This is the third instalment of BubbleCow advice on crafting academic book proposals. So far we have looked at your query letter as a sales document and examined its structure. Now we turn our attention to the tricky subject of the pitch itself and in this post, the synopsis.
Although submission guidelines will vary from publisher to publisher, with some asking you to fill out an ‘author questionnaire’ and others asking for your CV, an indication of the intended market for the book, comparable texts and proposed peer reviewers, a tricky section of the pitch they will all want to see is the synopsis of the book.
The synopsis is perhaps one of the most commonly misunderstood sections of the book proposal. Writers who can produce pages of elegant prose often go weak at the knees at the simple mention of a synopsis.
The first thing to remember when writing your synopsis is that the editor is looking for the thing that is going to set your book aside from all the other book proposals that they are reading that day. Whilst your book needs to fit comfortably into a suitable subject area, it also needs to be different enough to attract attention. One tip for writers about to embark on a synopsis is that you are describing your book not summarising the contents. This means that a step-by-step summary of the chapters is not enough. You need to describe what your book actually does in terms of expanding knowledge in a particular field. If it substantially challenges accepted ideas, say so. If it weaves a totally new narrative around a well-known area or sheds much needed light on a hidden topic, say so. If it pioneers a new theory or repurposes existing ones, say so!
You will need to provide an outline of the chapters as well and often this will be asked for separately to the synopsis so bear that in mind. But in both cases, be concise. Don’t over embellish or use language that is too floral, stay in the marketing mind-set and pitch strongly and clearly!
Now its homework time again! In the next post, we need to look at how to create the part of your pitch that outlines the intended market(s) for your book. In order to do that, I want you to make as comprehensive a list as possible of the courses/departments which are most likely to buy your book for their libraries, or adopt it as a core text and advise students to buy copies. Go back to the subject categories your book falls under and look for the courses that directly deal with these. I know it sounds obvious, but it’s highly likely you haven’t put this information together in such basic terms before because completing your PhD forced you to burrow deeper and deeper into your own niche, not survey it from the outside!
After you’ve done all that, go back to the list you already made of at least three books that you feel the reader of your book would also have read and expand upon this. This time, you need to get a more complete list of the books that favourably relate to yours – in terms of covering a different angle; that yours might challenge – in terms of offering an alternate argument or set of evidence; or that you’d like yours to emulate – even if it’s in a totally different subject area. List way scholar, list away…