Proposal Pyramid: Write a Great Book Proposal

You wrote the book. You revised (and revised) and edited and edited. You’ve heard you’ll need something called a book proposal in order to approach agents and editors. Don’t panic!

Writing Tip for Today: So how do you write a great book proposal?

A book proposal assembles a wide range of information about you and your book idea, all located in one easy to access place. Nonfiction and fiction proposals are a little different, but for today we’ll look at fiction proposals. I’m going to break up this topic into several posts, but here are the first three steps, which make up the tip of the pyramid:

Draw Upon Sources for a Title. 

Your first and best chance to sell your book is with a good title. A good title gives the reader either information, a mood or a hint as to the tone or theme of the book. Titles should reflect as much in particular as possible. Avoid abstract or worn out phrases unless you can turn them on their heads. Take a look at movie and song titles or read poetry and collections of sayings. If you are not adept at finding great titles, study other books in your genre, partner with a colleague who has a knack for titles or read through our own manuscript. With other books, films or songs you might be able to combine words to create your own, or at least gain ideas. Each time you think of a possible title, jot it down. Return to this list until you get a gut feeling or attraction to one. Then let it rest a while, so you can be sure. Try it out on peer writers and readers. When you are satisfied, the title and byline are normally centered in a large readable serif font such as Book Antigua, Garamond or Times New Roman.

Create a Log Line.

A log line is a one sentence summation of your story. Film and television scripts are known for log lines, but you’ll need one for fiction too. Sometimes it will be called “theme,” but the idea is the same. To find your story’s log line, use a TV guide or other listing of programs. These usually contain a very brief description of episodes or a movie. You’re not trying to be creative here–just succinct. You can also use fairy tales or well-known morality tales to glean the log line for your book. There’s only one Romeo and Juliet, but thousands of stories with the same “ill-fated star-crossed lovers” log line. Start by boiling down what your story’s about. See if you can distill your answer into a single sentence. Another approach is to use mash-ups. Take two well-known books, films, etc and if you crossed them, the result would be your book. Don’t try to use books/movies nobody remembers though–it defeats that “instant association” purpose.

 Include a Brief Synopsis.

In about 150 words, go into more particulars of your story. Can you see a trend here? You catch the reader’s eye with your title, expand that vision with your log line and progressively get more detailed as to the book’s content. This brief synopsis can be constructed using a formula: When CHARACTER, a [insert 3 word description] living in SETTING does XX or wants YY (goal statement), ZZ tries to prevent Character (obstacles), forcing CHARACTER to fight (discover, learn, realize is CHANGE CATALYST) ABC (TRUTH). If you can fit your story into the formula you have a starting place and then you can build in as many details as possible within the brief synopsis. Do not include more than two viewpoint goals and exclude subplots. Only the MAIN STORY goes into your Brief Synopsis.


About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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