I wrote a book proposal for Times of Trouble many times during the few weeks I spent trying to find an agent or publisher. I did a lot of research into the best format for the proposal, wrote and revised it more times than I can remember, and soon realised that each agent and publisher seems to have different requirements for what they will accept. Some want just a synopsis, two pages double spaced. Others want one page double spaced. Some want three sample chapters and a short paragraph introducing the work. Etc.
Below are the first few paragraphs of a one page synopsis (double spaced). Excuse me for not including the entire thing, but it gives away my plot! (Which of course it is designed to do!) I still hope that Times of Trouble will be read by people, and if I give you a preview that tells you how the plot wraps up, it sort of defeats the purpose.
Excerpt from Times of Trouble Synopsis:
“Times of Trouble is a crime story, where a young woman embarks on a mission to save her sister from mortal danger. But how do you find someone who doesn’t want to be found?
Ellen Goddard is devastated by the failure of her career as a concert pianist and has lapsed into a world of obsessive compulsive counting in an attempt to ease her anxiety. But not even numbers can keep her calm when she discovers her glamorous sister, Sophie, is being hunted by murderous thugs.
Sophie’s boyfriend Danny is dead, and she is desperate to disappear before she becomes the next victim. Her family are unaware she has been working as a prostitute in London… (I removed some words here)… But one of these clients does not take threats to his business lightly, and is killing anyone who risks damaging his profits.
Ellen’s mum has hired a private detective, Liam Kingsley, to find Sophie, and he has tracked her from London to Sydney. But when Ellen meets him, she is unsure if he can be trusted, and decides to join the search. The relationship between them is uneasy, shifting between cooperative and hostile. Liam seems only interested in finding Sophie and is strangely emotional about the case. Ellen thinks they also need to find the people who want Sophie dead.
As Ellen’s investigative abilities grow, she gets closer to unraveling the conspiracy her sister is caught up in…..”
You get the drift.
With some of the synopses, I also sent a short introductory proposal. I’m not going to bore you with every revision, but out of interest, here is one of the last versions that was sent to one publisher (on the 6th May 2010), and the resulting rejection note (on the 18th October 2010). Don’t use this as an example of a good proposal, since it never got my book published. It’s just an example. But it is worth noting that this proposal did appear to get my sample chapters read. (I apologise for offending any vampire fans!)
Dear Affirm Press
I am a 28 year old who has never read Twilight, and never will. I worship the crime writer royalty of Rankin, Rendell and PD James. That’s why I am writing crime fiction. My generation deserves something better than vegetarian vampires.
I believe I would be a good fit with your organisation as I get the sense you are interested in commercially viable projects that maintain a creative substance.
Times of Trouble is the first in a planned series. As requested, I have attached a synopsis and the first three chapters. The manuscript is complete at 105,000 words and I can also provide a marketing plan and a positive manuscript assessment on request.
The rejection email….. (at least they’re using email, even if it did take 5 months to get a response!)
Thank you for your submission to Affirm Press. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it.
I, too, am a fan of crime – and the premise of your novel is an interesting one. I think you need a longer opening scenario, to fully engage the reader (surely she seems a bit callous just throwing her phone in the Thames after her boyfriend is murdered?) Similarly, Ellen comes across as a wholly neurotic young woman (how many questions does she ask in the first pages?), and this is a little alienating for the reader.
I hope this feedback is useful. Good luck with your future writing.
I was quite pleased with this rejection email. Firstly, because it is clear that the publisher took the time to read my sample chapters. That’s a leap over the first hurdle surely! I, of course, don’t agree that is it problematic that the opening scenario is vague – I personally love a vague prologue. I wrote it with the hope that readers would wonder why the character is so callous as to throw her phone away having heard her boyfriend being murdered. Mystery coupled with curiosity. Isn’t that what crime novels thrive on? I’m also unperturbed that she found Ellen wholly neurotic. Tick. Ellen is neurotic. A flawed, and hopefully likeable hero. I think what I’ve just written makes it sound like I am totally inflexible in receiving feedback and taking it on board. Perhaps I am a little inflexible. But if I were going to make changes to my book based on this feedback, Ellen would need to be completely redrawn (which would mean changing the entire book) and the first chapter would have to give plot elements away that would destroy the mystery so I don’t see much point in doing that. Either way, I am grateful to Affirm Press in responding to my query. Thank you.
My next fews post will include more rejection ‘letters’ that I received from agents and publishers for my manuscript – Times of Trouble.