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The Best Book Proposals

Whether it’s your first book or your tenth, writing up a proposal for it can seem like a daunting task. Tomas, a commissioning editor at Palgrave makes it easier by breaking down the various components that come together to form the best book proposals.

By: Tomas René, Commissioning Editor for Palgrave Macmillan 

A book proposal is really your chance to ‘sell’ your project, so it’s important to be as clear and engaging as possible right from the start.  Below is a step-by-step guide, taking you through the various sections of Palgrave’s proposal template.

Name and affiliation

Surprisingly, these details are often missing from proposals that we receive! They are helpful for our quick reference; and their absence immediately creates the impression of an incomplete proposal. Listing an affiliation makes the proposal seem stronger from the off.

Proposed title and subtitle

The title should be as descriptive as possible. It should prioritise keywords: it’s become increasingly important for books to be searchable online (on search engines and on websites like Amazon, and in library catalogues, and so on) so we need to ensure that the main titles of our books are as descriptive as possible, and contain the search terms that will be used to locate the book. It should, however, avoid jargon, which may be off-putting to potential readers.

A book’s title isn’t set in stone at proposal stage, obviously – there will be opportunities to revise it later on – but a strong, clear title provides an editor with an easier way in assessing a proposal.

Brief description of the project’s scope and content

This is essentially the ‘elevator pitch’ of the proposal form. Begin with a few paragraphs briefly summarising your project’s main aims and argument. A good proposal will give a clear idea of the key terms/concepts to be discussed, and, if relevant to your project, the geographical scope your project will be covering, the date range that the project will encompass, and any key figures you’ll be looking at.

Proposed content

This is really the ‘meat’ of the proposal. Having briefly summarised your project in the previous section, this is to give us a more detailed idea of the project’s intended structure and, should the proposal be sent out for peer review, it will give the reader a sense of the quality of the scholarship.

If sample material is available at this stage, we’d ask you to attach this to your e-mail along with the proposal. In the proposal form itself, we’d ask you to provide a detailed synopsis of each chapter – as a rough guide, we’d be looking for at least half a page per chapter, but the more information you can provide at this stage the better. It’s important to demonstrate how the argument progresses across chapters, and how the project coheres.

Market

We’re an academic publisher: it’s likely that the main audience for your project will be academic researchers and upper-level postgraduate students (or undergraduate students if it’s a textbook). It’s important to be realistic with your expectations in this section – the majority of our books aren’t intended to reach ‘the interested general reader’ in the first instance, or to sell hundreds of thousands of copies in Waterstone’s or Barnes and Noble.

Competition

This section doesn’t necessarily call for an exhaustive list of projects that are directly competing with yours – it can be a summary of relevant titles that gives us a sense of existing scholarship in your field, and highlights gaps in the market.

This part of the proposal is a chance to distinguish your book from existing publications and to describe its unique selling points. A strong proposal will give a clear answer to the following questions: What does your project bring to the field that is new? How is it different to what’s been published before? What makes it an original and necessary intervention?

Additional information

Much of this section of the proposal form is self-explanatory, so a few key points are listed below:

Length. This doesn’t need to be completely accurate at this stage, but we do need a ballpark estimate. Take a look at previous publications or contact an editor to get a sense of a proposed book’s appropriate length. (Do also bear in mind our shorter monograph format, Pivot, which allows us to publish work of between 25-50,000 words.) If your project is a monograph emerging from PhD research, we would expect the project to be substantially revised from thesis form – removing the ‘literature review’ sections of the dissertation may bring the word count down, though if you’re carrying out new research for the monograph, that may increase it, so do factor these things in.

Previously-published material. As our remit is to publish new scholarly research, there is a limit on the amount of material that’s already been published elsewhere (e.g. as chapters or articles). Also, we have specific rights requirements to be able to reproduce chapters or articles as part of our eBooks. So it’s important for us to know at this stage how much of your manuscript has been, or will be, published elsewhere, and which publishers are involved.

Permissions. From an editorial point of view, permissions are probably the most time-consuming aspect of getting a book into production, so it’s useful for us to have an idea even at this early stage of how much third-party material may be included in your project. There is room for negotiation about how many illustrations are included, for example, but the necessity for permissions may affect this. (On illustrations, it’s also worth bearing in mind that each illustration will increase the book’s length, so if the number of these is particularly high it may factor into the discussion about the book’s word count.)

Timeline. This varies from project to project. At this stage, the most important thing is to be realistic – i.e. don’t put down a timeline that is in reality not achievable!

Peer reviewers. Do avoid putting your colleagues or PhD examiners in this section. The peer reviewers you suggest can also be an indication of how well you know the field more broadly.

Why did you choose to submit to Palgrave? This section helps us to get a sense of why your project could be a fit for us specifically. A strong proposal might flag up similar titles we’ve published previously, or particular series with which your project could fit.

Author information. Be sure to highlight relevant previous publications, whether chapters or journals, as well as any associations or research groups of which you’re a member, and your teaching experience in the area.

Remember, you don’t have to wait until you have a full, perfectly-formed proposal before contacting an editor. If there’s anything you’re unsure about or would like advice about along the way, do feel free to get in touch with the relevant commissioning editor, and we’ll be glad to advise you.

If you’re not sure who the relevant editor for your project is, a comprehensive list of Palgrave editors can be found here.

Interested in publishing a book, but unsure of who to publish with? Learn about our various imprints.

Featured image:  SIR JAMES KNOTT ROOM by summonedbyfells. CC 2.0 via Flickr.

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