Saturday, July 14, 2018

chapter outlines on submission (or ever)

I learned from a writer/freelance editor that some agents now require chapter outlines as part of the submission package, in addition to the query letter, synopsis, and specified number of manuscript pages.

Chapter outline: single or double space? A few sentences per chapter or major plot points as bullets? Or a summary paragraph per chapter?

I'll have it in my toolbox if needed.

Wait, what??
I've never heard of this for novels.
Non-fiction sure, but for a novel?

The first question you need to ask W/FE is "who asked for that" and get actual data.
And then think about this: most novels have DOZENS of chapters.
Non-fiction may have 20; I've sold books on proposal that have had as few as 10 chapters.

But outlining 48-100 chapters is nuts.
It's like a synopsis on steroids.
And I've never had an editor ask for something like this for a novel. Synopses sure, but never chapter outlines.

So, let's verify that someone actually did ask for this.
Then let's just all agree to say "naaaahhh"
Cause this is insane.

22 comments:

Kathleen Kalb said...

I happen to know this one. There's a agent listed on QueryTracker who really does want a chapter outline; it's on her website. I queried her a couple days ago and sent pages, bio and synopsis. My feeling is, I'll give you anything short of my first born after the query stage, but I'm not writing up an elaborate and time-consuming document for one cold contact. Of course, I'm still querying, so...

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey, I've included non-fiction chapter outlines in a proposal(I found it helpful actually) but fiction? This is crazy. I think that sometimes agents (certainly not a finned leathery skinned fish) like to see us spin our hamster wheels a little faster and off the rail. And, for what end?
Actually OUR finned leathery skinned fish delights in wheel spinning but that's another story :)

Jen said...

Thank God I don't have to add chapter outlines to my writing toolbox. I almost had a mini heart attack there for a minute.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

This has to be for non-fiction. In fiction, this would kill the point of a synopsis, would it not?

AJ Blythe said...

If I came across an agent who required a chapter summary I'd move them to the bottom of my list of agents to query and hope I didn't make it that far...

I wonder if the agent has seen so many bad synopses they asked for chapter summaries instead?

CynthiaMc said...

I think somebody lost a drinking game.

"If you lose, you have to ask for...chapter outlines!" (giggle snort).

"No one is that dumb...oh look."

"Told you!"

High five.

RosannaM said...

Amen, Janet.

No way this makes sense for fiction.

Amy Johnson said...

When I was last in the query trenches, I came across an agent who wanted a chapter summary for every chapter for fiction. Said so at his website. Kathleen wrote that an agent said on her webite that she wants a chapter outline. So, looks like we've probably determined so far that at least two agents want info on all the chapters for fiction. The time and work it would have taken to write summaries for dozens of chapters, combined with the agency's NORMAN policy and the fact that so many other agents didn't require chapter summaries, led to my "naaaahhh."

Craig F said...

Sounds like an artifact from an agency that started in non-fiction and has modernized their policies. When you are querying you see all kinds of weird schnitzel.

I make packages with query, pages(5,10, etc.) half have a synopsis, half don't. If one of those doesn't check all of the boxes for an agent I weigh that agents potential value. All agents are not created equal, as all of us that come here know. If the value is worth the extra, extra effort I will try to comply.

Since I like 5-7 page chapters, it would take a hell of an agent for outlines of each chapters.

KariV said...

I was advised to do chapter outlines for my own benefit, so I can see where some agents might prefer them. See, my synopsis is super tight at 1 page and skips past entire chapters of my book. My chapter outline (3 sentence plot summary of each chapter) shows the flow of each chapter and during edits helps me see if everything in that chapter is relevant. Does that scene in ch 14 *really* drive the plot? I think it's possible to write a good synopsis and still have clunky pages with scenes that need to be cut. Having a chapter outline would better show the agent if the book is something she wants to take on.

That said, as it's not industry standard, don't sweat it. My chapter outline is for me. I'm not planning on sending it out on submission. Need a royal makeover for that....

BrendaLynn said...

I haven’t run into this yet (in a shit-ton of rejections). Hopefully, I won’t.
Seriously, Kathleen, are there agents who will take your first born? If so I’ve just received a burst of querying incentive.
NORMAN - NO Reply Means the Answer is No.
Am I right?

Dena Pawling said...


I like KariV's take on it. I have "minimal" chapter outlines, which give a brief description of what happens in each chapter, who's POV it's in, the goal, and what happens. It helps me keep the story straight. It is for ME [and maybe to send to MY agent if s/he wanted to see it, I typed that so I'd have an excuse to type "my agent" lol], and certainly would NOT be in any type of condition to send out in a query.

I can further reduce the chapters here. I write MG. My ms is 16 chapters total. Here are the first 8.

Chapter outline

Chapter 1 – say hi to MC#1, she's feisty, oh no! She gets in trouble. Rats.

Chapter 2 – say hi to MC#2, he's determined, oh no! He gets in trouble. Rats.

Chapter 3 – MC#1 makes decision, has a terrible time making it work, but it finally works, yay!

Chapter 4 – MC#2 encounters third party who makes his life miserable, will he survive?

Chapter 5 – MC#1 searches and finds, yay! But what's this? Oh no!

Chapter 6 – MC#2 barely surviving, trying to find new normal, life turns a headstand again.

Chapter 7 – MC#1 encounters MC#2, OMG!

Chapter 8 – MC#2 encounters MC#1, WTF??!

Gigi said...

As someone who writes uber short chapters (to the tune of sometimes just two pages), I think I'd cry if I came across this requirement.

Mister Furkles said...

Here is the easy way to handle this: Make every chapter about 200 words than send all 500 chapter outlines as 200 words each. So, it's just another way to send a full request.

Mister Furkles said...

Okay, here is a low effort approach: eliminate all chapter breaks. You havve just one chapter. The outline is:

Stuff happens.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Like KariV, I do chapter outlines. I write 1 or 2 sentences to keep the story straight in my own head. I've even give each chapter a titles to help me set the tone/know what each chapter is about, all for my sake, not necessarily for an agent or editor.

But I really like Dena's version!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

argh. grammar issues!

John Davis Frain said...

I have a list of things where I think we could all agree to say "naaaahhh."

Starts with "include a synopsis."

Naaaahhh.

Wow, that felt good.

Tonight, I'm gonna try it with "Set the alarm."

The Sleepy One said...

I write a chapter outline as part of my revision process. It's a great way to look at the project during a big-picture revision. Since I write the outline in excel, I can create a column for edits I want to make each chapter as I read the project. When I queried, I never had an agent ask for one.

AJ Blythe said...

Interesting reading about those who write chapter outlines. Is that because your chapters are one scene only?

I write scene outlines for my plotting - usually a dot point for external plot, internal plot and another for important things to remember. EG:
- Erin breaks into Wombat's workshop at night (external)
- She's almost caught and uses that as justification for excluding friends and going it alone (internal)
- has to evade mob of roos, a rogue sheep and doesn't evade cow pats (reminder notes)

Aren't chapters arbitrary breaks while scenes are structurally integral to building your story?

Lisa Bodenheim said...

AJ: my chapters may have more than one scene but the POV alternates between two characters.

KDJames said...

I often do a breakdown of acts/sequences/scenes, after the first or second draft, to see how everything fits in terms of plot and structure. It's sort of a grid/index card method (I use the "Stickies" feature in Mac) and my notes are so cryptic sometimes even I can't decipher them easily. Not the kind of thing I'd ever send to someone else.

But chapters . . . those can break anywhere. Well, maybe not between acts. I can't see how chapter outlines would even be useful, let alone coherent. No way would I do this at the query stage. Probably not at any stage.

This feels like someone who can't be bothered and wants to skim SparkNotes before a major exam. Sometimes you've just got to the read the damn book.