Chapter Summaries

Most nonfiction books are sold via a vehicle known as a proposal, which is a marketing document that lays out why the book will sell in its marketplace. Among the sections of a proposal is one that outlines what each chapter contains. It is known by various names, but many professionals call it the Chapter Summaries.

Quite a few authors treat the section as a sideline, devoting a scant paragraph to each chapter. Sometimes they skip the exercise altogether and provide merely a detailed Contents page, listing each subheading in the chapter. Unless you have a subject like a memoir where organization is unimportant, however, that level of treatment is not doing its job of helping you sell the book.

Think of the proposal from an acquisitions editor’s point of view. If she likes the proposal, she will bring it up in her imprint’s weekly editorial meeting. There she has to persuade the editor-in-chief and publisher to buy the book. Yet that process is hampered if no one really knows what’s in the book. Most particularly, what does it offer that no other book in the field does?

The section that answers that question best is the Chapter Summaries. Here you have to ask yourself if a paragraph can delineate each chapter’s topics in enough details to delve beneath the general buzz words that any book in that area covers. For example, you may have a chapter in a book about teenage boys in which you state that they respond better to an empathetic partner in education. There have been, of course, a slew of books advocating that men become more social. Rather than covering different classroom strategies in a glancing sentence apiece, why not break the best methods into a paragraph apiece? That way you could provide enough details that show why your strategy is different.

I don’t have any rule of thumb in terms of length—some chapters are shorter, or less complex—but shooting for a half page to a page gives you the scope to lay in some specific qualities that only your book possesses. Trying for 3-4 paragraphs rather than one means you have to fill up those paragraphs with unique details. If you think of it another way, in terms of marketing, each of those new details you’ve added is a selling point. Why would you not want to triple the number of selling points you have to offer?

Exercise: I should caution that the section is still merely an outline. An editor expects that you will respect her time. She’s busy, and she wants to get through a proposal quickly. (Otherwise, she could read the entire book.) So stay on a higher plane. Try not to go over a page for each one. If your book has any content at all, you’ll have plenty of plus points even in summary.

“I am unable to think of any critical, complex human activity that could be safely reduced to a simple summary equation.”
—Jerome Powell

Copyright @ 2017, John Paine

No comments:

Post a Comment

Copyright © 2012 John Paine. All rights reserved.