How To Write A Book Proposal

You all know that the book proposal is the cornerstone to a successful tenure track career in most areas of the humanities and social sciences. Sure, some parts of psychology and economics and other fields are not book-based, but basically, the law of the land is: write a book.

What you may not be aware of is that the book proposal should be an element in your job applications. I don’t mean you send a proposal with your job applications, of course, but rather that you dedicate several sentences in the job letter to the book proposal and where you are in discussions with presses.

In this job market, you have to be looking ahead to the book, and able to speak intelligently about the book and its publishing plan, from the earliest days, ie, even when you are ABD and still finishing the dissertation. You don’t yet need a book to get a job in most cases (although yes, it’s true, assistant professors with books under their belt will have an advantage over new Ph.D.s for some jobs), but you do need a book PLAN to get a job, and the more substantive that plan is—as in, accompanied by a completed book proposal, a timeline for submission to presses, actual discussions with specific presses, or best of all, an advance contract—the better you’ll do on the market.

The fact is, the dissertation does not get you a job. The anticipated book gets you the job.

OK, having established the necessity of writing a book proposal from early, early stages in your career, we now turn to the proposal itself.

I’m going to start by speaking in general terms about what you must submit to a press to get a contract. This is actually a collection of items, and not just a proposal.

In general, you do not submit a complete dissertation manuscript to a press.

Repeat: do NOT submit your full dissertation manuscript to presses!

Why? Two reasons:

  1. Because editors at presses are as overworked and overwhelmed as the rest of us and don’t have the time to wade through 300 pages of unknown quality.
  2. Because, frankly, your dissertation isn’t that good. No, I’m sorry, it really isn’t. This is true even if it won awards at your university and got passed with distinction, etc. etc. Here’s why: dissertations are not books. They’re dissertations. And the best dissertation in the world is not going to be the same as a marketable book. Dissertations are written to prove your legitimacy and to demonstrate mastery and to satisfy an impossible set of mutually contradictory demands set up by your advisor and committee. None of these things make for a marketable book that appeals to the widest possible audience. I will elaborate further below.

So what do you submit to presses? You submit the following:

  • an 6-8 page proposal (shorter if so specified by the press)
  • an annotated table of contents for the book
  • 2 sample chapters
  • a c.v.
  • a cover letter

Every one of these elements is indispensable, most especially the cover letter. Today, however, we will restrict ourselves to discussing the book proposal itself.

I will pause to say that of course, you should carefully check the requirements for submission listed on the press website. They may differ from what I’ve written above, and they will of course take precedence.  And ideally, you will have been in conversations with an editor or series editor at the press prior to submitting your package.  Blind, or unsolicited submissions, with no advance footwork, have a significantly lower success rate.  Please refer to my post, How To Work the Conference (Part 3 of 3) for ideas on using your national conference’s Book Exhibit as an opportunity to encounter editors at presses.

Be aware that you ARE permitted to multiple-submit to different presses simultaneously! This differs from refereed journal articles.   This simply has to be fully disclosed in the cover letter.

The Book Proposal

The book proposal is a sales document. It is entirely dedicated to showing that your book has a market and will sell.

Gary Smailes of BubbleCow, in a guest post on the excellent PhD2Published blog, says it best:

Here’s the first mistake most writers make when preparing a book pitch:

They think like writers and forget they are selling a product!

Book publishers are in the business of making money – even not-for-profit academic publishers need to keep themselves afloat. It’s true that many of them love books and want to see new knowledge disseminated, but at the end of the day they will not acquire a book unless they think it will sell enough copies to make back enough money to at least break even.

It’s your job to convince publishers that your book has what it takes to make it in the marketplace that that publisher specialises in. In reality this means you must pitch more than a unique contribution to knowledge. You must demonstrate that your book has a readymade, and accessible, academic readership, which means that your query letter and proposal are, in a sense, sales documents.

So, you thought you were in the business of having ideas, but what you must now take onboard is that you also in the business of selling them!

Hear, hear, Gary of Bubblecow (and be sure and check out Bubblecow for more information–albeit UK-focused– on book proposals)! The sad fact is that university presses are dropping like flies in this economic downturn, and can no longer publish small, obscure specialized monographs the way they used to when our disciplines were younger. University libraries are also under extreme budgetary strain, and have drastically reduced their purchases of new monographs, so the potential market for university press books has shrunk considerably.

Read what Ken Wissoker, the Editorial Director of Duke University Press, has to say (in another recent post on PhD2Published) about the state of academic publishing and library acquisitions:

Libraries have made deeper and deeper cuts in their budget for books to pay for…big journal packages.  In the early 80s a huge proportion of a library budget went on books. Now the proportions are reversed and books make up only a small percentage of a library’s budget. The recent library trend of “patron-driven acquisitions” which sounds like patrons choosing (it’s a great neoliberal term), but really means postponing or avoiding purchases as long as possible, will only make this worse. This results in a whole set of books that would have been publishable in a form individual scholars could afford five or ten years ago, but which will no longer have enough sales to be viable.  It means books (and fields) that I would have been proud to publish a decade ago, I no longer consider.

Nowadays presses will not accept a book unless they are sure that it will make a profit or at least make back the expenses of publication. So, as you conceptualize your dissertation (while you’re still writing it), and as you plan your revisions (after you’re done), make sure that foremost in your mind are the elements that have the widest, most interdisciplinary, and potentially popular (think NYT readership) appeal.  Refer to this post for suggestions on how to do this.

Above all, be aware that the book mss. has to be shorter rather than longer. Publishers recoil in horror from over-long manuscripts because more pages mean more costs.   One of your top priorities should be to ensure that your book manuscript is within the acceptable word count of standard books recently published by that press in your field.

The book proposal has to summarize your ideas, but it has to do it in a way that shows

a) there is a market for them

b) they are market-ready

These are two huge variables. Your treatise on the image of the turtle in 14th century Ottoman religious iconography may have pleased you and your advisor, but if there isn’t a market of scholars and students out there seeking to know more about 1) the Ottoman Empire; 2) medieval iconography; 3) pictures of turtles, then you are in trouble. And secondarily, suppose there are no fewer than three separate markets of scholars clamoring for more information on 14th century Ottoman turtle pictures, but your manuscript bears all the marks of a classic narrow, boring dissertation, is far too long, and has not been revised for prime time…then you are still in trouble.

So in summary, the book proposal proves that you have valid ideas, that those ideas have a market, and that those ideas are presented in a marketable way.

How to do this?

Opinions vary widely on what makes a good book proposal as a piece of writing, so I want to state at the outset that I am suggesting what worked for me and most of the colleagues and students with whom I’ve worked closely in the humanities and humanistically-oriented social sciences.

My recommended book proposal contains the following:

Introductory Section of one to two paragraphs that follows the model of the introduction in Karen’s Foolproof Grant Proposal—ie, begins with a large topic of widespread interest, discusses 2+ bodies of scholarly work on that topic, reveals a gap in that work, demonstrates the urgency of that gap (ie, the dire consequences of ignorance), introduces the author as Hero filling that gap, and unveils a clear statement of the book project as Heroic Enterprise.

A Deeper Background/Elaboration of Topic section will go more in-depth into the “story” of the topic—the who, what, when, where and how. Information for non-specialists on the historical or geographical or cultural context, the major players, the touchstone events, and major texts and their reception, etc. will also be provided. This is a tricky section, actually, because you can’t lose focus and drone on and on. It has to stay focused and concise, with each piece of information providing essential information for a new reader with no background in your field or topic to grasp the core issues to understand that context and import of your topic.

A brief Summary and Chapter Breakdown of the proposed book, which will give a basic word length for the finished manuscript, and then walk through the chapters, no more than three to four sentences dedicated to each chapter, with particular attention to the Introduction and Conclusion. This section will also reference how any lingering dissertation-ese will be eradicated and how dissertation-centric chapters such as the “literature review” and “methodology” will be removed.

A BRIEF Disciplinary and Inter-disciplinary Discussion of the scholarly context of the work—who has written what about this subject over the years, how has a major debate in the field emerged, and how does this book intervene in that debate/turn that debate on its head. If your field is tiny, then you want to show that you intervene in debates beyond your immediate disciplinary context. This not a comps exam and you need not be comprehensive.  This is a quick sketch of major works to establish the scholarly context only.

A Timeline to Completion section, which clearly articulates the revisions that have been/will be made that eradicate every last trace of dissertation-ese from the prose and that complete the chapters in a timely and feasible manner. Any new research that is anticipated—new fieldwork or archival research, etc.–will be clearly noted in this timeline as well. You will also list here the research leave time that you have gained/expect to gain to complete the book (particularly important if you are on the tenure track). Finally you will clearly disclose your plan for other publications, such as journal articles, based on the research, and show a savvy calculation for using these articles in high status journals to build excitement and anticipation for the book. This section should give a specific month-by-month timeline for the work, and give a deadline for completion of the manuscript for submission.

Finally, you will have the Marketing section. This is the section in which you explicitly discuss how well you expect the book to sell, who it will sell to, and how the press should best market it.

Now the market for most scholarly monographs is admittedly small and no amount of verbiage will change that. But if it’s a narrow but deep market, then you want to make sure you communicate that. And if your work spans several small markets, then you most definitely want to communicate that.

The markets to consider here are:

  • the market of academic libraries
  • the market of fellow scholars in your field(s)
  • the market of courses in your discipline (especially large courses)
  • the market of educated readers generally (again, think NYT readers)

You will want to address each of these markets individually, by showing how your work will appeal to it. This is the place where you mention other scholarly works that are similar to your work, and discuss, to the best of your knowledge, how well they sold and how big an impact they had on the field/fields. You will focus particularly on books published by the press to which you are currently submitting, and speak directly, to the extent possible, to the major themes prioritized in their recent and current lists, and to specific book series they are currently promoting.

You will write something like, “my book investigates similar themes to those in XXX by xxx, recently published by University of California Press. That book has had a major impact on the field and was widely reviewed in journals such as XXX and YYY. As I wrote my book to refute XXX, and to be explicitly in dialogue with xxxx, I anticipate that it will similarly gain wide exposure and be acquired by scholars and readers who are interested to see two sides of a pressing contemporary problem.”

The primary way that academic presses make money is through the sale of books for use in large undergraduate classes. Just think: if your book becomes the go-to case study on xxx in the Introduction to U.S. Society and Culture course, enrollment 350, taught in both Fall and Spring semesters in 25 universities across the nation—-how much cha-ching is that for the press? The more you can envision your book as a core text for use in large undergraduate classes, the better off you’ll be. You can certainly mention graduate seminars, but seriously—how much good are 10 graduate seminars annually, enrollment 8 students each, going to do the press?

Finally, you will end with a strong, concise Conclusion. This is an often neglected element to many genres of proposal, and one that I feel is indispensable. Remember that you want to sound, throughout this entire book proposal document, powerful, important, influential, well-prepared, and confident. The Conclusion is where you drive home this tone. In the Conclusion you end with a broad and expansive gesture toward the wider import and significance of your work. You strongly imply that your work is going to radically change the state of your field/fields, and have a major impact on scholarship and public discourse for years to come, and that the press would be foolish to miss the opportunity to be the publisher of your work.

As in all professional documents, the book proposal must reject any hint of querulousness or insecurity or inadequacy or anxiety. It must, from first sentence to last, display a calm command of the material, the genre, and your professional trajectory. You will engage with the press as a full-fledged professional who is confident in your abilities and excited to work with them on this next stage in your professional development. When you write, “I anticipate that this book will have a major impact on the fields of xxx, yyy, and zzz, and look forward to working with XXX Press in its publication,” that is the message you are conveying.

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How To Write A Book Proposal — 73 Comments

  1. Do you advise sending out proposals before the entire manuscript is ready? Or waiting until you can send the MS at a moment’s notice if an editor requests it?

    • My advice would be to to send it out prior to the manuscript being completely done. The mss. is going to undergo considerable revisions during the review process, and possibly as a result of the initial inquiry package, so having it in a “perfect” completed state is not necessary, in my opinion. Please remember that the review process of just the initial inquiry package will in itself take 1-2 months at least, and you will be industriously working away at the full mss. during that time.

  2. I did this and got enthusiastic response, and they also wanted to know whether I had anything already finished. I said, yes but I am not sure you are going to want it. I’ll send it and see what you say.

    So I did this (it was my dissertation manuscript, which I had already discovered by talking with presses was not easily marketable because it was a single author study on a poet not famous in US) and they said well yes, we like this too but to sell the book, this author has to be packaged as having a certain programmatic point of view.

    I said yes because one is supposed to publish books and advice is to publish your dissertation, but with very great misgivings because this was advice from people not in research field. The book itself, had it been published saying those things about that author, would have been a laughingstock in field and for good reason. This was at a very prestigious press but evaluators were in a different literary field than I.

    I did not know enough to know I could afford to turn it down and I really tried to write that book and say those things, promising myself that this would be the last time I lied about my views and research findings in print, and that I could repudiate the text as soon as I got tenure, and things like that. Still, I couldn’t find it in me to do it.

    Where I think people need actual insider advice is on things like this. Had I known a little more about how things work, how you can argue with editors later, how you can say yes to xyz revisions and then do different ones, things would have gone very differently. At the time, though, all I got from any senior faculty person was “Count yourself very lucky and do exactly as they say, right now!” which was off point and uninformed, as well as destructive.

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  4. This is a very useful discussion (I like the grant application template too); however, I do have one question. The proposal length you suggest seems to be much longer than that suggested at any other “advice” websites I’ve looked at, or than what university presses themselves say (though they often don’t specify)? One publisher’s site suggested “in the neighborhood of 2000 words” and other templates I’ve looked at seem to be describing something of similar length. Is what you’ve describe here based on your experience at Duke? (They are among the sites that don’t specify, but somehow I got the impression they wanted something shorter).

    • D, thanks for pointing this out. Other readers and clients have as well, by email. I believe I have overestimated the preferred length, and I also believe the preferred length has been shrinking in recent years. So, yes: I believe many presses are asking for a 6-8 page version now. It should still contains all these elements, just more briefly.

  5. Karen, can I ask you to elaborate on the advice you give earlier in this comment thread, to prepare and send your proposal out before the manuscript is completely revised? I’m eager to make progress toward getting my book published, but I feel like I still don’t completely understand how the different stages in the process relate to one another.

    Here’s my situation. I have a dissertation that has more or lain fallow while I spent a year in a teaching-focused position and went on the market. I’ve got one chapter that needs a lot of work, one that needs a bit of work, and two others that are more or less in their finished form. But also, my sense of the project and its stakes has evolved over the last year, and I’m planning to hash all that out in a revised introduction.

    So, does it make sense to draft the prospectus now, so I can begin the process of circulating it to presses while I work on making revisions this fall (which will be my first year on the TT)? Or should I focus my energies on refining the manuscript further before setting to work on the prospectus?

    • This is an excellent question and one that I am often asked. It’s delicate, and in the end, only you know the state of your manuscript. But basically, I generally advise writing up the proposal and sending it out BEFORE the mss. is in “perfect” shape, because in that way, if you get a bite from an editor with the proposal, then you have some clear ideas and parameters for what the revisions should focus on and look like. And also a formal or informal deadline for completing them. I think that it’s always easier to write with a clear goal than in a vacuum of uncertainty. So in a way, the order I propose is also a psychological tool to get you launched and directed, rather than endlessly and fruitlessly “revising” to no clear end.

      Logistically, the editor/reviewers are going to demand certain revisions in the revision process as well, and you won’t know what those are prior to sending out a proposal, so that too can help to prevent lost time and ease the process.

      If you work up a proposal and send it out, and get some bites, and they ask to see the complete manuscript while giving you some general comments on the project, then, you can write back and say, “I’ll have it to you in 2 months.” Then do some revisions that reflect any cues or reactions you’ve gotten, and do a modest set of revisions in that two months, and then send them the damned mss. They will then demand more substantial revisions which you can execute moving forward.

      The only caveat here is, if your dissertation/manuscript is truly an appalling mess. Then, if you write up a terrific proposal, send it, get requests for the full mss and send it, then you will immediately destroy your chances.

      I am trusting that this is not the case, while knowing full well that MANY dissertations are allowed to pass committees and defenses that have no business whatsoever being passed. This relates to the phenomenon of the “nice advisor” that I discuss in the post, “It’s Not About You.” And in truth, some graduate students are so impossible to work with that committees/advisors pass them simply to get them out of their hair. And that’s NOT the committee/advisor’s fault. I have no idea which kind of dissertation experience you, or any reader, had, and what the quality of your dissertation/manuscript is. So just be aware that you must have it read by real, blunt, critical readers in your field, for a reality-check about whether it can pass muster as a manuscript to be reviewed.

      A manuscript that is not quite book-ready is totally fine. But one that is a complete train wreck is not.

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  7. Regarding the marketing section: what would you think of footnoting the “Best Seller Rank” for similar scholarly books? I’ve drafted it, and frankly it looks persuasive to me. I list the ranking of 8 books both within and outside the series I’m pitching it too, saying that my project is most in line with XXX book (with a relatively low/good rating and published by another press), but also follows in the tradition of books from your series like XXX, XXX (which have a higher/worse rating but won scholarly book awards). Per your advice, I also list a few books that my project is similar to that have been covered in the NYT, listing their ranks as well.

    Again, the ranks are footnoted so they don’t jump off the page, but my concern is with looking “gauche”–that is, with “pitching the sale” too hard.

    Any feedback?

    • This is one of those things that ultimately can only be evaluated by seeing the actual whole document, and judging for overall tone and desperation/gaucheness level, but other things being acceptable, this could be ok.

  8. Thank you for all of this – it’s incredibly useful. My question is this: is there a point at which you’ve published too much of the ms. in journals to send it out as a book ms. that a publisher would be interested in? I’ve been out of grad school for quite some time, but without a t-t job (due to a 2-body problem), and so have turned nearly all of the ms. into articles that have been accepted to good journals. Is it now to the point where a publisher would no longer be interested? The chapters are longer than the articles, of course, but I wonder if I need a new project altogether. Thanks!

  9. It may be too late to join this conversation, but I wanted to follow up on the point about sending blind submissions and the type of “footwork” that can be done to avoid sending blind submissions. I would prefer to meet with editors at the national conference for my discipline (the AAAs) but in terms of timing/getting the show on the road would rather submit the book proposal prior to November 2013. Are there other other ways to plant the seed or lay the groundwork for submission besides conference meetings with editors? And is it always inadvisable to send a proposal “cold”? Essentially I’m wondering whether I should wait until I can meet with editors at the national conference or whether it makes sense to take a risk and send it off prior to that. Thank you!

    • You can send an initial inquiry email with a self-intro and short abstract, and if they express interest you can follow up with the proposal package.

  10. This may be a late addition, but FWIW I’ve attended a few presentations from University Press editors, and they consistently say that a major mistake of book proposals is that scholars put the academic library market as the book’s primary one. These particular presses (not the very top, but very good presses) claimed that academic libraries constituted a very small portion of their market (and had a definite ceiling) and that the best proposals make claims for a much wider marketability. They suggest thinking bigger because if it appeals to NYT, then an academic library is certainly going to want the book too. Like Karen has said in her other post about writing the dissertation like a book, these editors also claim that the convincing book proposals are the ones that show how the book is perfect for use in the undergraduate classroom, where it will be adopted again and again by professors who teach the same courses each year.

  11. Quick question: the press I’m hoping to go with offers a fairly specific template for their proposal, but one of the sections they wish me to include is describing the existing competition for a book on my theme (and asking me to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of this competition). This makes sense, but my book will be the first monograph-length study of the literary work in question (though there is a special edition of a journal devoted to it and two scholarly commentaries). Do they want me to discuss here the strengths and weaknesses of articles (which I do elsewhere in the brief lit review) or are they really interested in just marketing monograph competitors? And since there aren’t any in particular, what should I do?

  12. Hello Karen,
    Thanks for this post. I cannot quite understand the difference between these two sections of the proposal: “A BRIEF Disciplinary and Inter-disciplinary Discussion” and “A Deeper Background/Elaboration of Topic section.” Could you elaborate on this please?

    I recently submitted my proposal and sample chapter to a publisher, which has asked me to expand the proposal. Now I realise that it’s these two sections that are missing–I had followed you Foolproof Grant Proposal in the first part of my proposal. I’m a bit at a loss about the “Deeper Background” in particular; the “brief discussion” sounds to me like a reduced literature review from the thesis. Also, my summary of the chapters was one paragraph long and they’ve asked me to make it twice as long.

    Thank you very much for your help,


  13. Dear Karen,
    Thank you for this. It’s very helpful as always. I have sent an initial inquiry email with a self-intro and short abstract to a reputable scholarly press and they have expressed an interest. How long do yo you think I have to send them a proposal package? Should I be sending them a proposal package right away or is it OK to spend a week or so refining the package?
    Thank you again!

  14. Dear Karen,

    This is great advice. Thank you so much!

    Can I just ask —
    What are the basic elements I should include in a cover letter when I am submitting a proposal? How detailed/long should it be and what should it basically say?

    Thank you!


  15. From what I’ve seen and heard elsewhere, I’m not sure whether it’s a good idea to multiple-submit to different presses simultaneously. Kahan’s _Getting Published in the Humanities_ for example notes that doing so conflicts with your need to make a special connection with your editor, and that in a small field multiple presses could send your manuscript to the same readers. See also this tipsheet by an Oxford University Press editor.
    Does anyone have any thoughts about whether this advice may no longer hold?

    • you make that special connection later, after you’ve gotten the best possible deal for your book. Indeed, you will feel quite warmly toward the ed, and she toward you, after she has fought for the book with her press, and won the book against possible competition.

      • I submitted my prospectus to four publishers at around the same time, and disclosed this fact as advised. One (U. Toronto) said they had no problem with that, and are interested in the manuscript in due course; two others (Yale and Oxford) declined to look at it as soon as they found out that it was under consideration elsewhere. Just the prospectus, mind you, not the whole manuscript. The fourth hasn’t responded yet. But Toronto would require a big subvention, and there’s no way I or my institution could come up with that cash. If publisher #4 also declines to consider the prospectus, would it be possible to withdraw it from consideration at U of T and re-approach the others, one at a time?

        • Ditto. I had an editor — from the top press in my field — tell me that multiple submissions would can the project for the press. That is, even at the proposal stage, they wanted it exclusively. Luckily for me, their turn-around was quick and they took it, but multiple submissions may be something that is changing, informally if not officially.

  16. At the moment I have a few articles under review for journals, but no publications just yet. Do you suggest I wait to have a few publications under my belt before I submit a book proposal to a university press, particularly the more prestigious presses?

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  18. Dear Karen,

    I submitted my PhD thesis a few weeks ago. A year ago, it was already written, and I’ve spent the last year editing it, reorganizing it substantially, and addressing comments generously offered by over a dozen authorities in their respective fields. All of this was done with the aim of eventually turning the thesis into a book. My supervisor tells me I’ve done more work than is usual for a PhD and I should get a book proposal out soon. I really want to do this and believe I am prepared.

    However, I also think that I can write five or six journal articles from material within my thesis in addition to the three or four papers I think I can write from material not included in my thesis. Because it is acceptable for books to contain chapters that are similar to articles previously published by the author, but articles are not accepted if their arguments and content have already been published in a book, I am wondering if it would be more prudent first to work on the articles that will later be in the book, then work on the book, and finally to work on the material I cut from the thesis and will not contain in the book.

    Could you give me any advice?

    Best wishes,


    • I don’t know your total profile and record, but you need a couple articles for the job market, so get those out, if you don’t have them now. Then focus on the book proposal and getting an advance contract. Then hold the other articles until either, a) you are in a tt position, or b) you need to keep showing productivity as you continue your job search.

      • Thanks, Karen. I have tenure at a small, friendly university in Japan, teaching seven and half hours a week with most of my other time left to focus on my research. I’m happy with the position, but might one day wish to return to work in an English-speaking country. I only have a couple of peer reviewed papers, and only one in my field, so want to improve that. I think my next move is, after your suggestion, to write a couple of papers from my thesis, write a book proposal too, and just sit on the book proposal for six months of so, tweaking it as I go along.

        As I said, I received many generous comments from a dozen or so authorities famous in their fields, and each of them said some good things about my work. I am thinking about including quotes from them as a ‘Praise’ or ‘Positive Comments’ section of my book proposal. E.g. ‘Very exciting’ , ‘the range of connections you made always is illuminating’, ‘The very live core of your argument is exciting and important, the thing to hold onto because it’s rare, the very lack of which makes for a surplus of dull writing on [this topic]’ Prof. ABC; ‘The argument is not just descriptive, it is an embodiment of what it describes and that is a rare thing’, ‘Very elegant’ Prof. DEF; ‘The discussion on . . . is excellent (I underlined that word three times!)’ Prof. GHI.

        Have you heard of a book proposal including such a section? Do you think it is a good idea? Naturally I would tell my reader-commentators first, and be sure they don’t mind.

        Best wishes,


  19. Hello,
    I saw your article when making an internet query regarding when it might be appropriate to contact an editor following submission of a non-fiction book proposal. I sent a query to a small house with an appropriate list for my concept, and was told that it piqued their interest and could i send a TOC. Once received I was asked for more as they were truly interested and wanted their content folks to review some of my content. I sent a few chapters in prior to the date requested. When is it appropriate to ask about status (their site says that one will hear back within 2-4 weeks and it’s been 4+).

    Thanks so much,

  20. Maybe this is a stupid question…. but I assume the more hard numbers one can bring to the “Marketing” section, the better. So… how can a person find out / calculate (even approximately) the size of the market of courses related to one’s sub-discipline? There must be an easier way than poring through course catalogs, school-by-school…

  21. I have a BA in History which I received in 2012. I am currently writing an American history book on the three most important founding documents which were written at the birth of our nation. I will be done with the majority of my primary research in about another week. I hope to be done with the introduction and prologue by Christmas. I am writing this book because it has always been a dream of mine to be a published author and that it will help me get into a Master’s Degree program and eventually a PHD program. I plan on writing my book proposal after writing the introduction and prologue because the introduction will help me write the book proposal. Should I be looking for a literary agent while writing the book? If, yes, will literary agents charge a fee up front?

  22. Hi Dr. Karen, I’m an avid reader and so grateful for all the resources you provide at this blog and at Vitae. I preordered your book and am wondering if the material in your “Professor’s Guide to the Book Proposal” is similar to what’s covered in the book. Looking forward to its arrival!

    I know this is probably not the place, but as long as I’m writing, I would like to request a post on how to do a “Statement of Contribution to Mission” requested by a hiring university. In this case it’s a religious university, I don’t know if this is requested other places.

    THANK YOU again for what you do!

  23. The advice I got from junior and senior faculty in North America is that, one has to have at least one journal article out in a good journal before even thinking about submitting a proposal. What do you think about this advice Karen?

  24. I’m in a rush to get my book accepted for outside review as soon as possible, as it will likely affect a job offer. One press has expressed interest in an e-mail inquiry, and I’ve sent them a full proposal+sample chapters. But I have no idea how long they’ll take to decide (1-2 months is typical?).

    In the meantime, should I keep sending out inquiries and/or proposals to increase the chances of getting an offer for outside review quickly, or might I shoot myself in the foot by sending to an editor who knows it’s being considered elsewhere (I believe we must disclose this, even at this stage?), and therefore puts it on the back burner?

    • book proposals can be sent to multiple presses as long as you disclose it in the cover letter. But you should be aware that book proposals to academic presses take at least 3-6 months for a response – the proposal and chapters go out to 2-3 external reviewers and they are given several months for a response usually. This cannot be rushed. Don’t try and rush the editor, you’ll just piss him or her off.

      • Hi Karen,

        Thank you. I’m not in a rush to get it accepted for publication. I’m just in a rush to get a major press, based on a proposal and sample chapters, to agree to send it to external reviewers–that is, to request the full manuscript (which won’t be ready for 3 months, I stated in my proposal). I understand once one press has the full manuscript, and has agreed to have it reviewed, they have the right of refusal.

        Or do you mean they send the proposal and sample chapters to reviewers before deciding to ask for the full manuscript, and even that can take 3-6 months?

        Right now, one major press requested a formal proposal and sample chapters based on an e-mail inquiry. I’ve sent that to them. Meanwhile, another press asked for a formal proposal in response to another e-mail inquiry. Do I need to disclose to them that press 1 is already considering the proposal, even at this stage (before anyone has agreed to have it externally reviewed or seen the full manuscript)? Thank you.

        • Many presses send the proposal and chapters out to external reviewers and that can take more than 2 months. I just checked with a major univ. press Editorial Director and he said, No, they don’t normally send the proposal and sample chapters out to reviewers! So you’re ok on that front. Although I wouldn’t feel totally sanguine that you’d have a response on a 6week-2 month timeline.

          And, Yes, you need to disclose to all presses that other presses are considering the proposal. You need to name the presses to all, full disclosure.

  25. Dear Dr. Karen,
    I have looked all over the internet to try to find an answer to my question. I hope that you can help me. Six years ago I published a book. The contract that I signed gives the publisher the right of first refusal. They must response with 30 days after I submit a new work to them.

    I have just completed a manuscript for a new book. I plan to send a copy of the manuscript to Palgrave Macmillan. However, I also plan to send book proposals to other publishers but negotiate with Palgrave Macmillan first. Would this violate my contract? Thank you.

  26. Hope you haven’t already addressed this topic: when hoping to make a dissertation into a book, is it helpful to send out a “feeler” email to gauge interest or just send the proposal package without any previous contact?

  27. Pingback: Start Here: How to Write a Book Proposal | Jane Friedman

  28. Dear Karen,
    I am currently working on turning my dissertation into a book. My awarding university uploads all dissertations to its online and open access library, unless the dissertation or parts of it are under contract with a publisher. A colleague recently told me that presses are publishing fewer books based on dissertations because many dissertations can now be accessed fully online. Do you think manuscripts based on dissertations that are accessible online are less appealing to academic presses? Does it diminish possibilities of obtaining a book contract?

      • I am not an expert on this issue, but if you google dissertation embargo, you’ll find lots of writing on this question. My sense is that yes, it’s somewhat a problem, but not a devastating one. People really don’t seek out dissertations online to read… Books are still the way knowledge is disseminated in a broad public way. So I would anticipate that you can still sell a book despite this.

        • I agree. This is not as big of an issue as some articles online and advice from colleagues make it out to be, for a few reasons. First, authors of academic publications tend to cite other peer-reviewed research (journal articles, monographs, edited volumes) rather than dissertations, so it seems to follow that university presses know that publishing an author’s first book based on the dissertation (which is available online) does not diminish its value for other scholars. Second, your book will NOT be the same as your dissertation. It should be substantially revised, so it will likely not be the same work as your freely available dissertation. I would still advise trying to embargo the dissertation as long as your university allows (I was able to select 5 years; my book was published after 3), but regardless of embargo length, it shouldn’t be a huge deal.

    • A dissertation is not published in a book form as it is. It needs to be reworked and what needs to be added, changed, or deleted, it is the publisher who will guide after looking at the dissertation. The dissertation is written for two examiners and a book is written for general readers. It should be broader, simple, and devoid of any jargon; references should be few. The other tip is to change the title of the dissertation and choose a different title for a book.

  29. Pingback: From Dissertation to Book: Academic Book Publishing Resources – Under Construction——–

  30. Pingback: Revising your Dissertation into a Book: Essential Resources from Planning to Proposal | Katelyn Knox

  31. Pingback: Revising your Dissertation into a Book: Essential Resources from Planning to Proposal | Katelyn Knox

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  33. Pingback: Information about University Presses for First-Time Book Authors

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  35. Dear Karen, I’m drafting a proposal now, very happy that I came across your site. Question: is it bad form, or alright, to attach bibliography/reference list at the end? I presume if the editor likes the idea of the book, the proposal will be sent out to reviewers who are scholars, and for them references may be something helpful? But again, proposals have a strong commercial purpose, and in that sense, bibliography should probably be avoided? What is your suggestion? Your help will be very appreciated.

  36. Pingback: 5 Tips for Would-Be Academic Book Authors – Education Page

  37. How do you know whether similar books in the field marketed ‘well’ or not? I can think of books in my area (Christianity in China) that I’ve seen around frequently and are popular in the circles I run in, which I think are absolutely key and important and have really changed the field…. but I have no idea if those were actually good sellers for the publishers or not! I’m a little afraid of saying, ‘My book is similar to X/Y/Z’ if it turns out those were actually economic duds for the presses! How does one do the market research to actually figure out the market dynamics?

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