Tuesday, July 31, 2012

10 Reasons to Write a Fiction Book Proposal Before You Write Your Book

By Jill Williamson

Everyone is different. Not all writers like to get organized before they start to write. But after I published a few books and got an agent, I learned that authors with a few traditionally published books out there don't necessarily have to keep writing full novels to sell them. Once you've proven yourself, you can sell a fiction book off a proposal. I did this this past year with my upcoming book Captives.

But there are other reasons why it's smart to write a little book proposal before starting a new book. Here are ten reasons why:

1. You’ll know your story. 
Your three-act structure will be sound. You'll have brainstormed a beginning, middle, and end that makes sense. And writing a synopsis will have forced you to create the overall plot and ending.

2. You’ll know your characters 
Your main characters will already have solid goals, and you’ll know how your characters will change or grow through the story.

3. You’ll know your theme
Though this may change once you do write the book and your story gets a life of its own.

4. You’ll know your audience 

5. You’ll know your competition 
You’ll know which titles are similar to yours, how to make your book different, and how your book will stand out from your competition. This is very important in convincing a publisher why they should publish your book.

6. You can get it done quickly 
It takes much less time to write a book proposal than it takes to write the full novel. And, for the future when you have an agent, writing a proposal first will give your agent something to shop while you start writing, and it may even give an editor a chance to give you feedback up front.

But do keep in mind, if you're unpublished in fiction, you MUST finish the novel before selling it. Selling a novel from a proposal is a privileged you earn over time.

7. You’ll be ready to market 
You will have laid out some of your marketing plans, listed public relations and media contacts, and you'll also have the back cover blurb ready to tell people.

8. You’ll be ready to write
You'll already have one to three sample chapters written, so you'll have a head start on the book and will be ready to keep writing.

9. You may get paid before you write the book
For when you've published a few books and this book should sell from your proposal, most publishers pay half the advance when the contract is signed, so you might have some money coming to you before you even finish the story.

10. It is good practice
Writing fiction book proposals will help you learn to fine tune your ideas into high concept ones, put your ideas into a format that will help them sell, and will train you for working with an agent to sell books off proposals in the future.

Something to think about.

But what does a proposal look like? I got permission from my agent to post the book proposal I wrote for Captives that sold to Zonderkidz and will come out February 2013. I cut off my synopsis so I wouldn't give away the story. But a synopsis would tell the entire story, including the ending.

Click here to view the proposal for Captives.

What do you think? Every written a book proposal? Have any questions about the Captives proposal?


  1. Thank you so much for this, Mrs. Williamson! I hear so much about book proposals, but I've had no idea as to what they look like. Thank you so much for adding the link to yours. I see how it can a great move to do this before writing. Normally, I grab a notebook and just write out the entire general idea, but I feel like I seriously need to make a proposal for my current WIP. It's changed so much, I need to cement my ideas and have them set firmly in my mind.

    1. You're welcome, Kelsey! :-)

      I hope the process helps you get your WIP in order!

  2. This was really helpful, Mrs. Williamson! :)

    But I do have a few questions; I always get confused what comes first. Is it the Query Letter then the Proposal, are they the same thing and does the Synopsis belong within the Proposal?

    Thank you for your always insightful knowledge and help!

    1. A query letter stands alone. It's a letter written to ask permission to send more.

      If the editor or agent likes your query, they'll ask for something more, which might be any combination of the following:
      -A few chapters of your book
      -Your full manuscript
      -A proposal, which looks like the one at my link and includes a synopsis
      -A synopsis (sometimes they'll ask for a synopsis and sample chapters

      A cover letter is the letter you write that accompanies this requested material.

  3. Hi again! I just realized that I have another question about this. If you're proposing a book that belongs to a series, do you give the synopsis for the whole series, or just for the one book? Just curious. I'm rather new to proposals. I hear all about the query letter, but the proposal is something I've never quite had a grasp on in my mind. Thanks!

    1. I'd like to know this too since I'm writing a saga at the moment. :)

    2. I've done it two ways.

      I've written a proposal for book one, then added in a few places mention of series potential. Foe example, in the Overview section, you could write:

      Series Potential: This book is designed to be the first in a four-book series about the life of a crowl.

      And you can add something similar at the end of your synopsis.


      You can create a series proposal. You would treat the overall plot as one big story when putting together your proposal. Then you'd create a separate synopsis for each book in the series.

    3. Thank you so much! That helps me a lot! I really appreciate what you all are doing here. Thank you so much!

    4. THANK YOU!!! You rock Jill! :)

  4. Your posts always give me a lot to think about and so much I want to ask. Then I get to comment and I can't remember everything I wanted to say and ask :(

    The proposal first thing is interesting, i know Stephanie does it. I skipped doing it first for my WIP just bc I don't know how or what was going to happen with the story. Ive been to confused. But I really like organization and plans. When I come up with ideas the three act structure us something that trips me up. I don't know what they are so I tend to toss the idea. Do you think i need to spend more time trying to figure out the three act structure before I deem it unworkable?

    I can see myself liking the ability to have a proposal to turn too. Does coming up with the three act structure become easier as you become a more experienced writer? And what happens if you sell the book and in the proccess of writing the story changes on its own?

    1. Yes, the three-act structure can get easier with time.

      Maybe I should write a post on the three-act structure. Has Stephanie done that?

      But I will say, if you haven't finished that first full manuscript yet, don't worry about the three-act structure and proposals until you've gone through that experience. You will learn so much from writing a whole book and going back and inspecting it to see what needs help and rewriting it until it's perfect.

      Once you've done that, the three-act structure should make more sense.

      And, yes. That sometimes happens that you write a proposal, and once you start the book, it changes. That's happening a little with me right now with Captives. But when I go back and read my synopsis, it's all there. So it will be interesting to see what the editor says. I'll keep you posted!

      I think that as long as you stick to the gist of your plan, the book will fit what the publisher bought. They may ask you to alter things. But they may ask you to do that anyway. You never know.

    2. Off the top of my head I don't know if she's done a post breaking it down deeply. I know we've talked about the doorway of no return.
      I was going to look in the archives today for the post of Stephanie's Sarah Dessen breakdown. I'm reading Siterhood Everlasting by Amme Brashares and I feel a break down building, I know I'll never right a book like the Sisterhood, I need to accept that.
      And that ties in perfectly with trying to edit my first MS...perfect storm of a break down. Everyone has to start somewhere though

    3. No, I haven't done it yet, Jill. I had big plans to do a big story structure series and then suddenly it was August. I'm not really sure how that happened...

    4. :) Whenever either of you get around to doing that, I'd look forward to it. You've at least mentioned the act structure before, though, Jill, because I remember this big lightbulb flashing on over my head...wham! I've written three novels with that structure as my foundation since that blog post. :)

  5. Oh. This is really something I should do! I think I'll go get on it. One question for ou, Jill:

    What if you are a totally new writer, no awards/publications or ANYTHING - like, a brand new slate - when you start querying? The query will end up being very, very short. Like, here's-my-story-please-publish-me! kind of thing. How can an inexperienced teenager try to sell her book?

    1. You don't mention your age. Not until they offer you a contract. Because age should have nothing to do with it.

      And I wouldn't even mention that you're not published. The editor or agent only gets the information you share. So focus on writing a strong STORY query. Open with your tag line. Make the query about your book.

      Take a look at this cover letter. It's really sort of a combo query/cover letter since it was written to Jeff Gerke when I attended a conference. So I'd met him before, but he wasn't expecting anything from me.

      He said this was one of the best letters he's seen.


      And what he later told me was good about it was the first three paragraphs. The part about the story. It hooked him. He didn't care so much about my publishing history or agent info. It was the story that grabbed him.

      I'll see if I can dig up a few more examples of query letters.

  6. Thanks so so much for letting us see your book proposal. It makes a lot more sense seeing rather than just hearing. :) Yeah...I'm a bit of a visual person.

    1. Me too, Cait! Tell me how, and I'm lost. Show me, and I've got it!

  7. I don't really understand what this is, though. Like, what exactly is/ is not in it?

  8. I have started writing my first book, its a fiction novel, i was woundering if there is a certain lenght it should be. and does it look better to the publisher if i have an agent?