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QUESTION: Hi, I've been writing children's animation for several years, and I'm now trying to break into books.  I've come up with a fantasy trilogy for upper-grade-school/middle-school readers, and I actually am finding that writing the proposal is more daunting than writing the first few chapters.  I keep trying to make my proposal well-crafted and engrossing, but I wonder if it should be more cut-and-dry -- start with a hook (what's so original about my idea) then a brief overview of what happens. I get bogged down trying to make it pretty and clever and start to worry that impatient publishers won't read it.  My agent doesn't have the greatest advice on this.  Anything you could tell me would be helpful.  Thanks!

ANSWER: Dear Bart:

Your audience is called the middle reader.

Since this is fiction, you're writing a synopsis, not a proposal.  I don't know why the names for everything have to be different between fiction and nonfiction but that's the business!

You're absolutely right to start with a hook.  Then, you should introduce your protagonist (NOT just physical description, get some personality traits in there too) including that he/she lacks or wants (motivation) and how far she/he is willing to go to get it.

Then introduce the antagonist (the one who also wants the one thing the protagonist wants and they both can't have it) and how far he/she is willing to go to get it.

Then, give the plot line.  You're also right to not try to be clever and pretty.  But, cut and dry won't cut it either.  It should be a compelling telling of the story line.  Avoid this:  This happens, then this happens, then that happens, then this happens, etc.  Story board it, only with words.  Make it brief but visual.

While climbing the steep hills of the planet Amicon, Bruss finds a small, gold box wedged in a crevasse.  He picks it up and slips it in his pocket to open later not knowing that he has just found the secret to turning rocks into gold.  His best friend, supposedly, Arnet knows what the gold box holds and will kill Bruss if need be to get it from him.

And so on.

Good luck.  I hope I've helped, if I haven't feel free to contact me at All Experts with more questions.

Liz Aleshire

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks, Liz, that does help.  

A quick follow-up:

Page count -- I'd like to keep it down, but I don't know how long or short this document should be.  You say be brief, which I'm happy to see, but this is for a trilogy --and the books will be personal, but somewhat epic in scale (a la Narnia, etc.)  I'd be happy to spend just a page or so on each book -- though so far what I've written has begun to stretch way beyond that.  I worry a little about getting bogged down explaining secondary characters, and putting in too many names.  Beginning, middle, end, in broad strokes?  Should I tell them outright what my theme is and the arc for my main characters, or once I've introduced my protagonist and antagonist, just stick to story?

Dear Bart:

By all means work in the theme and story arc in the synopsis and I see no problem with laying it out in the first paragraph.

You'll make a super impression if you can keep the synopses to two pages for each book.  And, feel free to state that your trilogy is in the spirit of Narnia.

This is the hardest writing you'll ever have to do.  To give you a carrot, after a couple of these and you have contracts and a track record, you won't have to write them anymore!  The most you'll have to do is a one page after pitching the book to the editor you've with whom you've established a relationship with the previous books.

There's hope out there!

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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