Fiction writing: submitting a novel proposal
If you have a novel, either complete or in progress, which you want to send to an agent or publisher, rather than sending the whole manuscript it is better to submit a proposal. Publishers usually receive a large number of unsolicited manuscripts and may not have time to give every one of them a great deal of attention. Many manuscripts sit for a long time on what publisher call ‘the slush pile’ waiting to be looked at by a reader.
A well presented proposal is more likely to receive quick attention than a whole manuscript.
The proposal should be in three parts, consisting of:
A letter of no more than two pages in which you introduce your proposed novel, including:
a) A statement in one or two sentences of what the main theme of the novel will be, stated in such a way that it will indicate what the appeal to the reader will be.
As examples of how to give a simple statement of a novel’s theme consider these examples from The Sunday Times. Yours can be a bit longer than these.
The Seventh Scroll, by Wilbur Smith: English aristocrat and murder victim's widow hunt Pharaoh's treasure.
The Horse Whisperer, by Nicholas Evans: Rugged man soothes traumatised horse and high-powered owner.
Popcorn, by Ben Elton: Director of Hollywood killer movie finds death imitates art.
Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood: Is madhouse patient a murderous fiend or duped innocent?
b) An outline of the essence of the plot, i.e. what actually happens, in no more than one paragraph.
c) A statement about what kind of reader you think would read it, i.e. what area of the market it is aimed at, and what the novel's main 'selling points' will be.
d) If you can, mention some recently-published novels which are similar to yours, saying in what way they are similar. This will help the publisher see what kind of market you are aiming at.
The second part of the proposal should be a synopsis of the novel, chapter by chapter, in no more than two pages. For each chapter show what the main incidents and dramatic scenes are going to be.
List of principal characters: Put a brief list of the main characters at the beginning of the synopsis. Just their names, and their relationship to the other main characters (wife, husband, friend, etc.)
3. The opening section of the novel
The third part of your proposal should be the opening chapter of the novel.
This package is called the 'proposal'. It should be enough for the agent or publisher to judge whether they are interested in your work or not, and if they are they might then ask you to send more.
Getting an agent
It is a good idea to try and get an agent interested in your work before approaching publishers directly. A good agent can bring a wealth of experience to bear on assessing your work’s suitability for publication, making recommendations on how you might improve your chances, and selecting the publishers to send it to. A good source of help is The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook Guide to Getting Published.