Yes, I know I should post more, but really, who has the time? I’m too busy betting on ridiculous things with my brother and girlfriend, (even though I know I’ll lose- case in point it wasn’t Jodie Foster in Single White Female- it was Bridget Fonda- oops) that blogging is the last thing I’ve been thinking of.
But seriously, I want to talk about Chapter Outlines for a minute. Many authors know they need to have one to show to an agent but they don’t know why. Well, I’ll tell you. I can tell from a chapter outline immediately if I want to represent your work. It gives me an instant look at how clear your writing is, what your book is about and whether you have the organizational skills to complete your book to the level that I can sell it.
In many cases I really don’t need your sample chapters. I can tell by your outline. And if you don’t submit a good one, then I’m going to say no. Simple as that. As well, if you have typos in your email to me, I usually say no. Your introductory email is your elevator speech. I scan the page in 60 seconds and if I find typos or poor grammar, I don’t give you the time of day. Why am I so strict? Probably because I haven’t had my scotch yet, or that I’m tired of people telling me all about their fantastic book that their friends and family liked so they don’t need a professional editor. These days, books have to be in pristine shape to sell to a publisher, because there are fewer editors available to work on your book once you get a deal. If they have to worry about dozens of typos- they aren’t going to buy your book.
So what do you put in a Chapter Outline? Well different agents request different styles. Some like a full chapter synopsis and others want to see an outline that maps out certain areas.
Below is one example of how you can structure an outline.
Chad Viminitz, author of the Money Assassins published by Insomniac Press, kindly let us use his work as an example. This book was sold to Insomniac by my associate Rachel Sentes, and I negotiated the deal.
This is what a Chapter Synopsis looks like, but also gives us an idea about how the book is going to be set up.
Chapter One: The Forgotten Savers
This chapter explores the impact that the Great Depression and World War 2 had individuals’ financial perspectives and beliefs and how today’s society has forgotten many of the valuable financial lessons from this time period. The Depression has said to have one long lasting therapeutic effect, it lingered in the financial memory of those who survived, it made individuals question their relationship and values surrounding money. This introspection is missing today. This chapter discusses the importance of financial empathy, the value of a common purpose and shows how government played a supportive role in encouraging savings in the past and why it is needed again but will not happen.
Chapter Two: Wealth, Happiness, and the First Assassin
Chapter two forces individuals to question what wealth and happiness really means to them. It discusses why money does not buy happiness through the concept of relativism, the idea of financial “waste” and challenges the traditional measurement of economic progress, GDP. This chapter helps readers to understand that financial well-being is not a number but rather a mind set. The First Assassin, technology, is introduced and how it has changed and influenced payment methods and exposes the true financial cost of Debit Cards and Credit Cards. Never being without the ability to pay, bypassing ones financial conscience, has led many individuals to spending beyond their means.
Chapter Three: Groomed to Consume
Sending the Money Assassins after adults is one thing, sending them after our children is a whole other story. Child marketing and its effects on personal finances is an essential but missing piece of the puzzle in solving, “why we spend more than we make?” With children nagging and influencing hundreds of billions of dollars a year, individuals need to be aware of the changing role marketer’s play in our children’s lives. Groomed to Consume examines the methods that are used to get children to spend their own money and influence parent spending ranging from groceries, vehicle purchases and family holidays. This chapter also raises concern about the future financial mindset of generations who have been told to consume, spend, and go into debt.
Chapter Four: Spending to Belong & the “New Necessities”
The social pressure to spend and consume is considerable. Applying this pressure has been both the marketing and advertising industries. They have woven themselves into the daily fabric of our lives and have gone through a transformational role since the 1970s. Consumptive communities and undercover marketing are just two ideas, which exemplify the social pressure to spend and its harmful effect personal finance. The consumer society’s unspoken motivator has been fear. Fear of being social excluded if one does not participate. So individuals spend and have been spending more and more on life’s so called “new necessities.” The base line standard for consumption has been quietly raised and the distinction between want and need has been blurred.
Chapter Five: “Living Car Lite” – the discovery of free money
Few people are aware of the cumulative costs of owning and operating a vehicle and the potential adverse effects on their financial well-being. The chapter breaks down the full cost of vehicle ownership and outlines the financial benefits of reducing ones vehicle expense from 20%, of total income, to 10%. The chapter addresses the challenges of reducing ones reliance on private transportation and gives suggestions on how to make the transition easier, through such concepts like location efficiency. It is through adopting a “car lite” lifestyle that readers will learn they can find extra money to commit to other financial goals such as early retirement.
Chapter Six: Home Cent$
The decision to buy a home is the single greatest determinant of the long-term financial fate of individuals and families, yet 80% of first time homebuyers never seek financial advice. This chapter will address some basic guidelines, with a focus on first time homebuyers, home up-graders, and those who seek to free up cash flow and reduce debt. It will also explore strategies to avoid becoming “house rich” and “cash poor,” to save effectively for a down payment, and to determine the mortgage payment that their financial plan can withstand, through calculating ones Total Debt Service Ratio. Caution about using the Home Buyers Plan to fund ones down payment is also discussed.
Chapter Seven: The Joy of Living Debt Free
In this chapter we explore ways to eliminate current debt and avoid debt in the first place. It addresses the root cause of most debt, consumption, and over-spending and how to rebuild a financial belief structure that is debt resistant. The reader will be taken through one of the most effective exercises to clarify ones core financial convictions and beliefs. This clarity will empower the reader to stay on financial track and avoid debt. Building from the previous chapter, a more detailed discussion about ones total debt service ratio takes place and we will dispel the “Good Debt” myth. The concepts of thrift and frugality are outline and we try to answer the question “Should I save or payoff debt?”
Chapter Eight: Nuggets of Financial Freedom
The last core chapter highlights pearls of financial wisdom. The first being how much of ones gross income should one save. Explaining it should be between 20-30% of ones gross income. The “Heart Attack Graph” is used to help the reader understand their financial plans allocation. One of the most important concepts in the entire book is the “investor-saver confusion,” and in detail, clarity is achieved. Every financial plan requires both an offense and a defense. Most financial books skip the defense but here we explore the misunderstood world of financial protection and personal insurance.
I can tell a great deal about is writing, how the book is going to come together from this kind of submission. And it also shows me that he’s willing to take the time to put down his thoughts in a cohesive and complete manner.
Here is another example of an Outline that I often show people- Now I found this someplace but I have NO idea who originally put this together. So if you did, then by all means I want to give you credit for it! So drop me an email!!
Now this one is based on an imaginary Non-fiction book, but you’ll get the idea:
Book Title Here
Author Name Here
Introduction – Map out what the reason for this book is. Why you wrote it, What you’ll find in the book and any other important reasons for reading it.
Part I: Write out how each chapter is going to work- in detail
Chapter 1 – Writing as a Career?
How I did it
Chapter 2 – This Book is for You–but is Writing
Full-Time for You?
What I expect of you, and what
success expects of you
“If I can do it …”
Why not everyone can write full-time
What it takes to write full-time ((brief
The two paragraphs in this book
you’ll hate most
Building toward a full-time career by
A few words on success
What is success?
Why writers write
Success goals for the full-time writer
Chapter 3 – What It’s Really Like
Gloom and doom, or riches and
The “ideal” writing life
The real writing life: typical and
atypical writers’ lives
From one extreme to the other
What to expect if you’re still
A moderately happy medium
Part II: Preparations and Going for It
Chapter 4 – What it Takes, Part I: Self-Management for the Writer
Scheduling your time
Strategy and tactics for full-time
When bad things happen to good
writers: dealing with adversity
Dealing with success
Chapter 5 – What it Takes, Part II: Getting Yourself to Write
Dealing with adversity, revisited
Self esteem and writing
Is money success?
Chapter 6 – Are You Ready?
Measuring your professional
How to know when you’re ready
Chapter 7 – Getting Ready, Part I: Your
Tools of the trade
Expanding and enhancing
Finding and developing new markets
for your work
Establishing regular markets for your
Chapter 8 – Getting Ready, Part II: Putting Your
Affairs in Order
Cold cash and hard realities:
Spouses/partners and the Medieval
concept of patronage
Keeping your hand in the working
Chapter 9 – Making the Break
Decision or Delusion?
Sharing the Decision
Trading your job for a career
“Banking and finance and
Part III: Now that You’re On Your Own …
Chapter 10 – Staying Alive
Your first few weeks on the job
Chapter 11 – Getting Down to Business
Acting like a business
Chapter 12 – Marketing for the Full-Time Writer
The importance of marketing your
Market information: the writer’s
A short course in contracts and
Do you need an agent?
Chapter 13 – A Little on the Side: Extra Income
Writing is more than writing
Hands-on methods for turning your
writing talents into cash
Afterword: Final Words of Advice
It’s your life, but don’t blame it on me
How to know if you should quit
A new start: turning your writing
experience into a new job
“Still crazy after all these years …”
Appendix A: Resources
Organizations for the Self-Employed
Online Special-Interest Groups for
Appendix B: Bibliography
“About the Author”
So you see, if you put the effort into it, you can go a long way when submitting to an agent. And trust me, we appreciate the dedication to your craft. It’s not all about the book. It’s about how you sell the book.
Until next time!!
5 responses to “What is a Chapter outline and why do I need it?”
Hi. Do you please have any tips on writing a chapter outline for a fiction novel? How detailed does it need to be? Do you need to label what is the main plot and what are the subplots? Any advice appreciated.
I don’t work in fiction, but I can tell you that it’s basically the same concept as non-fiction. You need to discuss the action and story arc of the chapter in each section- but you don’t have to break down into sub chapters. Just give a synopsis of what is happening. If you are submitting a fiction piece to an agent or publisher they require the table of contents, an outline and the full manuscript.
Thank you. I’ve read differing approaches, including one that states you must describe what is happening in every scene within the chapter. So you don’t think that is the case?
The different approaches really depend on the editor or agent you submitting your work to. Some request more details while others don’t. It’s important to research the person you are trying to reach.
Thanks Brian. Now I know why the outline is important and the image I need to portray. Now I just have to find out how to do one for 38 chapters in a single page!