Proposals—basic structure

Not all proposals are set up the same way, but here’s a bare-bones structure of a typical one.

--(optional) Story blurb. Just a paragraph—two to four sentences—about the story. Similar to back cover copy.

--Synopsis. Should be about one to two pages long. DO reveal the ending. This is the entire story laid out. See “Synopsis” on the right sidebar to see my other articles on synopsis writing.

--Bio. Your writing credits, any experience in the writing or publishing industry, and any social connections or life experiences that have any relevance to the story.

--Hook. What makes this story unique? How is this story different from any other book that’s sitting on the shelves at Barnes and Noble? What kind of spiritual, emotional, or personal message will a reader glean from it?

--Category/genre. Make it easy for the editor/agent to know what the major genre is.

--Length of manuscript. Round to the closest 100 or 1000 words.

--(optional) Alternate titles. Expect your publisher to change your title.

--Completion date. If it’s already completed, say so. It’s highly recommended for first-time novelists to wait until their manuscript is complete before submitting to agents and editors.

--Audience. Don’t say “everyone.” Give a specific demographic, but not too specific—i.e., 16-year-old females living in Little Rock, AR, with two sisters, a cat and a dog.

--Marketing plan. This doesn’t have to be extensive unless you want it to be. Be specific about what you personally can do. What groups do you belong to, and what can you realistically do to use your connections to promote your book?

--(optional) Competitive Analysis/Marketing Analysis. This is a page or two listing books similar to yours but different in some way. This is to show how your book would both fit in and stand out from the books already in print.

--(optional) Chapter by chapter synopsis. Not all agents/editors will read this, but I usually include it just in case they want to see more detail about the way the plot and character arc unfolds. I wrote a short post on how to write one here.

Also don't be redundant. If you mentioned something in one area of the proposal, don't repeat it in another section.

Everything I learned about proposals is from Mary Griffith's online workshop "From Premise to Proposal," which is in the ACFW members' section in the workshop archives.