Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The series proposal

You can all thank Christine for this one. (Or ask her: "why, Christine, why did you give Kelly this idea -- that's the most rambling blog post I've ever read!") :D

Go searching on the www and you'll probably find lots of ways and formats to write a series proposal. One thing I learned when putting together a proposal for the Charlie Madigan books (after I signed with my agent), is that there's no written-in-stone formula. But there are a few things that usually make up a proposal.

Let's look at the writer persuing representation:

When you submit a fiction query (and you had better have that book completed and polished, and polished some more. Trust me on this, k?) and an agent writes back asking you to send a proposal -- it usually means a cover letter, the first three chapters, and a synopsis. (Some will also ask for a bio). Even if you plan your novel as a series, you don't want to send anything other than what the agent asks for at this point (although, including the fact that this is a series is perfectly fine in your query or cover letter). If the agent wants to see additional info, after reading your initial proposal or full ms., they'll ask.

What should the length of your synopsis be? Good question! I can only say it differs. 2-3 pages, all the way up to 10 or more. My synopsis for TBPD was 2 pages. My synopsis for Book 2 was sold based on a 3 page synopsis (and the strength of a completed Book 1).

When you already have an agent and want to present a new series idea, you might (or not -- depends on you, and your relationship with your agent) first talk about it to see if it's something worth persuing. Either way, you write the first three chapters and synopsis -- your proposal. And you might also write a short synopsis on additional books at this time, or wait until your agent is ready to submit to editors and wants to include them for a possible book deal. But, let me just say here (disclaimer!), every agent is different in what they prefer to see from clients, and what they ultimately decide to send out to editors. For some, a synopsis of additional books, or simply a story arc showing how you envision the overall series can be a good way to clue your agent in on your vision. And it might help them devise a plan of attack and advise you -- is this series commercial? Is there a market for the books? Has something just like this sold recently?

So, when I write a series proposal, it consists of the first three chapters, synopsis, and then my overall story arc for the entire series, which ends up being anywhere from 6-12 pages. This is also a good way to get an idea down 'on paper' and out of the way, so you can continue to work on your current/main project. I did this over the summer -- had an idea that would NOT leave me alone, so I wrote the proposal and a lot of notes and then set it aside.
This brings us to the point where I wonder if I even answered Christine's question, and where I realize that I'm mostly rambling now . . . :D

Questions? Just fire away..


Christine said...

(happy dance)

Thank you, Kelly!

It's always awesome to hear the "inside scoop" ... you're on the other side of the fence (the side we aspiring authors want to be on) and so it's way helpful to hear about how you did things ... or how some things are done ... every bit helps! I think your post really stresses how important the first 3 chapters and a synopsis are - even after you've landed an agent!

Of course, now I'm curious about how to write a story arc ... hehe. But that's for another time.

Thanks, Kelly for spending time on this! Cheers!


K. said...

No problem. It was actually a relief to not have to mull over a topic. Sometimes my mind just goes blank, and I can't think of anything to post about!

And, I'll make a note to post about story-arcs soon. :)

Unknown said...

Wow-- thanks!
I've hear other authors say they write the synopsis before the book and I've always been puzzled about that, but somehow the way you put it makes sense.

If you do this though, sell your agent on this idea before you've completed the actual book-- is there wiggle room for the story to change during that actual writing process or do you have to then stick to your "script"?
Sometimes mine get idea of their own as they go along.

Unknown said...

Sorry-- lolcatz seem to be typing for me this morning-- lead me to the caffeine!

K. said...

LOL, Sue!

Yeah, I think you have lots of wiggle room as you write your story. I can only speak from my experience here, but I've talked to my agent about two ideas, one of which she read a proposal for, and her comment has always been "just write it." And, I know (and I'm certain she does too), that things always change from A-Z. She's not so much interested in me following the script as she is in me turning in a great story, a great end product, whatver that might be.

The YA I'm working on could end up being totally different than what we talked about. New ideas come up. Old ones don't work. You know the drill. :) But I'll write it however it works for me. And hopefully whatever she ends up reading will knock her socks off!

That being said, I think wiggle room might lessen some when it comes to having submitted a very detailed synopsis to an editor, they bought the book based on that, and then you end up changing things. That's something that would probably need to be discussed with him/her first.