Junior Prof’s Book Proposal Tips

I’ll never forget the biggest highlight of my dissertation defense – learning that my dissertation “made sense” as a book to my advisors. I should start by saying that I’m in a field where writing a book is fairly common. There are many researchers out there in STEM, the Social Sciences and the Humanities who will never write a book and whose research findings would be illogically organized if presented in book format. However, I am not among them. I have always envisioned publishing my work as a book and feared greatly that my advisors would tell me not to. Recently, a lot of my time has been occupied by the work of turning my dissertation into a book that makes sense. Earlier this week I took to Twitter to announce an accomplishment of which I am very proud: I submitted my book proposal.

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A handful of individuals reached out in comments or via direct messages to ask about resources for book proposals, and this blogpost is a direct response to those inquiries.

(I should insert a disclaimer here – I don’t know anything about publishing fiction and my knowledge about publishing non-fiction is tailored to the workings of university presses.)

Tip #1: Start a list of books like the one you want to write and see if you observe a trend in publication venue. To create a metaphor…this is not unlike being at a house party and deciding which conversation you want to be a part of and in which conversations you have nothing to say. If there are editors and presses out there publishing on topics of interest to you and authors who you want to engage, that’s going to be a very useful place to start.

Tip #2: Begin working on the proposal as you work on the book itself. As I’ve written elsewhere, publishers will want you to think about marketability and audience in your proposal. I have found it advantageous to keep that in mind as I write so that I will (hopefully) avoid needing to rewrite sections of my that aren’t tailored to my audience.

Tip #3: Consult with others. Some of this conversation should be with people you trust. I’ve asked fellow authors about their experiences with specific presses and former professors about how to know when I would be “ready.” I got a lot of good advice and, admittedly, some advice I decided wasn’t for me. All in all, asking around helped me gain a variety of perspectives and focus in on my goals.

I have also consulted a variety of materials. Specifically, I interviewed two university press editors about what they are looking for when they read manuscripts. I composed a three-part essay series on the topic. (Those essays can be found here: part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

Several resources came up during that interview. Two of the most notable are:

I’ve recently acquired a couple of other books and found that they contain useful nuggets:

Tip #4: Look closely at the submission guidelines of the publication venues that interest you. This research helped me keep my eye on the prize while writing. I would like to think it may have also saved me some duplicate labor in the form of revisions to tailor my manuscript to a press, but that remains to be seen.

Tip #5: Work on bolstering your exposure while you are drafting. A lot of the presses I am interested in want to see a copy of a prospective author’s CV or want to know who that author’s audience is. Having other publications on a CV or a proven audience in a field can only help the marketability of a book.

Best of luck to those of you working on proposals and keep your fingers crossed for mine!

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