What’s the Point of the Proposal?


Let me just say, I realize what a bear proposal-writing is for most writers. Anyone who knows me at all knows that proposals (synopses in particular) are my arch-enemies. However, each time I’ve written one, I’ve learned something, and I’m happy to share what I’ve discovered along the way.

First off, every agency has different proposal rules. Some want comparable titles. Some do not. Some want a sell sheet with pictures and fancy stuff. Some do not. Some might want future series titles/ideas, and some don’t.

Boiling it down, the dread synopsis is all about selling editors on your characters and your story right away. Moving your proposal out of the slush pile, fast. Which means the faster and more zingy it reads the minute they clamp eyes on it, the better. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” rings true in the editorial worldClick to Tweet!

I would strongly recommend no more than three double-spaced pages for your synopsis. And yes, it’s gruesome to have to reduce your 80-100,000 word baby to that size. For the ACFW Genesis contest, they required a one-page synopsis, single-spaced. That’s a good standard.

My first synopsis on God’s Daughter was lamentable, as I’ve mentioned before. It was far too long. Thankfully, when you’re finding an agent, they focus primarily on your manuscript, especially if you’re a new author. They realize you haven’t got all your stuff together yet.

But as a wannabe debut author, when you’ve landed an agent and you’re getting that proposal ready for the publishing houses, you are going to have to work. I don’t care how perfect you think it is. It isn’t.

Thankfully, this is where your agent will step in and help. They’ll help you eliminate deadweight and unnecessary side stories and keep you focused on the goal: selling your book.

So I’d encourage you, if you’re querying, be sure you follow that specific agency’s proposal guidelines. Hard to do without a sample proposal! I’ve searched all over the place and it’s hard to find fiction proposals online for debut authors with no “street-cred.” (I’ve concluded it’s because authors don’t want to give their plotlines away for the world to see). But if an agent picks you up, he/she will give you a sample proposal from your new agency for you to use as a guideline.

This takes lots of pressure off you, as far as envisioning formatting and necessary elements. But you still have work to do. And as I said above, your agent will work with you on that.

This is where it’s also wonderful to have crit partners who have strengths you don’t. Click to Tweet! I tend to write choppy sentences in my synopses, trying to jam as much of that wonderful plotline in there as I can. I mean, it’s a multi-layered book! Many themes going on here! I need to cram it all in, right? (Wrong!)

My crit partner has the gift of synopsis flow, as I’ll call it, and without her I’d be totally lost. She can read my proposal with fresh eyes and tell me how phrases like “intuitive Glock-wielding housewife” might read the wrong way (an intuitive Glock? Dude, I want one!).

I’m sorry this post can’t be more in-depth, but it’s almost impossible to state across-the-board what you need in your proposal (outside the Synopsis and Bio). Every agency uses different key elements and different formats.

Yes, it’d be easier to have a standard format. But each agent has determined what they feel impresses editors the most. As authors, it makes sense to trust their judgment and run with whatever they give us. 

Because the point of your proposal isn’t to torture you as a writer, but to give you every possible chance of landing a book contract.

****How about you? Share your Synopsis and Proposal stories!****




 

13 thoughts on “What’s the Point of the Proposal?

  1. I'm blessed with a partner who is pretty good with proposals. I hate hate hate them. I've found, however, that a synopsis strips my story to the essentials. Once I have it written, it becomes clear what I have to fix.

  2. Excellent point, Ron–you can totally use that synopsis as you write your BOOK itself–is that what you meant? I've definitely heard of people who write that synopsis before the book, as a kind of guideline. I think that's a great idea.

  3. I tackle a synopsis in layers–I'll get the bare bones onto a document, and then chip and sculpt away. Many times I have to step away from it for a day or two.Yeah, they're really hard to write, especially in a way that shows off your author voice and characters. 🙂

  4. Intuitive Glocks. Yes. That's how we solve this gun-control dilemma!!!!!!For me, it's ALWAYS best to have those fresh eyes. My view gets so contorted in reading my own work sometimes, that I NEED those other eyes to find the things I miss, and it's best when you find a crit partner who KNOWS your voice and your message. And Jennifer, those were two rather delicious words: Canadian Chocolate.Great post, Heather.

  5. Thank you, Jill–what genre do you write and maybe someone here will volunteer! We need to do some kind of list at Married…with Fiction. This lovely (NOT!) pic was taken at Natural Bridge, VA, near an older hotel there.

  6. I have no real story to tell…just sending out queries and praying! But I will admit, with each season that passes I'm learning more. Someday it will pay off.

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