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.