Partial or Proposal…Which is it? And WHAT is it?

(Sharon couldn't be here on the blog today, but we'll hope she'll be back with us soon!)

The answer to the first question is either or both. But whichever it is, it’s a submission, most likely to an editor.

Some make a distinction between the two. For those yet published? It’s a partial. Published? It’s a proposal. But that doesn’t necessarily hold true. Call it what you want, you’ll probably be submitting one in the future, if you haven’t already.

A submission can be many things. A QUERY LETTER is a submission, of sorts. A SYNOPSIS (coming to Bits & Bytes soon!) is a submission, as is a synopsis with chapters.

How do you know which is the right kind of submission?
The best indicator is found in the publisher’s guidelines. Some publishers prefer you query first. Some will ask you to begin by sending a partial. We’ve discussed querying (with a query letter) here on Bits & Bytes, but it doesn’t end there. One of the outcomes of that query letter may be a request for some type of submission of the manuscript, most often a “partial”. This can mean something different, depending on the editor and the publishing house. The best way to find out, if you’re not told by the editor in her request letter, is to either ask or check the publisher’s guidelines. As a general rule, most (but not all) partials will consist of a synopsis of the story and the first three chapters. No, not the chapters you think are your best. After all, you want to HOOK (coming soon!) the editor right away, just as you hook the reader who buys the book and begins reading the first line of the first scene, first chapter. If your story begins with a prologue, include that with the first three chapters. Still, if you’re not sure what the editor wants, ask. Both you and the editor will be glad you did.

Why does an editor ask to see a synopsis and first three chapters?
A synopsis of the story will give her (or him) an overall view of the story. A well-written synopsis will cover the major TURNING POINTS, the GMC (coming soon!) of the two main characters’, and let the editor know there’s a satisfying HEA. An editor can tell from a synopsis if the story is the type s/he is looking for, whether it will sustain an entire book, and many other things, just in a few pages. What the editor can’t always tell from a synopsis is the style in which the author writes. That’s where the first three chapters come into play.

Are the first three chapters always what the editor wants to see?
Not always, especially with published authors who have been writing for several years for the same editor. Once a relationship is formed between an author and an editor, some of the questions have been answered. The editor has become familiar with the author’s style, knows s/he can sustain a full-length book and can do it within a certain time frame. Many multi-published authors submit only a synopsis and first chapter as a proposal. Still others have sold books on a synopsis only. You and your editor will know when that time comes. Until then, learn to write the best synopsis you can and polish those first three chapters until they shine! And don’t forget to finish the book!


Becky A said...

Good morning Miss Roxann,
Thanks for explaining a few things.
I never thought of a query letter, blurb or synopsis as being a "hook". Now I have more work to do! G! I've never heard of a submission being called a partial either. It always amazes me that each profession has it's own unique language. Thanks for all your hard work and all your help.

Joan Vincent said...

Back in the age of dinosaurs when I first published it was through (for me at least) completed manuscripts. The thought of selling by proposal so common these days made me cringe because I didn't quite understand it. You've taken some of the mystery out of it--thanks for a great explanation.

Roxann Delaney said...


Oh, yeah, you want to "hook" the editor, especially in the query letter stage. An intriguing blurb within tht letter can lead to a request for a partial. Of course the ultimate goal is a sale, but it's usually done in steps. And it sometimes takes a long time!

Pat Davids said...

I can't believe what wonderful information is flowing out of this blog. It really is turning into a Romance Writing Craft 101. There is so much here that I wish I'd known when I started out. Rox, you are to be commended, as is all of WARA.

Roxann Delaney said...


My first two books were sold with a full manuscript after the proposal process, but my third sold on a proposal of synopsis and first three chapters, to my surprise and delight. I'm still pretty much at that stage, although I did have a 2-book sale last year. The first book of it was a full proposal (synopsis and first three chapters), but the second was a synopsis and first chapter. My latest, now revised with the senior editor, is also a 2-book, first book a full proposal, second book a synopsis only.

I have a couple of close friends who sell with 1-chapter proposals. A change in editors or senior editors who don't know the author's work that well can start the whole process of proposal lengths back to the beginning.

Pat's experiences may be totally different than mine. It never seems to be the same for everybody, especially at Harlequin. Different senior editors want to see different things from different authors. The rule is there are no rules, except what you're told at the time. ::grin::

Roxann Delaney said...


I'm learning too! The mind boggles. ::grin::

So what has your experience been with submissions? Full proposals or have you gotten by with a synopsis only, especially with a multi-book sale? (It's okay to share. It gives us all something to aspire to.)

Starla, how about you? Since your experience is slightly different with a different format, what's your process like?

Penny? Jump in with yours!

Pat Davids said...

Like Rox, my first two books were full manuscripts. After that, I've sold on proposal and synopsis. For both my multi-book contracts I did a synopsis and three chapters for the first book and then gave them a 6-8 page synopsis for the other two.

With this last sale I also included a second proposal on a story that is already written, but has never found a home. They didn't reject it...they just didn't buy it. Yeah, what is up with that?

I guess they’re sort of saving it for later.

On one of the continuities that I agreed to do I was in a big time crunch with another deadline and Steeple Hill wanted a synopsis and three chapters for the new continuity book within the month. I had my agent negotiate two chapters instead of three, but we were told by the senior editor that it was a one time thing. All other proposals would have to be three chapters.

So why did they buy two of my Amish stories on just a synopsis? Who knows? Maybe the wind was in the East that day. Either way, I was glad of the sale.

Roxann Delaney said...

Thanks, Pat! I guess sometimes concessions are made, especially when they have you doing too many things at once. :) And sometimes, too many is a good thing. ::grin::

Here's hoping they'll take another look at the one on "hold" in the near future and want it!

Eric said...

Nice post. Writing succinctly but vividly is one of the hardest things to do in the world.

Reese Mobley said...

Great explaination, Rox. I'm still at the submit the whole manuscript stage, but hopefully, one day, I will be able to sell on proposal only. Hey, it's fun to dream. (grin)

Penny Rader said...

Rox, I love how you made hyperlinks (is that the correct word?) for jargon we've covered. That is too cool!

When I sold Sapphire and Gold to The Wild Rose Press last year it started with an email query. They emailed me and asked for three chapters and a synopsis. Not too long after that they asked for the completed manuscript. Soon my editor offered me a contract.

From query to contract offer, the process took approximately three weeks.

I don't know if this is common for small pubs. I do know that when I submitted to the big print pubs it almost always took months (and sometimes a year or so) to hear back.

Roxann Delaney said...

Eric, thanks for stopping by and commenting. We really appreciate hearing from visitors!

Roxann Delaney said...

Reese, we all start at the same place, and although most of the steps along the way are the same, we move at different speeds through them. I try really hard not to compare my progress or lack of it with that of others. It's all one big crap shoot. ;) There's a lot of talent out there yet to be discovered, and luck plays a big part in it.

Roxann Delaney said...

Hey, Penny! Glad you liked the hyperlinks. It's more fun when you don't have to hunt for something.

I wouldn't dare to say why some publishers are faster than others. I could guess, but I'd probably be wrong. It's the same with editors. Some are faster, some are slower, but isn't that true of writers too?

Starla Kaye said...

Excellent explanation, as always. Like Pat, I'm enjoying these blogs. I just wish I could check on them on a more regular basis.

Roxann Delaney said...


There are only 24 hours in a day and for some odd reason, a few of those are needed for sleep. If you should find the secret to adding more time without taking away from those sleeping hours, please share!