Preparing a book proposal for submission to a publisher or an agent requires you write a Table of Contents (TOC). This should be an outline of the book concept you plan to propose. Simple enough? Simple is not the same as easy.

Memoir Writing Workshop

To begin this document, start with a list of your chapters. Do you have chapter titles? Are the chapters divided into sections or parts? Translate the structure of your book into outline format. Include the (estimated) pagination of each chapter.

How long is your book? Publishers have standard expectations of word counts for different genres. For memoir, 80-100,000 words or roughly 200 pages. For narrative non-fiction it may depend on the subject and scope of your book, but again 200-300 pages is a good range. Manuscripts longer than 300 pages may handicap their odds, since the cost of paper and printing is the biggest production expense; the longer the book, the lower the profit margin.

In addition to the chapters, you will also have Front Matter and Back Matter and will want to indicate in your Table of Contents what you plan to include in each. Front Matter goes before Chapter 1, page 1 of the manuscript; Back Matter appears at the end of the book.

Front Matter includes the title page, copyright page, dedication, epigraph, a Preface or Foreword, perhaps a Note to the Reader, Acknowledgements, Table of Contents, and/or Introduction. Other than title and copyright pages, what you decide to include in your Front Matter is up to you, author. In your Table of Contents for your book proposal you need to include in your outline this material. Pagination should be completed in lower case Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, v and so on).

The same is true for Back Matter. Some put the Acknowledgements in the front and others in the back of their books. Indicate whether you plan to include Endnotes, a Bibliography, Appendices (any figures, diagrams, illustrations, photographs, tables, graphs or other non-textual material referenced in the body of the text), Copyright permissions, Image credits, Further Reading/Resources, and Indices. Pagination continues from the last page of the manuscript.

This expanded Table of Contents provides an agent and publisher with a great deal of information quickly about the cost and likely price point for your book project. Are you including color photographs? A publisher needs to know this. Most books with color are printed in China and there’s an 18 month scheduling lag.

An expanded TOC provides an agent or publisher with even more information about your editorial content. Expanding upon your synopsis, the TOC provides a reader with a sense of the narrative arc to the book. Write your own Cliff Notes version of your manuscript. This is an executive summary in your business proposal.

For each chapter, write two to three sentences about what is contained in key points. For non-fiction writers, what questions, topics, issues and perspectives does each chapter cover? You may wonder, why do this before I’ve written the full manuscript? It is an outline, an action plan, and an estimate. Agents and publishers of non-fiction recognize that the research findings may take an author in a different direction once the writing process is underway. What they want to see is that you have a coherent and organized plan in place to proceed. If it is a memoir you are writing, provide a summary of plot points, scenes, character development, and themes for each chapter. For memoir, it is important to complete a full manuscript first and then revise to strengthen the narrative arc. The TOC should reveal your story of transformation, especially the ending and denouement.

From reading an expanded Table of Contents a reader will be able to discern the story of your book. This document needs to demonstrate that as an author you have figured out who the readers are, what they expect, what they need to know and when they need to know it. Simple.

From your expanded Table of Contents you should have an easy time writing or revising your Synopsis. Next time we’ll talk about a Competitive Title Analysis, another piece to the book proposal.

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