l’ve recently been offered the opportunity to write and present a 3-book proposal to an agent for a new mystery series.
As I delve into this for the first time — ever — I thought I’d share what I know and am learning from the process.
So, to start, here’s the anatomy of a book proposal:
- Overview -> on average, this is a half- to one-page description of the premise of the series, with a lot of focus on the protagonist. You want to catch the agent’s (and publisher’s) attention here so she’ll keep reading.
- Synopses -> this is plural because for a 3-book proposal, you need to have 3 synopses. They do not have to be long at all. In fact, they range from a paragraph to a half-a-page for each of the 3 books. I’m thinking of them as extended elevator pitches – the way I’ll describe the books if I have a couple of minutes to talk about them.
- Author bio -> this is probably self-explanatory, but the bio needs to represent how the writer has the background and/or experience to write the proposed series. Including links to published works is acceptable, but the 1-2 paragraphs should be narrative.
- Comparative titles -> List 3-5 titles of books or series, along with author names and publishing houses if you know them, comparable to what you’re proposing to show there is a market established.
- Marketing or social media platform -> depending on your experience, this section can be wrapped in with the author bio, or be called out separately. Authors need to have a platform, even if they land a contract with a ‘big’ publisher. This section should include details on your involvement with social media, how you can promote your own work, as well as listing any statistics or details on the topic you are writing about.
Let the agent know what you know about the potential pool of readers. For example, if your books relate in some way to adult evening community classes, you can include something like: there are x number of people who attend adult enrichment classes each year.
- Sample pages -> depending on how long you write, this can be one or a few chapters, but you want to have 30 (or so) pages of the first book ready to send along with your proposal. And for me, since I’m proposing a mystery series, I have to make sure that I have a dead body in the first 30 pages.
Overall, other than the sample pages, the proposal should be in your natural voice. Write it as though you’re speaking with the agent and only use $5 words if those are part of your natural vocabulary. You want to catch the agent’s attention and make her want to work with you and help pitch your books to publishers. (It’s an entirely different discussion about finding the right agent for a manuscript.)
The total proposal you send in will range from 20 (if you’re sending a short chapter) to 45 pages.
Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys New England’s crisp fall mornings and warm sunny days. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Biznik.