Chapter Summaries Help You Prepare to Write and Sell Your Book

This post is a blogged draft excerpt from The Author Training Manual (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2014). Read the previous blogged excerpt, here.

The best way to begin writing your book is with chapter summaries.At this point in the process, you get to do some real writing. Whoo hoo! How much writing you do in Step #6 of the Author Training Process, Decide if Your Book’s Content Matches Your Initial Vision of Your Book, depends on how you plan on publishing and what you plan on writing, though.  (Read about the other steps here.) You will write more at this point if you plan to self-publish or if you write fiction than if you hope to traditionally publish or write nonfiction.

Before you dig in and begin composing any amount of your manuscript, you now want to add more detail to the map you created in Step #5, Examine the Structure of Your Book. In Step #6 you add directions for those using that map, your table of contents (TOC). In the language of a book proposal, this step involves writing Chapter Summaries for a nonfiction book idea or a synopsis for a fiction book idea.

Write Chapter Summaries for Your Business Plan

For nonfiction, Chapter Summaries consist of a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. This section is necessary for your writing guide, which is why I recommend both nonfiction and fiction writers produce a chapter-by-chapter synopsis for their book’s business plan. To complete Step #6, you will write a synopsis of each and every chapter you listed in your TOC. For all nonfiction books, this is included in a proposal even if your nonfiction manuscript is complete, and it should be included in your business plan. It allows an agent or an acquisitions editor to quickly scan the content of your proposed book and to determine if the book has substance, is unique, flows, makes sense, is necessary, and is compelling. It allows them to tell if you will carry through on the premises you laid out in Step #2, Find Out if You Know What Your Book’s About and Why Someone Would Want to Read (Buy) It, and on the promises you made there—both to the publisher and to your readers. Your chapter-by-chapter synopsis help publishing professionals determine if they are interested in your project without having to read the whole manuscript. In fact, for nonfiction, agents and acquisitions editors rarely read the whole book unless it is a memoir; they usually just read one or two chapters, or about 20-30 pages of your manuscript.

If you don’t plan on seeking a traditional publisher, write a chapter-by-chapter synopsis for your business plan so you can evaluate your content just as a publishing profession would do. Also do this to create your writing guide. (More on this in the final edition of The Author’s Training Manual, which will be released by Writer’s Digest Books in mid-February 2014.)

For fiction, your synopsis typically is a short (usually a page or two at most) description of your novel that details the key information about your story, such as plot, theme, characterization, and setting. It allows an agent or acquisitions editor to get an overview of how these elements coalesce to create a compelling story without making these professionals read the entire novel. Most agents and acquisitions editors will ask novelists to send a synopsis and three consecutive sample chapters prior to sending the whole manuscript, which they only request if they find the synopsis compelling. However, I’ve seen agents ask for three pages, 30 pages, chapter-by-chapter synopsis, or a just a synopsis.  You need to be prepared to give them whatever they prefer if you want to seek a traditional publisher.

Fiction Writers can Produce Chapter Summaries

I suggest fiction writers not only write a synopsis but actually join with nonfiction writers and produce chapter-by-chapter synopsis for their novels. As a novelist, if you can create a TOC, you also can describe the action or narrative arc and character development that occurs in each chapter. If you used the mind mapping technique in the last chapter, you should be able to transfer that information into this exercise. You will more accurately be able to evaluate your story when you have this in-depth level of detail. By “fleshing out” your novel with chapter summaries, you will know exactly what material goes in each chapter and if your story works. As mentioned, this offers you a superb writing guide even if this is never seen by an agent or editor. (More on this later…) However, some agents and acquisitions editors do ask for chapter-by-chapter synopsis. So it doesn’t hurt to have one ready if you plan to traditionally publish your book.

Ready to Write

Once you have a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, or just a synopsis of your book, written, you can create:

  • sample chapters for your nonfiction book (if you plan to traditionally publish and to write a book proposal)
  • your whole manuscript (if you are writing fiction and want to traditionally publish or to self-publish)
  • your whole manuscript (if you are writing nonfiction and plan to self-publish)
The Author Training ManualNote: You can read additional blogged draft excerpts from my new book, The Author Training Manual (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2014) here. Only select pieces from the manuscript, a “working draft,” were posted—not the complete manuscript. Read the next post in the The Author Training Manual blogged-book series by clicking here. Purchase the book on, or at

LeaLearn how to become a successful authorrn how to create a successful book—one that sells to publishers and to readers—by developing an AUTHOR ATTITUDE and writing a BUSINESS PLAN for a MARKETABLE BOOK. Register for the AUTHOR TRAINING 101 Home-Study Course, and go from aspiring to successful published author! This course is based on The Author Training Manual. If you like what you’ve read here, you’ll love the course.

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