Why You Should Separate Big-Picture Book Thinking from Your Book Proposal

Why and How to Separate Your Big-Picture Thinking From the Proposal Genre

When you’re working on turning your dissertation into a book, it’s essential to have a clear sense of your book’s overall argument and structure. But many authors believe they need to write their book proposal first to gain that big-picture perspective.

However, we recommend separating your big-picture book thinking from the actual writing of your book proposal. Here’s why:

Book Proposals Are a Highly Specific Genre

Book proposals are a very specific genre with their own set of constraints and expectations. Navigating those expectations while simultaneously trying to do the deep thinking about your book’s core arguments and structure can be overwhelming and unproductive.

Writing a strong book proposal requires a clear, confident articulation of your book’s main claims and contributions. But when you’re in the early stages of revising your dissertation, you may not yet have that clarity and confidence.

Trying to write a proposal too soon can lead to a lot of frustration and wasted effort. You may find yourself struggling to fit your still-evolving ideas into the proposal format, rather than truly clarifying your book’s goals and structure.

Big-Picture Thinking Is an Exploratory Process

In contrast, the kind of big-picture thinking you need to do to develop your book is an exploratory, iterative process. It involves asking questions like:

  • What if I organized my chapters differently?
  • What if I centered a different theme or argument?
  • How can I make sure each chapter is advancing my core claims?

This type of exploration is much easier to do in a low-stakes, informal way, without the pressure of the proposal genre.

That’s why we recommend using tools like Book Questions and Chapter Answers to do your big-picture thinking. These tools help you articulate your book’s main arguments, ensure each chapter is pulling its weight, and experiment with different possibilities for structure and emphasis.

Separate Thinking Leads to a Stronger Proposal and Book

By separating your big-picture thinking from your proposal writing, you give yourself the freedom to really interrogate and refine your book’s core arguments and architecture.

Then, when you do turn to writing your proposal, you’ll have a much clearer, more compelling story to tell about your book. You’ll be able to confidently articulate your main claims and show how each chapter contributes to the whole.

The end result? A stronger proposal and, ultimately, a better book.

How to Do Big-Picture Book Thinking

So, how do you actually do this important big-picture thinking outside the proposal?

We recommend a process that involves:

  1. Articulating your Book Questions, or the key argumentative strands that run through your book
  2. Crafting Chapter Answers that show how each chapter advances those argumentative strands
  3. Experimenting with different ways of structuring and organizing your chapters
  4. Evaluating each chapter to ensure it’s making a clear, necessary contribution to the whole

Want more step-by-step support with examples? See the following resources:

Working through exercises like these will help you gain a clear vision for your book as a cohesive, compelling project. You’ll then be well-positioned to communicate that vision in your proposal.

So, before you dive into proposal writing, take the time to think through your book on a big-picture level. Your proposal, and your book, will be much stronger for it.

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