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Academic Coaching & Writing

I. The Secrets of Successful Academic Book Proposals

Jul 22, 2013 by Amy Benson Brown

Our popular webinar “How to Write an Academic Book Proposal” addresses the fundamentals of this vital and often vexing genre of academic writing. I use the term “vexing” because writing about your research often feels harder than doing the research itself. It takes courage to pick up a broad brush and boldly sketch the big picture of your subject and why it matters. It certainly takes some different skills than those you use in doing the research or even teaching your subject.

This blog series tackles the tough questions I’ve heard most often in my years of working with academic authors. I’ll share ways of thinking about making the case for your book’s significance or “rationale,” as that is often called, and offer practical advice on timelines and deadlines, as well as on how to organize your book to best convey its meaning and reach your audience. In the next six blogs in this series, you'll learn about the following topics:

  • The “Rationale”: How to Make the Case for Your Book
  • Why Does This Book Matter?
  • Etiquette for Academic Book Authors: How to Avoid Common Mistakes
  • The Dance of Deadlines: When is the Best Time to Pitch Your Book?
  • How to Find the Right Structure for Your Book
  • How to Define Your Audience
  • Do you Need a Literary Agent? Three Ways to Tell

In this introduction, I’d like to begin with a few suggestions for what you can do at any stage of your academic career to better understand what academic editors look for in book proposals.

Learn a little more about scholarly publishing through the American Association of American University Presses (AAUP) and by following publishing news in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Both of these websites offer useful articles and other resources on the history of scholarly publishing and how recent developments shape the choices academic authors face today. Here are links to two especially useful pages from the AAUP and The Chronicle.

Finding a Publisher 

Weekly List of New Books in Scholarly Publishing

It’s never too early, in terms of your own publishing, to spend a little time becoming familiar with what presses are publishing in your field. Look for trends in The Chronicle’s lists of new publications and notice the language and phrasing of the brief descriptions of new books. (Though this content is for Chronicle subscribers only, many university libraries do subscribe; so you may have access through your university’s library). Also, remember to check with the major professional association in your field for information about publishers who cover your discipline and common publishing practices within your field.

If you are considering writing an academic book, I encourage you to take these steps:

  • Develop a list of bookmarked resources, like the ones suggested above, tailored to the publishing news in your field, and
  • Set aside fifteen minutes each week, maybe on Friday afternoons, to read over updates and news in publishing.

Just make it a habit. The bottom line is that taking time to research university presses and understand their interests is worth doing. This information can help lay a foundation for your relationships with editors and ease your way into the process of writing a book proposal.

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