Even for experienced scholars, the book proposal process must be carried out in order to have any hope of publishing emerging research. Whether your goal is to publish your thesis, collaborate with academics to write a groundbreaking publication, or simply release a compilation of ongoing research, crafting a compelling and cohesive book proposal will catch the attention of scholarly publishers and increase their investments in your project. After partnering with academic presses and observing their trends, we’ve gathered some advice for creating a stellar book proposal.
Be Proactive With a Query
Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and your ideas, but be sure to make an appropriate first impression. A brief, cordial letter that’s personalized and seems to grasp the core values of the press will serve as a proper introduction and will show the acquisition editors that you’re punctual and well-informed. Address the editor by name if possible, and avoid leaving the impression that you’re entitled to a review.
Your letter shouldn’t include the 400-page manuscript that you’ve been drafting for three years. As with most manuscripts, a concise synopsis for your query will suffice. Remember, this letter conveys both you, as a scholar, and your project, as a potential publication, so take the time to portray both as appealingly as possible.
Consider the Context and Potential Impact
Most likely, if a publisher is interested in working with you and developing your book project, they will point you in the direction of composing a comprehensive book proposal. Effective proposals offer an assortment of material that essentially sells your project, but one of the most difficult tasks in creating a proposal is demonstrating how your book will make a difference; how will it impact your target audience?
Some may argue that one’s idea of impactful content may seem inconsequential to another. Still, it’s useful to put into words exactly how your book will make a difference for future scholars. Reflect on an academic work that’s eminent in your particular field of research, perhaps a book with theories and applications that changed the way scholars study a topic or practice research. For instance, renowned sociologist Max Weber released the book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in the early 1900s. Today, it’s known as one of the fundamental works that guide modern economists in understanding the intricacies of American capitalism.
In a nutshell, attempt to spell out for the publisher how your book will change the way scholars think, experiment, and research. Publishers want to release content that causes disruption, offers a different perspective, and/or attracts intellectuals.
Explain Its Purpose and Rationale
This is the “why.” Why did you begin this project in the first place? In addition to outlining the impact, writing a brief but clear and descriptive rationale for your book expands the argument for your prospective publisher that your book should and must come to fruition. It’s your one and only shot to pitch the essential purpose of your project and garner the interest of the editors.
Include a direct mission statement for your manuscript followed by a narrative description of the themes, scope, and central argument. Again, explaining the overall purpose of your book concisely and in just a few sentences will prove to the publisher that you have a clear vision for your manuscript and that you’re confident in its substance.
Having trouble crafting a short paragraph that describes and encompasses the purpose of your entire book? Look through the descriptions of recent books released by some of your favorite or some of the more credible academic publishers. Emulating the language and structure of these short synopses might help you write a pitch that’s detailed but still to the point.
Target the Right Audience
Marketability. Publishers won’t think twice about contracting your book project if it isn’t marketable. Think carefully about who will benefit from your presented research and ensure that your target audience corresponds with the primary audience.
Most scholarly presses will tell you that a book trying to appeal to the masses will likely appeal to no one. If you can clearly identify and explain how your manuscript will prove useful and noteworthy to a specific audience, your proposal will gain integrity. For example, will doctoral students find your research useful, or are your findings more suited for working professionals? If so, explain the specifics. Don’t shy away from including an account of who you actually expect to purchase your book.
Find the Most Effective Structure
Without organization, the reader is lost. Publishers like to see that you have handle on the structure of your content before, during, and after the content development process. Successful presentation allows your audience to comprehend your manuscript’s sequencing and follow the logic of your arguments. Books, especially, are expected to have a narrative quality, even if it’s an edited reference work.
As a part of your official proposal, publishers will likely ask for a tentative table of contents. This is your opportunity to showcase the outline of your book in a way that conveys how concepts, arguments, and themes connect to and complement each other.
Examine the editorial structure utilized in various academic books that you’d like to contend with. Consider incorporating those organizational techniques, and be creative in planning the interlacing of forthcoming chapters. When the reader finishes your book, you want them to not only feel that each idea seamlessly transitioned into the next, but also that each chapter was integral to effectively conveying the central argument as a whole.
When in doubt, draw a concept map. Create a web of your book’s projected sections, and connect related ideas with lines. A visual representation may help you see which chapters must come first or even how two chapters are more closely related than you previously thought.
It’s All About Timing
Well, not necessarily, but it definitely helps. There are two aspects of the “right timing” that researchers must be mindful about. The first? The maturity of your book’s conceptualization. This one’s simple; pitch your proposal when you have confidence in your book’s conception but may not necessarily have all of the pieces put together. Don’t propose a manuscript if you haven’t received any interest to contribute from colleagues and other researchers in your field. Yet, don’t set deadlines and begin acquiring content before receiving feedback from a publisher.
Secondly, be aware of the time of year in relation to your desired publication date. Publishers typically operate about two years ahead of schedule. So, if you’d like to officially release your book in June of 2020, it’s best to inquire and propose your book project before June of 2018. Acquisition teams are always combing through proposals, so despite speculation by some scholars, submitting your proposal at a certain time of year won’t increase the likelihood of a more thorough or promising review.
Check out our tips on how to speed up the publication process.
In sum, writing and editing a scholarly publication is difficult, and so is pitching one to a credible publisher. Nevertheless, if you’ve generated or have been in collaboration with novel and brilliant research, then it’s time to start seriously thinking about inquiring with a publisher, considering the potential impact of your work, outlining its purpose and rationale, targeting the right audience, finding the most effective editorial structure, and lastly, pitching your manuscript at the right time. Crafting the perfect book proposal is the first step on the pathway to future publication.