Preparing Book Proposals for Scholarly Publishers

Preparing Book Proposals for Scholarly Publishers

Stephen Brookfield
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7409-7.ch001
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There are three stages typically involved in submitting a book proposal to a scholarly publisher. The first is to overcome one's sense of impostorship, the feeling that books are written by “real” academics with startlingly original things to say. The second is to write the proposal itself. This involves describing the genesis of the idea for the book, establishing a strong rationale as to why the book ought to be published, and summarizing its succinct purpose. The meat of a proposal is the chapter-by-chapter outline that provides a clear description of the book's contents. Proposals typically end with an analysis of competing texts, a schedule for writing the book, and indications of how a Web presence might be created to support the book. The final stage is to select and then approach a publisher. This chapter describes all these stages in detail and provides multiple examples drawn from book proposals that were accepted.
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To many faculty members, publishing a book seems an intimidating prospect. A book? Isn’t that for truly original thinkers with weighty and profound contributions to make to my field? I remember as a graduate student thinking that books were produced by people with intellectual weight who had something meaningful to disclose. My own intellect and opinions seemed puny by comparison. I simply did not think I deserved to write a book since I had nothing important to say.

To overcome such intimidation it is necessary to demystify the air of portentousness surrounding the idea of book publication. Most of us are committed to our academic field and to producing work that somehow extends knowledge or contributes to critical discourse. But few who publish books can be considered to be paradigm shifters. So we need to scale back the expectations we place on ourselves to write books that will move the tectonic plates of our discipline. Instead we need to think of a book as serving several possible functions that might include:

  • 1.

    Organizing material that’s already in the public domain in a more helpful way than is currently available.

  • 2.

    Synthesizing and connecting elements of disciplinary knowledge that have not been connected this way before.

  • 3.

    Exploring more deeply, or in a new manner, an enduring contradiction, question or problem in the field.

  • 4.

    Proposing an interesting and exciting future direction for the field of study.

  • 5.

    Investigating one small and relatively neglected corner or niche in a field of study that has not been documented well up to that point.

In this chapter I outline the chief elements that should be present in a book proposal submitted to a scholarly press. Throughout the chapter I draw on my experience of publishing seventeen books for five different publishers, and of what happens when the ownership of a publishing group changes hands. I also use excerpts from book proposals of my own that were accepted to illustrate some of the general principles I advocate.


Getting Over Impostorship

Impostorship is the sense that you are faking a role and that sooner or later people will realize this and discover you to be the impostor you know you are. This phenomenon is widespread in academe. It exists particularly in first generation college students (Davis, 2010; Ward, Siegel, & Davenport, 2012) and in academics from working class backgrounds (Samarco and Muzzatti, 2005). First time authors are particularly prone to this, feeling that their views are uninteresting to anyone but themselves, and that they possess neither the talent nor the right to go into print. As a beginning author who had never done well as a student (I failed my college entrance exams, eventually graduated in the 35th percentile of my undergraduate class, and failed my master’s exam) I was paralyzed with this sense that I had nothing significant to say and that my poor student record confirmed that fact.

Forty five years later I can look back at that time and identify five strategies that proved particularly useful in convincing myself that authoring a book was not such an outrageous and inappropriate idea:-

Key Terms in this Chapter

Purpose: The proposal statement that states specifically what the book is intended to achieve.

Audience: The intended readership for the intended book.

Impostorship: The sense that any praise you receive is undeserved and that consequently you have neither the right nor the talent to author a book.

Schedule: The timetable for the writing of the book.

Rationale: The section of the proposal that justifies the publication of the book, perhaps because it covers new material, addresses a gap in the field, or creates new connections.

Feedback: Comments provided by external reviewers, usually senior scholars in the field, on the proposal’s academic credibility.

Competition Analysis: The part of the proposal that outlines other similar books published in the same area together with an explanation of the uniqueness of the proposal being submitted.

Book Proposal: A succinct statement of a plan to write a book that describes the organization of the proposed book’s contents, the reasons the book should be published, and the specific chapter contents.

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