What To Do Before Writing an Academic Book Proposal: 4 Crucial Steps

What to Do Before the Proposal - 4 Crucial Steps

Whether it is three months or three years until you write your first academic book proposal, there are steps you should be taking now to ensure it is as strong as possible. The steps below will help you tailor your academic book proposal to target the best university presses in your field and create the strongest possible case for your book.

(Looking for a comprehensive guide where I answer all your book proposal questions? Read Academic Book Proposals: All Your Questions, Answered)

Get to Know Your Book Again, Through Publishers’ Eyes

Like academic journals, university presses specialize in narrow subject areas, methodologies, and scopes. Even the most brilliantly written book will not convince a university press to publish outside its specialties. So, you need to get a more realistic view of your book through narrow, disciplinary lenses.

You probably already know which broad field your book fits in, but how about methodology? Scope? Corpus? Certain university presses, for instance, might look askance at a transnational or comparative methodology, while others might only publish these studies. Or, some might invite a book about one well-known author, while others might dismiss such a study out of hand. Consult my in-depth post about how to see your project through university presses’ eyes for step-by-step instructions.

Get to Know Your Discipline’s Broad Book Publishing Landscape

Well before you actually begin drafting your proposal, you should get a sense of your discipline’s book publishing landscape. This is an ongoing process that involves background research, noting books’ publishers going forward, and keeping your ears open at scholarly conferences.

  • Right now, take an hour to figure out which university presses publish in your field, generally. If you have no clue, you can visit the AAUP’s website to compile the longest list of university presses that specialize in your field.
  • Spend another hour compiling a list of the publishers that appear most often in your book’s bibliography or bookshelf. Note what methodologies or book scopes they specialize in.
  • From now going forward, note the publisher of any academic book you plan to cite in your research. Add these presses to the list you compiled from your bookshelf. Keep a record of titles published by those presses.
  • At conferences, note recent book authors and where they published. During meals and conversations, keep your ears open for discussions about authors experiences with presses. Note, too, comments about future publishing trends.

Identify the University Presses in Your Field that Publish Books Like Yours

Outwardly, this step seems similar to the first, but it is quite different. In the first step, your goal was to get a sense of the overall book publishing landscape in your discipline. This is necessarily a broader set than the list of university presses that will be interested in your book, specifically.

By now, you should have a good sense of all the university presses that publish in your field. And you should also know how university presses will categorize your book. Now, you need to put the two together so that you can target the presses that will be most interested in your book. If you want step-by-step instructions, read my advice on narrowing your long list of possible publishers. Later, you will use this information to tailor your first academic book proposal for your top target presses.

  • Identify your book’s “competing works.” These are the 3-5 books published within the past 10 years that your own book engages most closely. These university presses would likely be interested in your book.
  • Narrow the list you compiled in step 1 by close reading press websites. Look at their current lists and the acquisition editor’s information to see what types of studies they publish. Classify them according to specialty, discipline, and scope.

Rank the Best University Presses that Publish Books Like Yours

University presses have different levels of cachet in different disciplines. You want to propose your book to the best university presses that publish books like yours.

So, you should solicit the input of two groups: 1) your current senior colleagues (if you are hoping that your first academic book count for tenure and promotion) and 2) senior scholars in your field.

As you are getting a sense of your field’s publishing landscape, you will likely bealso hear comments about their relative prestige. But, at this point you should also explicitly ask colleagues and mentors about the presses you think would be a good fit. Check out the questions I recommend you ask to narrow and rank the list of best university presses in your field.

Further Reading on Academic Book Proposals:

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