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Don't waste time writing a photographic book unless you have a contract for its publication. A completed book represents a huge amount of work but may not quite satisfy a publisher's requirements. Even if a publisher were to show interest, it is quite possible that several chapters might have to be rewritten or substantially changed. It is therefore much more sensible to submit a synopsis of the proposed work detailing what it would contain should the proposal be accepted and the work completed.

In the case of a "how to" type of photographic book, a submission should include a contents list, a synopsis, and a sample chapter complete with the relevant images, diagrams etc. The contents list includes the chapter titles and any appendices, glossaries etc. The synopsis is the most important part of a submission, and should be detailed and very thoroughly considered. The preparation of a good synopsis involves a great deal of work and takes a lot of time. If it has been done in a few days the result is probably inadequate.

To prepare a synopsis it is necessary to consider in detail what each chapter or section of the proposed book would include. Publishers say, with justification, that a good book sometimes follows a good synopsis, but never results from bad synopsis. Once a good synopsis has been prepared, the task of completing a book becomes much less difficult.

One way to prepare the material for a synopsis is to write a list specifying all the subjects to be addressed in the proposed book. Once the first draft of the list has been established, divide the subjects to be addressed in to appropriate categories and then in to sub-categories. Finally, arrange all the categories, sub-categories and individual items in a logical sequence as they might appear in the book. This process is obviously best undertaken on a computer so it is easy to rearrange the order of items in the list. Going through this process inevitably leads the author to identify omissions, duplications and possible additions. Keep improving the list, and producing new versions from which to work, until no further changes seem necessary. The final synopsis can then be written as a descriptive version of the categorized list. For example, "Chapter three addresses the advantages and disadvantages of digital photography against a background of the characteristics and features of traditional film-based photography. The issues of resolution, dynamic range...etc etc".

A synopsis must also address other issues such as the potential market for the proposed book, and why you as the author are the most qualified person to write it. It is important to be honest but also to promote yourself where possible. Quote the titles and ISBN numbers of all previous published work, and provide a summary of your own personal background and experience in relevant areas.

A typical synopsis for a photography book might include headings such as:

  • The proposal
  • The Author
  • The Market
  • Description of Book Contents
  • Images and Illustrations
  • Estimated Word Count

The final synopsis document should be in the region of 1,000 - 2,000 words. Too short and there will not be enough detail, too long and bust editors will not read it. The document should be interesting and well written because it is all an editor has to assess the quality and relevance of your work The synopsis should be supported by a contents list and a completed sample chapter, again well written. Where images or illustrations are used within the chapter, these should be supplied. Images can be usually submitted as prints or on CD?DVD, but illustrations and diagrams can normally be neatly hand drawn.

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