Conference Tip # 4 Synopsis and Proposals

Two great proposal writing books from my library. There are sections in each focusing on writing a synopsis.

Two great proposal writing books from my library. There are sections in each focusing on writing a synopsis.

You’ve made your business card and you may or may not have opted for a sell sheet. Another option is a synopsis of your book. A more complete presentation of your project is a proposal. It is a sell sheet on steroids containing pages and pages of information. Let me give a brief description of these and let you decide if you want to bring them to the conference.


A synopsis or summary condenses your entire book content to as few words as possible. The goal of a synopsis is the same as a sell sheet—to get interest in your project during appointments. This must be concise, complete and compelling. You should know your story well enough to tell it without rambling. As you write your first draft, you will probably put in too much detail and it will run much too long. Once it is complete, cut all unnecessary words and rabbit trails. Then trim, trim, trim all words that drag or distract. The synopsis is the first impression of your writing skills so make it stellar. Be sure to have others critique it for grammar, spelling and any other error that give you black marks rather than stars. Try to keep it to a page, no more than a page and a half. A well-written synopsis should promote discussion about your project and you. And ultimately a request for a proposal.


A request for a proposal used to mean you handed it over at the conference. Some editors still take hard copies of proposals. Most do not. Email as an attachment is now the norm. Hauling home lots of paper proposals, especially on a plane, is not practical. Often the request will be accompanied by a guidelines sheet. Follow it to the letter.

There are lots of books with step by step examples of how to put together a proposal. A proposal has many components. A proposal for fiction has slightly different requirements than non-fiction. Pay attention to details. If you are on a time crunch, put writing the proposal aside as a to-do after the conference, especially if you are a newbie. You will find  proposal writing books for sale at the conference. Check for conference class offerings; often how to write a proposal is listed.

If you want to take a proposal, you don’t need many—one maybe two. (Again most requests will be for email versions.) The advantage of a completed proposal before the conference is ease of submitting after the conference. Be sure you review the guideline sheet and customize each proposal to match each publisher’s request. (Be sure to send a proposal to each person who asked you as soon as you can after the conference.) You will find that most requests follow the same format, but some may have a few additional components. You might want to create a template to follow for all future proposals.

Here are the basic components of a proposal

  • A Cover Sheet

A single page, single spaced, specific format containing your title, word count, name and contact information and agent information (if you have one). Sometimes it contains a pitch line. (One line about the book.)

  • Synopsis

Generally single spaced, 1 ½ to three pages long. Be sure to tell the ending so publisher can see how the story plays out.

  • Writer’s biography

Single space description written in third person with a photo.

  • Sample chapters

Usually double spaced. Always the first three chapters or first fifty pages.

  • Comparison titles.
  • Similar books to yours. How yours is the same yet different.
  • Chapter Outline

Usually this is for non-fiction. An outline gives the publisher a good idea of where you are going with your subject matter. Sometimes a publisher wants a chapter by chapter synopsis of fiction.

  • Marketing

Include a marking page of what you can and will do to help sell your book.

  • Audience

Who are your target readers? Women, young adults, history buffs, theologians? Everyone is not an acceptable answer. Ex: Women who want to get away to pioneer days for the weekend will enjoy this book.

  • Genre

Publishers want to know what genre your book falls into. They are always looking for books in genres their company is light in. Here is a short general list. There are lots of subgenres and genre definitions change. Contemporary Romance, Contemporary, Historical, Women’s Fiction, Mystery/Suspense, Romantic Suspense, Young Adult, Children, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Western and the list goes on. For non-fiction you might list Christian Living, Self Help, Devotional, Bible Study, and Health. Your book might fall into more than one category.

Take your time

As you can see, a proposal takes time to put together well. If you are a newbie and your conference is a few weeks away, you might want to forgo the proposal and focus on the summary and other tools. It is better to attend the proposal class, buy the how-to book and get some critiquers to look over your proposal after a request has been made. A well-done proposal following the specific editor’s guidelines has a better chance of getting off the slush pile. If you have time to do a proper proposal in advance of the conference, I would remind you to make it stellar with no grammar or spelling errors. (I know I say this a lot.) Make each word count. Your writing is judged on how well you write your proposal.

Here are two links to books on writing proposals. Each one has details on synopsis writing as well.

What success have you had in sharing your synopsis at a conference? Have you had a request for a proposal? I’d love to hear your experience.


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