“An agent asked for my partial.”
“The editor requested my full!”
“I’m putting a proposal together.”
Partial? Full? Proposals? What in the world are those?
When I started learning about publishing, I had no clue what many terms meant. I still remember the day I scratched my head over “black moment.” Yes, I had to look it up! What a blessing to have great blogs like Seekerville to fill me in. Today I’m sharing what I’ve learned about the different types of submissions an agent or editor might request.
A partial (sometimes referred to as sample chapters) typically means the first three chapters of a novel and a synopsis.
A full refers to a complete manuscript.
A proposal expands on the partial. In addition to the first three chapters of the novel and a synopsis, it typically includes a brief description of the book, a summary of the audience, a competition section (also known as comparables), the author’s biography, and a marketing plan. If the book is part of a series, the proposal should include a brief summary of the other books in the series. Some agents and editors also want to see a list of contacts you could ask for endorsements as well as an influencer list.
If you aren’t sure if you need a proposal, check out this terrific article, “Why You Need a Book Proposal” by Rachelle Gardner, literary agent with Books and Such Literary Management.
Let’s break apart the proposal. Please keep in mind that I’m talking about fiction today. Nonfiction proposals have different requirements.
First Three Chapters. This is THE most important part of your proposal. Publishing is a very competitive business, so work hard to make these pages shine.
To be clear, these are the opening chapters of your novel. You cannot pick and choose which three chapters to send. If there’s a prologue, include it. One of the ways I drove myself into a tizzy when I first started querying was by getting too hung up on weird details. For instance my brain asks, “Is the prologue considered a chapter? Do I only send two additional chapters?” Focus instead on the number of pages. Aim to include 40-50 double-spaced pages of your manuscript. If you write short chapters, this might mean sending several chapters or even restructuring your early chapters to fit more scenes into the first three.
Synopsis. Write three to six double-spaced pages, and be sure to hit all the major plot points. Yes, this means spoiling the ending. Work hard to get the emotional impact of the book across in the synopsis. If you need help figuring out how to write one, see “Synopsis that Hook and Sell” by Debra Clopton via Seekerville.
Brief Description. Think of this as the back cover copy or the “blurb.”
Audience. Define your intended audience. Think about who typically reads the genre of book you write. For example, if you write contemporary romance your audience would probably be women aged 18 and older.
Competition. (comparables). This section should be comprised of three books similar to yours. Include the title, author, ISBN number, publisher, date published and a brief analysis of why your books are similar and what sets yours apart. A good article on this is “Selecting the Right Comp Titles” by Dan Balow of The Steve Laube Agency.
Biography. Focus on your qualifications as a writer as well as offering a bit of personality. If you’re unpublished, include writing organizations you belong to, contests you’ve won, writing experience, and if you have a degree or other credentials to write the book.
Marketing Plan. Sounds scary. For most of us, it is! Brainstorm how you will promote your book. Will you set up (or agree to) a book launch, book signing, or other book event? Will you reach out to local media, including newspapers, television stations, and radio stations? If yes, list the specific places and people you will contact. Will you organize a blog tour (or agree to a blog tour your publisher sets up)? List the blogs you’ll approach or give a general number. What about sending out newsletters and building an email list? Do you plan on actively engaging with readers on social media sites? Offering giveaways of your book? Building an influencer list? Asking for reviews? There are a million and one ways to market your book. Pick and choose the ones that you realistically can commit to and include them on your marketing plan.
As I mentioned earlier, the most important part of your proposal is your writing sample. That’s why I created a self-editing checklist to help me polish my first fifty pages. I look at eight categories with specific questions for each. The categories include, First Chapter, Plot, Pace, Tone, Characters, Romance Journey (for romance novels), Spiritual Journey, and Writing Mechanics. For a pdf file of this checklist and other articles about writing, go to my For Writers page or click on “First Fifty Pages Checklist.”
About the categories:
The first chapter is vital. If an agent, editor, or reader isn’t engaged right away, they won’t continue reading. It’s that simple. You might only have a few pages to “hook” them. I don’t like getting rejections (and I’ve gotten many over the years), so I do everything in my power to make sure my first chapter has everything it needs. Most of the questions in this section revolve around the characters, story goal, and theme of the book.
The plot has to make sense, and it needs to flow properly. The questions about plot are intended to keep the reader turning pages. If you have trouble answering the questions in this section about your current work-in-progress, I suggest picking up a book in the same genre and evaluate it based on this list. It’s much easier to analyze a book other than our own! Later, go back to your manuscript and try to answer them again.
Pace. If you’re not sure if the pace is fast or slow, zoom out of your manuscript to get an overview of several pages. Is there white space? Long paragraphs? A mix of paragraph lengths? Short paragraphs tend to indicate a faster pace, while longer paragraphs slow things down.
Tone isn’t easy to self-evaluate, but with practice it can be done. Think about the genre you write. Take romantic suspense. Flowery language, long descriptive paragraphs and cutesy banter throughout don’t reflect the genre. Romantic suspense should be fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat action that raises the reader’s heartrate and keeps it there. I’m not saying the characters can’t be witty but have them wisecracking while on the run.
Characters. Characters don’t have to be sugary-sweet, but readers need to care about them. Give them compelling goals, reasons for wanting the goals, and obstacles to overcome. Pay attention to secondary characters. Sometimes those rascals take over! We don’t want that. If a secondary character seems to be taking center stage, consider writing a separate book for him. Keep the current book’s focus on the main characters.
*Romance Journey. This section only applies to romance novels. Think about your hero and heroine and ask yourself if they’re acting like mature adults who are attracted to each other. Ask yourself if they seem to be falling in love too quickly and if there are clear reasons why they can’t emotionally commit to each other.
Spiritual Journey. This section applies to inspirational (Christian) novels. Readers of inspirational fiction expect a clear spiritual aspect throughout the book. Make sure the faith journey is being shown or at least hinted at in the first fifty pages.
Writing Mechanics. These questions will help you look at sentence structure, repetitions, grammar and such.
You can download and print the complete checklist here, “First Fifty Pages Checklist” and it is always available on the For Writers page under the Extras tab at jillkemerer.com.
If you’re a writer, what do you consider your writing strengths? If you’re a reader, what brings a book to life for you?
Thank you for having me today!
Her Small-Town Romance
Finding Her Way Home
Cozy Lake Endwell, Michigan, seems the perfect place for Jade Emerson's new T-shirt shop—and perhaps a fresh start. After a lifetime of letdowns, she is finally ready to face the future on her own. So when local wilderness guide Bryan Sheffield offers to help Jade overcome a past trauma, she warns him they will remain strictly business. But soon, with the help of Bryan's big, complicated family and a boisterous St. Bernard named Teeny, Jade's frozen heart begins to thaw. Now Jade wonders if she can return the favor, bringing a little happiness to a man who has long kept his own sorrow under wraps…
Interested in purchasing Her Small-Town Romance? Purchase links available at http://jillkemerer.com/books/her-small-town-romance/
Jill Kemerer writes Christian romance novels with love, humor and faith for Harlequin Love Inspired. Jill loves coffee, M&Ms, fluffy animals, magazines and her hilarious family. Visit her website, jillkemerer.com, and connect with Jill on Facebook, Twitter and sign up for her Newsletter!
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