The final two sections of a book proposal should be the book’s outline then the sample chapters. In this post, I’ll take a look at the outline–how to structure it, how long it should be, and what it should accomplish.
Chances are, if you’ve already written your book, you’ll have at least a partial outline written as well. So this part of your proposal should, in many ways, be redundant. Keep in mind when writing your book proposal outline that you are essentially writing the skeleton for your book to show how it is organized and how it will flow together.
For a nonfiction book, create a List of Chapters, where you give each chapter a catchy title (possibly also a subtitle) and the page on which the sample chapter can be found later in your proposal. You may also want to organize your book further into sections or parts. For my Grandparenting through Obstacles proposal, which is a book of compiled stories from other writers, the book was separated into four parts–each part representing a different obstacle that the writers in those sections had to tackle. For your nonfiction outline, include all your chapters as well as your introduction, but omit any back matter you’ll have in your book.
For a fiction book, create a similar List of Chapters. You may or may not have these chapters titled. If not, simply write the chapter number and the page the sample chapter can be found on. Again, you may want to break your book into sections.
Some books, like picture books, will obviously not lend themselves to being outlined. But any book that will be broken into chapters should have an outline to show the editor how your book will be structured. This may include everything from memoirs to how-to books, to YA novels to research books.
Content for chapter outlines: For nonfiction books, the outline will contain one or two brief opening lines that describe the goal of the chapter–what will the chapter accomplish? Use wording such as, “This chapter will provide…” Then, anywhere from one paragraph to a page can be written on the subtopics of the chapter, how it will be structured or organized, and if there will be accompanying charts, graphs, sidebars, etc.
Move your reader through your chapters with wording such as, “The next part of the chapter will show…” or “The chapter will conclude with…” which gives the reader a visual of how each chapter is organized. Each new chapter should begin on its own page, unless the outlines are very short, like maybe one paragraph.
For fiction books, each chapter outline will serve as a synopsis of what will occur in that particular chapter. Characters are introduced, the plot progression is shown, and the areas of conflict and climax are revealed. Although fiction chapter outlines only provide a brief summary of each chapter, they need to be compelling and attention getting if you want the editor to continue reading into your sample chapters. If the outline is boring, why would an editor want to read even more of the same boring story? Use descriptive verbs and catchy lines to hook your reader with each chapter summary.
Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, the goal of your chapter outlines should be the same: enticing the reader to want to read your sample chapters. You also want to prove through your outline that you have enough material to actually produce an entire book. If each of your chapters looks too bare bones and could possibly be combined with other chapters, resulting in a book with only five chapters total, then the editor may not be convinced that you truly have a book-length manuscript ready for publishing.
After you’ve written your outline, spend adequate time revising it, making sure that you didn’t overuse certain words or phrases, that the chapters flow into one another with smooth transitions, that your organization is clear, and that each chapter is outlined concisely, yet interestingly.
Next time I’ll discuss the final section of writing a book proposal, which is the sample chapters.