Editing Services Document Guides

When you feel ready to approach a literary agent or publisher about your book, in most cases you'll be asked to provide a covering letter and a synopsis or chapter outline as part of your submission.

In the case of fiction or narrative non-fiction (such as memoir or biography), your manuscript will need to come alongside a one-page synopsis, while for non-narrative non-fiction projects, a chapter outline is required. These documents are essential in that they provide a succinct introduction to your book, a bit more information about you as a writer, and an overview of your narrative as a whole.

As such, these documents are also required for some of our editing services, and we hope the information below provides useful guidance.

Writing a Chapter Outline

Writers working on a subject-led non-fiction project (as opposed to a manuscript that's narrative-led, such as a memoir or biography), should expect to provide a chapter outline alongside a sample section of their manuscript.

A chapter outline enables the agent/editor looking at your writing to consider it within the overall context and structure of your book. It also presents an opportunity for a writer to assure prospective agents and/or publishers of the market demand for the book, and of their credentials (someone with a unique or authoritative voice on the topic covered in their book). As a result, this document should be considered to be of equal (if not greater) importance to a non-narrative non-fiction proposal's chances of success than the sample section of writing itself.

A chapter outline should:.

  • Provide a brief outline of what's covered in each section of your book
  • Be easy to follow, with key information relayed in the same order as it is in the manuscript itself

A chapter outline shouldn't:

  • Exceed five pages of single-spaced A4 paper
  • Include statistics, data or graphs unless they are the absolute focus of a chapter
Writing a Synopsis

In submitting a work of fiction to be considered by a publishing industry professional (editor or literary agent), it's highly likely that you'll also need to provide a synopsis. (This is also likely to apply for those writing narrative-based non-fiction, such as memoir, biography or autobiography.)

Unfortunately, the synopsis comes with a reputation for being a difficult document to write, with writers often frustrated by the task of distilling their entire book to a single side of A4.

This is a necessary exercise, though, and one that's useful to embrace. A synopsis should provide an editor/agent with a helicopter view of a narrative, from beginning to end. It also demands a different type of writing, given that it's only required to be a technical document for reference. Writers should use simple sentences and concentrate purely on the plot-points that drive their main protagonist(s) – and the reader – through the book. This allows for an overview of your manuscript's overall structure, assessment of character arcs, and a way to pinpoint scenes where you have (and haven't…) got the maximum amount of dramatic tension.

Your synopsis should:

  • Be no more than one A4 side. Keep the font at a reasonable (12pt) size and leave margins at the edge of your page
  • Comprise the complete summary of your plot, including the ending (so don't worry about spoilers!)
  • Introduce your main characters, with the first mention of their name in CAPS
  • Be easy to follow and written in the same order as the narrative unfolds

Your synopsis shouldn't:

  • Offer intrigue. You need to introduce all main characters and lay out all key plot points, including spoilers
  • Be considered as a piece of prose. It's a series of sentences that act as signposts through your book. Keeping it short means only referring to the essentials of your manuscript and not including every single scene
  • Contain stylish writing. Don't worry if it seems boring. Don't try to adopt the same narrative 'voice' as your manuscript. Keep your sentences simple and allow the story and character arcs to do the talking for you
Writing a Covering Letter

The function of a covering letter is to quickly put across the type of book you've written, and why the agent you're approaching might be interested in representing you. Here are some things a good covering letter should include:

  • The name of your chosen agent
  • Framing devices: Book title, word count, genre and/or intended reading audience, suitable comparisons (literary or otherwise)
  • Your pitch: What's at the heart of your book? What’s its USP? Why would someone want to read it?
  • About you: Name, contact details, any relevant writing experience*, anything else of interest that's relevant to your book
  • Agent-specific reasoning: Why have you sent your work to them? Are you aware of (and admire) some of the authors they represent? Have you met them at an event or follow them on Twitter and felt encouraged to send your work to them?
  • Confidence: Be careful with this, but give the sense you believe in your book. If you don't, why should anyone else?
  • Brevity: Less is more; use the covering letter to set your book up. It's just a preamble to the opening section of your manuscript, which should do all of your talking for you

*If you don't have anything like formal writing qualifications, or something that’s previously been published or been shortlisted in a recent competition, then it doesn’t matter. It’s the writing that matters.

There's not really a 'set' template to writing a covering letter because it needs to take the mould of whatever you believe to be the best way to present your book (and for your personality to come through). However, once you break down the key pieces of information an agent needs, a general framework does appear:

  • Dear [Agent Name]
  • Paragraph one: What it's called, Who it's for, Why it's for them
  • Paragraph two: About the book
  • Paragraph three: About you
  • Paragraph four: Other information
  • [Writer Name]

Setting up your letter in this way should mean you provide all the information an agent needs in a concise manner, and is perhaps something to revert to if your letter starts to become too long.