Monday, December 7, 2009

Creating Good Fiction Proposals by Jeff Gerke, Part 3

Please welcome back Jeff Gerke as he continues his proposal series this Manuscript Monday.

A Closer Look at What To Include*
by Jeff Gerke

There are guidelines for how to format your proposal so that it looks professional. I've written them up in Tip #2, so please be sure you adhere to them. (see this site for more information on Tip #2)

All right, on to the elements.

The Cover Letter

This is just like a query letter except without the query.

A query letter is basically the proposal on one page. You pitch your idea, summarize your qualifications, and ask for permission to send the proposal to the editor or agent.

For your proposal, you're obviously past that stage (because it's included in the proposal), so you can dispense with the "May I please send you the proposal for...?" bit. Instead, replace it with a "I am pleased to present..." sentence. If you'd like, you can ask for permission to send the full manuscript.

(If you need help on what goes into a good query letter, consult the many books and Web pages on the topic.)

Only one note: In your cover letter you need to mention whether or not you're sending this to more than one agent and/or publishing house at the same time. If you're doing that (and the term for it is simultaneous submissions) you need to be sure to let everyone know.

The One Pager

This is like a tip sheet for sales. It's a one-sheet, a brief, sometimes bulleted sheet with the facts about your novel.

The hook is a little (10-word) grabber or tagline for your novel: "What happens when cloned vampires drink their clones' blood?" or "Jennifer loves Thomas--too bad Thomas died nineteen centuries ago."

The blurb is a short but arresting summary of your story. Here you can give sizzle but no steak. In other words, this is marketing copy designed to further hook your reader while giving a little more detail about your story.

"When molecular biologist Jennifer Reeves discovers a lost source of prehistoric DNA..."

The Title, Genre, Wordcount, and Audience of your novel should be self-explanatory. As for genre, read Tips 16-18. Understand that certain genres and topics are trigger words that will automatically raise or lower an agent's or editor's interest in your project. It's just reality.
As for your book's length, be sure you speak in wordcount. Pagecount is all but meaningless as font size, margin size, spacing, and a host of other variables make quantification impossible. But wordcount tells no lies.

Note that you can include several of these in one paragraph. You could say, for instance:

Death by McNugget is a supernatural thriller for preteens set in the dark crevices of a Cleveland mall's food court. The manuscript is complete at 90,000 words. Available upon request.

The Series Description is where you explain that this novel is the first in a proposed 4-book series that follows Jennifer Reeves as she uncovers further prehistoric mysteries. Just mention the series here. You'll have an opportunity later to summarize other books in the series. Your previously published books should also be self-explanatory. You either have them or you don't. If you don't, just leave this portion out of the proposal.

If you do have other books, the editor needs to know their titles, who published them, when they released, and (most importantly) how well they sold. Give exact sales data.

One note: if the previous books were published by another publisher, the acquisitions editor is going to wonder why you aren't being published again by that publisher. You might want to go ahead and provide that information here--unless it makes you look bad, in which case a don't-ask-don't-tell rule applies.

Jeff Gerke is a mild-mannered author and book editor living in Colorado Springs. He and his wife have a daughter and a son and in 2009, they adopted a little girl from China. See this site for more. Jeff's first novels appeared in the mid-1990s, followed in the early part of the 21st century by his Operation: Firebrand novels. His nonfiction books were published in 2003 and 2005. In 1999 Jeff came on staff with Multnomah Publishers in Sisters, Oregon, as an editor. Over his career he has been on staff with Multnomah, Strang/Realms, and NavPress. In October 2008 Jeff became the founder of Marcher Lord Press, a small indie publishing company dedicated to producing the finest in Christian science fiction, fantasy, and other wonderfully weird genres.

* This series of articles was taken from Jeff Gerke’s Where The Map Ends Web site. Used by permission.


  1. Jeff helped me step up my writing to the next level when he did a paid critique on an older mss at ACFW this year. Picking out "sneaky telling" has revolutionised my writing. Thanks for having him guestblog here. He's a fabulous editor.


  2. Cheryl, what a small world. Great that you've been helped by Jeff and that each of you are here on SW this month. It's our privilege to host both of you.

    Happy writing!


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