As I close in on my final post in this series of how to write a book proposal (next week), I’d like to focus on what will be the main event of your proposal: the sample chapters. Thus far I’ve talked about some very important pieces to the proposal–from your book hook to your marketing plan to your outline and more.
The sample chapters, however, are what constitute the bulk of your proposal, both in scope and in content. This is the place where you can really allow the editor to see how good of a writer you are and how interesting your book is. Let’s talk about 5 different aspects of sample chapters.
1. The goal of the sample chapters: The main goal for your sample chapters is really two-fold: to highlight your writing skill and to prove to the editor that you have a book that readers will not be able to put down. Your sample chapters need to convey as complete a picture of your finished manuscript as possible, proving to the editor that your ideas are able to be totally flushed out into an enjoyable piece of reading, and that you are able to deliver on all the promises you just made in the rest of your proposal. If your proposal promises humor, make sure your sample chapters are funny. If you promise suspense, your chapters need to leave the editor hanging in anticipation.
2. How many sample chapters to include: This answer will vary depending on how long your chapters are. Most publishers will want to see approximately 25-30 pages of sample chapter writing, so you can work from there based on the length of your chapters to determine how many to include. Some publishers will specify how many to include, but not all do. If a publisher does specify, that number is usually 2-3.
Be sure to include entire chapters in your proposal. So, if 2 chapters causes your total page count to fall under 25, but 3 chapters pushes it over 30, include 3 (unless the publisher states an absolute maximum page count). With sample chapters, more is usually better than less in order to showcase your writing, unless it’s a lot more or it’s too much of the same thing. For example, if your book has similarly organized and structured chapters that also include the same type of information, just different versions of it, you can probably get by with just one chapter–just make sure it’s your strongest.
3. Which sample chapters to include: You’ll want to include those chapters that do the best job in accomplishing your goals from point #1. Choose those samples that demonstrate your writing skills and provide the best sample of what your overall book will be like. Your chapters don’t have to be in the same order they will appear in your book, unless your book is organized chronologically, or you’re sending fiction chapters, then it may be beneficial to keep your samples in order. Otherwise, put your best foot forward, and make sure you lead off your samples with your absolute best work. If you have a nonfiction book, it’s sometimes a good idea to include chapters from the beginning, the middle, and the end of your book if you can stay under the 25-30 page maximum.
4. When to include the entire manuscript instead of chapters: There will be times when a publisher will ask to see the finished manuscript instead of sample chapters. (In my next and final post, I will discuss reasons why you should go ahead and finish your manuscript before your proposal, regardless.) Some of these situations include:
–when writing a picture book or early reader book
–if your book includes numerous illustrations integral to your book
–any kind of fiction book (YA, adult, or children’s). The exception here is if you are a known published author who has already proven that you can develop characters, conflict, plot line, etc. In this case, you can typically get away with a solid outline and a couple of sample chapters.
–a memoir or similar book
–any kind of book that will rely on suspense or emotional impact, in which case sample chapters won’t be enough for an editor to attain the full impact of your book
5. Where the sample chapters appear in the proposal: The sample chapter section is the very final section of your book proposal. Everything you have included in your proposal thus far is intended to get the editor excited about actually reading your work. Think of your samples as the grand finale to your story with all preceding paths of your proposal pointing toward them. This is why they have to represent your absolute best work. The last thing you want to do is let down the editor with sub-par sample chapters!
Next time, I’ll conclude this series on writing book proposals by looking at how to format, package, and submit the proposal for maximum impact.