst writing you’ve ever done. That is okay. Just tell the story in quick form so we can know what happens after your sample chapters.
· Create a Promo Sentence and a Sales Handle (these are the bits you see on the front cover of a novel or as a headline across the back cover. In addition create back cover copy that tells the story without giving it away (back cover is usually around 75 words) Examples (from the cover of the novel Oxygen):
· Promo sentence:A mission gone desperately wrong – and no way out short of blind faith…
· Sales handles:A tragic accident or a suicide mission?
· Back cover copy:
· In the year 2017 Valerie Jansen, a young microbial ecologist, is presented with an amazing opportunity to continue her research as a member of the NASA corps of astronauts. When a sudden resignation opens the door for her to be a part of a mission to Mars, her life dream becomes a reality. Dreams turn suddenly to nightmares for NASA and the crew as an explosion cripples the spacecraft on the outward voyage. The crew’s survival depends on complete trust in one another – but is one of the four a saboteur?
· Since fiction can be entertaining and taps the emotional center of a reader here are some other helpful things to include in your proposal :
· In a single sentence, state your purpose for writing this novel. Why did you write (are you writing) this story? What are you trying to prove about life with this story?
· Describe your protagonist’s quest. What does he/she want or need? What is his/her goal? For what does he/she yearn?
· What is at stake in this story? If your protagonist doesn’t attain his goal, so what? Why does it matter and why should the reader care? What are the consequences?
· What is the “takeaway value” of the story. How will the reader be changed for having read it?
From Sophia Institute Press:
Criteria for submission: (this section is preceded by 2 sections: what they are looking for and what they are NOT looking for; technical guidelines – email submissions only,.doc or .rtf files only, no zip files, no PDFs, rules about attachments)
1. Completed questionnaire (in the body of your cover letter email)
2. First three chapters of your book (in the email body or as an attachment)
3. Synopsis of the rest of the book (in the email body or as an attachment: see our updated notes on the synopsis by clicking here)
Generally speaking, we prefer exclusive submissions. If you are making a simultaneous submission, please inform us of the fact. Completed manuscripts only; no partials. Allow 3 months for a reply.
A: Contact information
Please provide us with your:
Name (pen name, if applicable)
Phone Number where you can be reached most easily:
Email address: (required)
Previous publications: books, articles, print or web-based.
B. About your manuscript
1.What is the title? What is your backup title?
2. Can you summarize in three sentences what your book is about?
3. How much work are you willing to do on this manuscript?Would you be willing to rewrite the manuscript according to our specifications? Would you be willing to rewrite your manuscript two or three times, and then possibly still have it turned down if we think that it is still not fit for publication?How fast can you work? How much time do you have to master the craft of writing? How long does it take you to do a rewrite? To accept or reject editorial suggestions?
4. Who is the main audience for this book? Who would read it and why?Can you tell me what other books they typically enjoy? How is your book like these books? How would it satisfy readers?
5. What are your plans for marketing the book? How would you reach those people who would like to read your book?How much time are you willing to invest to reach those people? Will you travel or speak at conferences? Do you have contacts in the media that you could use to promote your book? How many contacts?Do you have access to an email or mailing list of potential readers you could use? How many names are on it?Do you have a marketing plan? Can you create one or is it beyond you? How much time do you have to learn?Do you have a slogan or tagline you could use to sell this book?
6. Can you write a sequel or a companion book sufficiently similar to intrigue readers of your first book? How invested are you in this particular genre? Do you want to master it or try something different?