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Writing Books/the "short synopsis/outline"


Hello Liz,

It's amazing, considering the shelf-load of books I have on "how to write..." books, the questions that don't get answered. My latest question concerns the fundamental nature of the "short synopsis" or, in my, non-fiction, case, the short outline.

Some agents ask for this up front--wanting, along with the query letter, a "half page" synopsis. There seems, however, to be two distinct armies of opinion on just what this means.

One, states the--outline--should represent a quick but blow-by-blow narrative description of what the book contains, as in:

Short opening paragraph, roundly describing the book's content and goals. This, to be followed by (and rather crudely here):

A Preface says...
An Intro then says...
Part One then...
...followed by a Part two, which...
--all brought to fruition in an Epilogue, which...

The second approach says very different. There, a brief outline should resemble the method of delivery normally found on a book's dust cover flaps.

I've prepared both, but I am fearful of sending out the wrong one. The thing is, that while my instincts tell me the first, utilitarian, format is innately uninspiring and so, lean me heavily towards the Dust-cover-style option, I find this, equally innately, too closely resembles the material in the second paragraph of my cover letter--meaning it seems repetitive, hence redundant.


Dan O'Hanlon

Hi Dan:

I have been puzzling over what to answer here.  I've never heard of a half page synopsis for a nonfiction book.  Your other style is more familiar to me and for nonfiction is called an annotated table of contents (formerly chapter by chapter summaries.)

First, make sure you send what they want.  Usually an editor or agent will be more specific in what they want than to just ask for a half-page synopsis or an annotated table of contents.

In my opinion, redundant or not, I'd go for the format of the dust jacket by expanding my query letter to add more specific details and more sales pitch language.

Overall, for nonfiction, I'd follow the current procedure of sending a query letter and then waiting for them to tell you what else they want to see.  My experience has always been that if they are intrigued by what they read in the query letter, they'll ask for a proposal which entails a lot more than just dust jacket length.

May I ask, where did you get the above information?  I'd really hate to think I'm behind the times here, but the advice you've been given sounds more like fiction submissions than nonfiction.  The two are totally different so if your advice is coming from fiction writers, ignore it!

Good luck!

Liz Aleshire

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Liz Aleshire


What is a book proposal and why do I need one? Do I need a book proposal for both nonfiction and fiction books? How do I write a book proposal? What are the required components of a book proposal? What is an overview? What is a synopsis? How do I find out what other books are available on my topic so I can make my book different? How do I pitch to an agent/publisher? What's a query letter? What's a 30-second commercial?


I am the author of four nonfiction books: Private Lives of Ministers' Wives (with Rev. Sherry Taylor,New Horizon Press, New Jersey, 1991)and currently working on a second edition; Bugs: Stingers, Suckers, Sweeties, Swingers (a FRanklin Watts Frist Book, Chicago, 1993); The Confident Collector Identification and Price Guid to Quilts (with Kathleen Barach, Avon Books, NY, 1992); and, Official Price Guide to Quilts 2nd edition(with Kathleen Barach, Random House, NY, 2003.) I've taught How to Write the Book Proposal for the past ten years at the week long International Women's Writing Guild annual summer conference, and, at the Manchester Community College Continuing Education program. I've taught in many local continuing education programs in central Connecticut. Five authors have sold books using my methods for writing the book proposal. I have spoken at the Big Apple Conference, an IWWG event held in NYC; both Connecticut chapters of the Romance Writer's of America other writing conferences

Internation Women's Writing Guild, past associate member American Society of Journalists and Authors

Books for New Horizon Press. NJ; Franklin Watts (Now Scolastic)Danbury, CT; Avon Books, NYC; and, Random House, NYC

B.A in Economics from the University of Connecticut

Past/Present clients
Carren Strock, author Married Women Who Love Women; Doris Larson, travel writer, Ohio; MaryLou Streznewsi author Gifted Grownups.

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