Not all proposals are set up the same way, but I’m going to go through the structure of a typical one.
(It can be single or double-spaced, your choice)
Your name and contact info in the top left corner (mailing address, phone number, email address)
The manuscript’s genre and word count in the top right corner
In the center of the page, center justification:
Title of Your Novel
(optional) your agent’s name and contact information in the bottom right corner
After the cover page, all the other pages of the proposal should have a header just like a manuscript, with the title, your name, and the page number of the proposal.
Story blurb (optional)
Start this on a fresh page after your cover page, and single space it.
The story blurb is just a paragraph—two to four sentences—about the story. Similar to back cover copy. This is basically the same as the story blurb you included in your query letter.
Your story blurb will either hook the editor or not. Here are some pointers.
1) Try to write it in the tone or voice of the novel. If your manuscript is a romantic comedy, make the blurb sound fun and flirty. If your novel is a dark thriller, make the blurb sound sinister and exciting.
2) It should name the main protagonists. The villain can also be named if he/she is a major protagonist.
3) The main protagonists' external goals should be clear.
4) There should be some hint of the major obstacle(s) in the protagonists' way.
5) A nice touch is to add a little info on the main protagonists' internal or spiritual conflicts.
6) Unlike a synopsis, you do not need to give away the ending, but you may if you prefer.
Here’s an example of a story blurb as it would appear at the top of a fresh page in my proposal:
Risa Takayama would rather eat rotten tofu than listen to her aunts’ tweaking her about her weight and lack of a Significant Other. She’s the Elephant Man next to her Barbie-doll cousins, so she throws herself into her wedding accessories shop in the mall. She’s becoming so savvy and self-sufficient, she hasn’t needed to bother God for any help in a while.
Three weeks before the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, her non-Christian brother makes a crazy deal—he’ll go to church with the family if she finds a date for the service. Risa can’t ask family friend Ben Higashi—the entire church knows rice would stop sticking before he’d be interested in her, so they’d assume she couldn’t find anyone else. Ben suggests the mall-sponsored Speed Dating, but when she uncovers a mall shoplifter mystery, can she discover both Mr. Right and the crook as her twelve dates turn into the Twelve Nightmares before Christmas?
You can either start this on a fresh page or put it on the same page under the story blurb, separated by the word “Synopsis” on a separate line in between the blurb and the start of the synopsis. (Personally, I would put it on the same page as the story blurb, if I had one for the proposal, but it’s personal preference.)
The synopsis should be about one to two pages long, single-spaced. You can either indent paragraphs or separate them with an extra carriage return (like website pages).
DO reveal the ending. This is the entire story laid out.
I could write BOOKS on how to write a synopsis … well, okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but I have written two articles on it, so I won’t go into it here:
Quick tip for how to write a synopsis
Another quick tip for how to write a synopsis
NOTE: The next 8 things I mention below will all be listed one after another on the same page and successive pages, each section separated by just the label of what it is: Bio, Hook, Genre, Word Count, etc.
Start this on a fresh page, and again, single-spaced. It is also in third person past tense.
Your bio is your writing credits, any experience you have in the writing or publishing industry, and any social connections or life experiences that have any relevance to the story. Also, maybe a personal sentence about your family or yourself.
If you don't have many writing credits, don't point it out. If you have a lot, point only to the relevant ones. If you wrote an article on abuse in Woman's World and an article on stretching in Runner's World, include the Woman's World but not the Runner's World.
If you belong to a national writers organization like RWA, ACFW, SFWA, MWA, then include it. Also include if you’ve ever worked in a publishing house or for a magazine.
Don't ramble on for paragraphs and pages about your family and experiences—keep it to only those things that are pertinent for your story. If the main plot of your story is about hang-gliding and you've done that several times, then include it. But if your story is about the stock market, then don't include the hang-gliding experience.
Your social connections can also have pertinence. If your story is set in medieval Scotland and you belong to a local Scottish Heritage group, then mention that. However, if the main plot or characters of your story don’t have anything to do with your social groups, don’t include them.
Here’s an example of my bio in my very first proposal:
As a fourth generation Japanese American, Camy has close ties with the Asian American community in both Hawaii and the San Francisco Bay Area, where the story is set. She is a columnist for WordPraize multicultural e-zine, and she has had articles published in Nikkei Heritage, the journal for the National Japanese American Historical Society. She is a member of RWA, Faith, Hope and Love chapter, and American Christian Fiction Writers. The first chapter from another of her manuscripts won first place in its category in the 2005 ACFW Noble Theme contest.
This is just a short paragraph under your Bio, labeled with the word “Hook.”
You want to answer the editor’s questions: 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?
Here’s an example from one of my proposals:
Set in the city of San Jose, California, known as Silicon Valley, THE YEAR OF THE DOG follows the trials of an Asian American woman on the shady side of 35 who wrestles with familial and cultural pressures about her single status, her age, and her “unorthodox” dog training business whereas most of her cousins are engineers, doctors, or lawyers. She clashes culturally with the hero, a Southern boy from Louisiana with a stagnant faith and a slavish devotion to his career. Through hilarious trials and turnarounds, the two lovers find their identities in Christ, resolutions to their difficult family situations, and the truth that opposites can attract. The novel immerses readers in the northern California Asian American culture, with colorful characters who could have been drawn from anyone’s extended family, no matter the background.
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.
Alternate titles (optional)
Expect your publisher to change your title. No, I’m serious. Do NOT be attached to your title. At all. It will save you much angst and heartache later.
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.
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.
This doesn’t have to be extensive unless you want it to be.
Don’t list things like “willing to appear on Oprah”—well, duh. Plus so few authors actually make it on Oprah, period.
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?
For example: Do you work in a school and can you influence the librarian or other schools’ libraries to carry your book? Do you belong to any national organizations and can you give workshops on your book topic at your local chapter? Do you have an active blog or website and can you utilize that to spread the word on the internet? What are your statistics/number of readers/hits? Do you have a newsletter, and how many people subscribe to it?
Here’s an example of my marketing plan:
Camy has ties to the local Asian community to publicize this novel, and will conduct workshops and book signings at libraries and bookstores in San Jose, around northern California and wherever travel opportunity arises. She will promote her books on romance readers’ websites and online discussion groups where she already participates regularly. She will conduct reader contests, produce a monthly newsletter and maintain an up-to-date author website and blog. She already generates traffic to her website with her monthly giveaway drawing of Christian fiction. She also draws hits to her blog with author interviews, book reviews and book giveaways. She will arrange a cyber-book tour to various blogs and websites. She will seek reviews and endorsements from review websites and book clubs. With her publisher’s support, Camy will enter her novels into contests such as the RITA, the Holt Medallion contest, and the Christy Award.
Competitive Analysis/Marketing Analysis (optional)
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.
Make sure the books you list aren’t too old. List recent titles over older ones.
Show clearly how the books are similar, but also show clearly how yours differ. For example:
Dixieland Sushi by Cara Lockwood, Downtown Press, 2005
This chick lit highlights the dating life of a single Asian women, but Dixieland Sushi is set in the South and delves more into the struggles of a biracial protagonist coming to terms with her cultures, while “The Year of the Dog” explores the influence of an extended Asian American family.
Start this on a fresh page with the words “Comparative Analysis” at the top of the page. This is also single-spaced, but add a carriage return between books for easier reading.
Chapter by chapter synopsis (optional)
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.
First three chapters of the manuscript
Now for the juicy part! Start a fresh page and start your manuscript. Keep the same header. Don't worry about "labeling" it as your manuscript, the editor will figure it out.
If you are savvy enough in Word, start new page numbers. But if you don't know how to do that, don't worry, it's not that big a deal and it doesn't matter that the manuscript will start on page 15 or something like that.
Manuscript format should be traditional--1 inch or more margins on each side, double-spaced, 12 or 14 point font, Courier or Times New Roman or equivalent font. (If you're not familiar with traditional formatting, I have an article on it here.)
Whew! Is that enough information or what??? But hopefully this will give you a better idea of what a fiction proposal looks like—or rather, what MY fiction proposals look like. Hopefully my Seeker sisters will chime in on how theirs might have differed, what they included or didn’t include, etc. There’s no one way to write a proposal, but I wanted to cover all the basic stuff in this post.
Any questions, just leave them in the comments and either I or the other Seekers can answer them!
Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Her novels Single Sashimi and Deadly Intent are out now. She runs the Story Sensei critique service, is a staff worker for her church youth group, and leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels and ponders frivolous things. Sign up for her newsletter YahooGroup for giveaways!