Writing a Damn Fine Proposal #3 – The Partial

Better late than never right? Here’s my last post about creating a killer proposal and yeah, I know, it’s months overdue and I’m a baaaad for not posting sooner but deadlines always come before everything else…

Anyway, my previous posts have dealt with your synopsis and having a couple of sentences to put in your pitch letter.

Now you want to make sure the last and most important part is ready – your partial. The first fifty pages of your manuscript (or first three chapters, depending on where you’re sending it).

Okay so I guess it goes without saying but you want to make sure that your first three chapters are awesome. If your synopsis is the chance to show an editor you have a story worth telling, the partial should showcase that story to its best advantage since it’s those first chapters that will either hook a reader or put them off completely.

So what do you need in your partial?

Main characters: Your hero and heroine. Obviously.These are the most important people in your book so make it clear who they are. What they want. And what they’re afraid of.

Secondary Characters: If you’re writing a series and have books planned for other characters, then it’s a good idea to have glimpses of these other characters in the partial too. This will hopefully generate editor/reader curiosity about them and their future books. For my Nine Circles books, I had all the characters for the other books appear in the first chapter. And I thought about each character a lot before I wrote it so that I knew them really well. That’s important when you’re juggling five characters in one scene – they need to be distinct and different from one another so that the reader knows who is who and is curious about their different stories etc. But also don’t let them overwhelm your main story and your main characters.

Conflict: This is very important because this is what’s going to carry your whole story. Conflict really deserves a whole post on its own but suffice to say that if you’re writing single title, the internal conflict should be deep and the external conflict that arises should be a reflection of the internal. I might do a post separately on this….*notes down*

And there’s also a couple of other things that are overlooked IMHO but I reckon are major parts of a good proposal.

Atmosphere: All the books I’ve really enjoyed have been ones that have a very distinct atmosphere. Whether it’s dark and gritty, light and flirty, urban and sexy, atmosphere makes a reader want to immerse themselves in the world you’ve created and gives your book a distinct feel. Atmosphere comes out in description, in the choice of language you use, the dialogue of the characters, and setting. So when you’re planning a series or even just one book, think about what kind of atmosphere you want to create. For example, with the Nine Circles, I wanted dark, gritty, sexy and yet luxurious. Think tattooed rockstars trashing a five star hotel. Or scuffed motorcycle boots trekking mud over a silk Persian rug.

Tone: That’s what your book reads like and is mostly to do with your voice. It’s quite important in my view that your tone reflects the atmosphere of your book. For example, if the atmosphere you’re trying to create is dark and sexy, but the tone of your book is light and flirty, there’s going to be a mismatch and the reader (or editor) may not be sure what’s wrong but there will be something ‘off’ about it. Readers in particular have a certain expectation when they pick up a book and quite often, if that expectation isn’t met, they can get quite annoyed about it (I know I do!). For example, Nalini Singh’s books have a dark and sexy atmosphere. But what if she wrote them with a light and flirty tone? Would they work as well? Or perhaps if Susan Mallery’s was all dark and threatening… See what I mean?

Okay, so that’s a most basic outline of what you need in your proposal.

I’ve got a post on synopses here.

I’ve got a post on pitches here.

If you have any questions or want to add anything, just make a note in comments.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have another proposal to write… 🙂


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