What Should Your Book Outline Include in Your Proposal?

by Angela Scheff

 

As you’re developing your proposal, it’s important to include information about your manuscript, but what exactly should it encompass?

 

Agents (and publishers) are looking for a book outline, something that will walk them through your book structure. A list of potential chapters is good, but if you’re trying to show movement when writing, having defined sections is important. Even if your book has an informal tone and is written in essay form, don’t discount the journey you as the author will be taking the reader on. Look at each chapter and see if you can identify some larger themes they would fall under and organize it that way.

 

For example, this is good:

 

Chapter 1: Title

 

Chapter 2: Title

 

Chapter 3: Title

 

Chapter 4: Title

 

Chapter 5: Title

 

Chapter 6: Title

 

Chapter 7: Title

 

Chapter 8: Title

 

Chapter 9: Title

 

Chapter 10: Title

 

Chapter 11: Title

 

Chapter 12: Title

 

Yet, the following may be better for a nonfiction manuscript (even if it doesn’t end up with parts in the final manuscript) as it clearly spells out the themes and movement for the agent/publisher.

 

Introduction: Title

 

Part I: Title

 

Chapter 1: Title

 

Chapter 2: Title

 

Chapter 3: Title

 

Chapter 4: Title

 

 

 

Part II: Title

 

Chapter 5: Title

 

Chapter 6: Title

 

Chapter 7: Title

 

Chapter 8: Title

 

 

 

Part III: Title

 

Chapter 9: Title

 

Chapter 10: Title

 

Chapter 11: Title

 

Chapter 12: Title

 

 

 

Conclusion: Title

 

Obviously, don’t force it if it doesn’t make sense in your manuscript, but as an agent, I personally appreciate when an author has thought through their manuscript this much and can identify more than their overview. You need to let us know how you’re going to achieve this.

 

Think of your outline like a map. You know the destination you want the readers to arrive at, but you need to include directions in order for the readers to get there. There could be different ways to do so, but as an author you want to take the readers on a specific journey.

 

Following the table of contents, proposals usually include chapter summaries. While you don’t have to have your entire manuscript written at the proposal stage, you do need to know what each chapter is about. This can also look differently. Some authors may include a paragraph. You could also highlight themes, stories, etc., something like this:

 

Part I: Title

 

This section is going to touch on this theme.

 

Chapter 1: Title

 

This is your one-sentence description.

 

Topics to include: topic 1, topic 2

 

Stories to include: story 1, story 2

 

Again, while your entire manuscript doesn’t have to be written, you need to be able to convey to agents/publishers what you’re writing about and the map of how you’re going to get there.

 

One last piece of advice: While I’m very pro-plan when putting your proposal together, I absolutely understand chapters can take a different direction when you actually sit down to write it. Don’t be a slave to your map as your writing may want to take the scenic route, but do keep your publisher and editor informed if you change directions and you’re under contract.

 

 

Impossibilities?

Wikipedia has taught me to believe in the impossible more often. In the past several decades I’ve had to accept other ideas that I formerly thought were impossibilities but that later turned out to be good practical ideas. For instance, I had my doubts about the online flea market called eBay when I first encountered it in 1997. You want me to transfer thousands of dollars to a distant stranger trying to sell me a used car I’ve never seen? Everything I had been taught about human nature suggested this could not work. Yet today, strangers selling automobiles in the major profit center for the very successful eBay corporation.

 

Twenty years ago I might have been able to believe that in 2016 we’d have maps for the entire world on our personal handheld devices. But I could not have been convinced we’d have them with street views of the buildings for many cities, or apps that showed the locations of public toilets, and that it would give us spoken directions for walking or public transit, and that we’d have all this mapping and more “for free.” It seemed starkly impossible back then. And this free abundance still seems hard to believe in theory. Yet it is on hundreds of millions of phones.

 

These supposed impossibilities keep happening with increased frequency.

 

– from “The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly

 

 

Positioning, Packaging, and the Pitch

Today, in order to even have a chance at people’s attention, your project has to seem as good as or better than all the others. Three critical variables determine whether that will happen:

  • Positioning is that your project is and who it is for.
  • Packaging is what it looks like and what it’s called.
  • The Pitch is the sell – how the product is described and what it offers to the audience.

 

– Ryan Holiday, “Perennial Seller”

 

What is the Single Best Way to Develop a Relationship with Your Publisher?

– by Jana Burson

 

ONE WORD: COMMUNICATION

 

Just like in any relationship, be it friendship, business, marriage, etc., in order for a good relationship with your publisher to be healthy and to flourish, there needs to be good communication.

 

Publishers love authors who communicate with them on a regular basis about what they are doing, what they have planned and what’s changing. It allows them to stay current on their plans for you and your book release and promotion.

 

Never assume that the team at your publishing house has time to read every blog, or social media post you make. The reality is that they don’t. They have a long list of authors they are working with and are trying to balance all the demands of their job. When you communicate things of importance to them, not only are you making their job less difficult, you are also bringing their focus back to you. And let’s face it: the old adage of the squeaky wheel getting the grease is true.

 

Communication is key in every step of the process. Starting with your editor, if you are working on your manuscript or through the edits and things are going great let them know. If you are having difficulty and know there’s no possible way of meeting the deadline, communicate that sooner rather than later. When you don’t, you not only cause a breakdown in the relationship, you also cause a log jam in the editor’s schedule of work.

 

When it comes to marketing and publicity, communication can be the difference between having a positive or negative experience with the launch of your book. More often than not, a marketing and publicity team has more on their plate than they can say grace over, and it takes a lot of effort to keep all the plates spinning. By nature of the workload, when they don’t hear from you, they can easily think that everything is going great. Their attention is focused on the authors who are in regular communication with them. And when an author is in communication with the publishing house, in turn the team is in communication with the author thus making the author feel taken care of.

 

One last word of advice: always, always communicate your appreciation to your publishing team! A note of gratitude from an appreciative author goes a long way. And speaking from experience, it can often mean going the extra mile for that author.

 

If Something is Not Interactive, it is Broken

All devices need to interact. If a thing does not interact it will be considered broken. Over the past few years I’ve been collecting stories of what it is like to grow up in the digital age. As an example, one of my friends had a young daughter under five years old. Like many other families these days, they didn’t have a TV, just computing screens. On a visit to another family who happened to have a TV, his daughter gravitated to the large screen. She went up to the TV, hunted around below it, and the looked behing it. “Where’s the mouse?” she asked. There had to be a way to interact with it. Another acquaintance’s son had access to a computer starting at the age of two. Once, when she and her son were shopping in a grocery store, she paused to decipher the label on a product. “Just click on it,” her son suggested. Of course cereal boxes should be interactive! Another young friend worked at a theme park. Once, a little girl took her picture, and after she did she told the park worker, “But it’s not a real camera – it doesn’t have the picture on the back.” Another friend had a barely speaking toddler take over his iPad. She could paint and easily handle complicated tasks on apps almost before she could walk. One day her dad printed out a high-resolution image on photo paper and left it on the coffee table. He notices his toddler came up and tried to unpinch the photo to make it larger. She tried unpinching it a few times, without success, and looked at him, perplexed. “Daddy, broken.” Yes, if something is not interactive, it is broken.

 

– from “The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly

 

Planning a Launch

The first thing anyone planning a launch has to do is sit down and take inventory of everything they have at their disposal that might be used to get this product in people’s hands.  Stuff like:

  • Relationships (personal, professional, familial, or otherwise)
  • Media contacts
  • Research or information from past launches of similar products (what worked, what didn’t, what to do, what not to do)
  • Favors they’re owed
  • Potential advertising budget
  • Resources or allies (“This blogger is really passionate about [insert some theme or connection related to what you’re launching].”)

It is essential to take the time to sit down and make a list of everything you have and are willing to bring to bear on the marketing of a project. Aside from racking your own brain, one of my favorite strategies to kick off this process is simply to ask your world.

 

– Ryan Holiday, “Perennial Seller”

 

How Important Are My Title and Subtitle On My Book Proposal?

– by Christopher Ferebee

 

You know the old adage, “Never judge a book by its cover.” But all surveys on this topic point to the fact that book buyers do, in fact, do this. In a physical setting, the average buyer’s first impression is the cover, followed quickly by the title and subtitle, then they typically turn the book over and read the back cover copy, and if they’re still interested, they’ll open the book and look at the table of contents.

 

The digital space is causing somewhat of a shift, but in a way that is making a book’s title all the more important. The thumbnail size of your cover in most digital shopping spaces is too small for the artwork to significantly influence buying decisions. This moves your title and subtitle to the top of the list.

 

Typically, your book proposal is not going to include a cover for obvious reasons. But in my experience, acquisitions editors go through a pretty similar review process. This means your title and subtitle are paramount.

 

Your title and subtitle are the lenses your prospective agent or editor puts on and sees the rest of your proposal through.

 

One way to think of your title and subtitle is your book’s promise and premise. You are communicating right up front what the main take away from the book will be for your reader, and how you will deliver on that promise. The same is true in your proposal. The remainder of your proposal will be evaluated based on how well you are delivering on the promise and premise in your title and subtitle.

 

Now, having said all of this, I’d recommend holding your title and subtitle lightly. They often change from proposal to publication. But do not let this knowledge excuse your work on this. You want to come up with the very best title and subtitle you can because of the impact it will have on the evaluation of the rest of your proposal.

 

The above applies to non-fiction. Fiction is a different animal. I’m not aware of any real hard and fast rules in fiction titling other than you want something compelling. You want to engage the emotion of the reader in some visceral way, and this is an art form. But when it comes to non-fiction, I also often get questions about more obscure titles. What about successful books like Blue Like Jazz or Velvet Elvis? All I can tell you is, sometimes they work, most of the time they don’t. Unless you are an established author with a ready audience waiting for your next work, you need to broadcast clearly what your book is about, and your title and subtitle are where you do that.

 

The Sharing of the Crowd

Harnessing the sharing of the crowd will often take you further than you think, and it is almost always the best place to start. We have barely begun to explore what kinds of amazing things a crowd can do. There must be two million different ways to crowdfund an idea, or to crowdorganize it, or to crowdmake it. There must be a million more new ways to share unexpected things in unexpected ways.

In the next three decades the greatest wealth – and more interesting cultural innovations – lie in this direction. The largest, fastest growing, most profitable companies in 2050 will be companies that will have figured out how to harness aspects of sharing that are invisible and un appreciated today. Anything that can be shared – thoughts, emotions, money, health, time – will be shared in the right conditions, with the right benefits. Anything that can be shared can be shared better, faster, easier, longer, and in a million more ways than we currently realize. At the point in our history, sharing something that has not been shared before, or in a new way, is the surest way to increase its value.

– from “The Inevitable” By Kevin Kelly

Sample Chapters in a Book Proposal

– by Angela Scheff

When putting together a nonfiction proposal, it’s important to have sample writing, but not your entire manuscript–unless specifically requested [see here for the reason]. So how many chapters should you include?
A good rule to follow is to include the introduction along with chapter one and two. That said, there are often reasons to deviate from this.

I often guide authors to submit a good sampling of what their actual manuscript will look like. For example, if you spend the first section discussing history or research in your manuscript, then also include another chapter or two from the middle of your manuscript so agents/editors can evaluate your writing from your other sections as your tone and subject matter will be different.
If your chapters are on the shorter side, you may want to include more so agents/editors can view more of your writing instead of just a few pages.

A few things to keep in mind:

• Your proposal as a whole (including sample chapters) should not be more than 50 pages or you run the risk of the entire thing not being reviewed.

• Your sample chapters should showcase your book, so pick the introduction (your proposal overview introduces the book to the agents/editors; your introduction introduces it to your readers) as well as the ones that best represent your concept and writing.

• Your sample chapters should be long enough for authors/editors to experience your writing. If you’re unsure and your proposal is under 50 pages, include another chapter.

• Have a few additional chapters completed that are not included in your proposal in case you receive a request for more.

• While you don’t have to have your entire manuscript written yet, you must know how your book will be laid out [see here for why].
Bonus tip: have your proposal reviewed by a few peers before you formally submit to an agent. Do they want to read more? It’s important to lay out your book so reviewers understand the entire concept and then leave them wanting more.

Accessing vs. Possessing

A reporter for TechCrunch recently observed, “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provide, owns no real esate. Something interesting is happening.”

Indeed, digital media exhibits a similar absence. Netflix, the world’s largest video hub, allows me to watch a movie without owning it. Spotify, the largest music streaming company, lets me listen to whatever music I want without owning any of it. Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited enables me to read any book in its 800,000 volume library without owning books, and PlayStation Now lets me play games without purchasing them. Every day I own less of what I use.

Possession is not as important as it once was. Accessing is more important that ever.

– from “The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly

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