How to Prepare a Convincing Book Proposal
You will have to prepare a book proposal as soon as you choose to turn your dissertation into a book. From that time onwards, you must think of the book as a separate entity from the thesis.
A good book proposal can be anywhere between four and 15 pages in length. It includes a “prospectus” containing:
- The title (most likely to be changed later on)
- A one-page general rationale for the book, in which you will state very clearly the focus and main argument of the book. You may organise it in four paragraphs:
- Hook – Invite the reader into your proposal with an interesting anecdote or some surprising data.
- State your main argument, and back it up with a few sentences.
- State the contribution to scholarship and place in the literature.
- Provide a brief roadmap for the book.
- A statement on the expected audience. This will help the publisher to understand which established markets your book will sell to. To this end, make sure your topic fits in with current events and debates and is of interest to a broad readership. Remember that for a book to be viable, even in a relatively high priced hardback edition, a publisher will need to be sure of selling several hundred copies.
- A brief review of the existing literature (particularly any potentially competing titles) and the place of the book within it. Be aware of competing titles because why publish in an area that no one is interested in writing about?
- A list of well-known reviewers who you think might be appropriate readers for your book.
- An expanded list of contents including a one-paragraph abstract of each proposed chapter.
Include also a brief CV in your proposal.
Some publishers will ask you to include in the proposal one or several sample chapters for external review. You may choose to take the chapters you feel will need least revision from your thesis, but it is often more effective to send a revised chapter. For example, the first chapter is ideal, but may be the most difficult to rewrite for publication, in which case try working on a substantive middle chapter instead. Other publishers may even require the full, completed manuscript.
Most publishers post their submission guidelines on their websites (see for example those from Harvard). These guidelines usually indicate precisely what materials must be included in the proposal – typically a prospectus, one or two sample chapters, and a two-page CV.
Address your proposal to the correct commissioning editor. Contact details can always be found on the publisher’s website.
- Do not send the complete thesis, unless the publisher specifically requests it. (The same goes for a manuscript.)
- Never submit a proposal to more than one publisher at the same time unless you have received the consent of each to a multiple submission.
- Never conceal from a potential publisher arrangements you have already made for the publication of chapters in journals or in edited volumes.
To sum up, when preparing your proposal, keep carefully in mind the following four criteria:
- Rigour – is the book a scholarly piece of work?
- Significance – is the book talking to a wide audience?
- Originality – are you doing something new?
- Marketability – is the book commercially viable?