After the writer submits a query letter to an agent or editor, if the project fits the agency’s or publisher’s interests, they will request a proposal. So, how do you write a proposal?
Begin with a cover letter. This is similar to the query. In the first paragraph, remind the editor that he asked for the proposal. In the last paragraph, describe the enclosures.
The next page is the title page. Your name and contact information single-spaced and in block-style goes in the upper left-hand corner. Using 36-point and italicizing, center the title. Make it five words or less, have it be catchy, and indicate something about the story.
A table of contents is optional. If you use one, place it after the title page.
The executive summary introduces the project in a succinct form. Often the editor will make a preliminary decision based only on a scan of this summary and a few of the submitted pages. Write its nine points in an outline form. The first point is the title. Follow with: the genre and sub genre, then the high concept sentence, the target audience, the length, indicate whether the project is polished and available or give a completion date, next comes a one paragraph summary, then a short one-paragraph biography. End with a short marketing summary.
Ideally, a high-concept one-liner contains twenty-five words or less. Confine yourself to one or two major characters and stay with one thread of the story. Show how the character is in conflict and use words that promote empathy.
Be specific about the target readers. Select them based on their worldview, interests, gender, age, or anything that narrows down the pool of readers to indicate particular people to whom the marketing should aim.
The word count for adult fiction runs between 60,000 and 120,000 words, depending on the genre and the publisher. Always check guidelines before you submit.
The next page of the proposal contains the competition. Research Amazon.com and find three to five books in your genre. List their titles and authors. For each one, write a short paragraph summary and tell how it is similar to and different from your work.
Though not mandatory, you can include character sketches. Write approximately a page for each major character. Include any essential back story, their goals, and how they relate to the story.
A two-page single-spaced or a three- to five-page double-spaced synopsis comes next. Write it in third person present tense. Focus on the main plot points and write them in order, showing the story’s beginning, middle, and end. The first time a character appears, write his name in capital letters. Open with a hook that contains the main character and a crisis. Show how he intends to solve the crisis. Be sure to include motivations and emotions.
An expanded version of your biography comes next. Write it in third person. List your credits, pertinent education, and life experiences.
The all important marketing section appears last. The editor wants to know about your platform and who you can reach through organizations, speaking engagements, columns. Include the URLs of your website and/or blog.
Your well-written proposal is the first step in a long process. If the editor is interested, he’ll ask for the complete manuscript. If he likes that, he passes it on to the first of several committees that ultimately decide whether the book will be published.—Quinn