PROPOSING BOOKS December 30, 2013

Tommy Kidd and I have both recently posted about writing and publishing – chiefly in history, but what we said also applies to plenty of other humanities disciplines.

Assume you have an idea for a book, but don’t know exactly how to get it into print. Tommy mentioned submitting a proposal to the publisher, to give them a clear idea of what he was proposing, and whether it was something they might actually want. That’s actually a crucial stage in turning an idea into a real book, and I thought it might be useful to spell out just what such a document should include.

The best way to learn to write such proposals is to see other people’s, particularly those that have been successful, Also, individual university presses give clear advice about what they want to see: Oxford University Press has a useful model. Particular authors differ on how they might structure proposals, but let me offer a model that has worked well for me through the years.

What should be in a proposal? Try this:

-An executive summary, so the press can get a quick idea of what’s involved.

-A narrative of the book and its argument, what it’s about and why it matters, and its proposed length.

-Why you’re uniquely qualified to write it and what you’d bring to it.

-Why it’s particularly suitable, desirable, relevant, timely or necessary right now – eg why related stories are in public debate.

-When the book would be ready.

-The intended audience, and the level of writing.

-Maybe a list of courses in which it might be adopted as a textbook?

-Selling points and takeaways from the book, maybe subdivided by different fields. What will a reader get from the book?

-A list of rival books on similar issues and themes, and why yours is better/more important/better researched.

-List of chapters – the chapter outline I discussed earlier.

-About the author – a biographical sketch.

-Then attach a full vita.

-Maybe attach a bibliography.

Good luck!


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