Writing academic books can seem like a mysterious ‘dark art’ to those who haven’t done it, but there is lots of help available. I’ve written before about how to succeed in writing academic books, but I didn’t say anything in that post about the book proposal. Yet it’s a key part of the process.
If you are a novelist, you have to write your whole book before you talk to an agent or a publisher. If you are an academic writer, you can forget about agents (there aren’t any, at least not in the UK, and only about two in the US) but the good news is that you don’t have to write the book before you can get a publishing contract. You do, though, have to write a proposal.
A publisher worth their salt should have a book proposal form, guidelines, or similar on their website for you to download. The guidelines from my publisher, Policy Press, are here. The publisher is also likely to want a sample chapter, particularly if you have no track record as a book author.
From time to time, aspiring academic writers ask whether they can see one of my book proposals. Of course, I say, give me your email address and I’ll send it over. This happened again last week and it occurred to me that I could write a post here, and include an embedded pdf, to make an actual book proposal available to anyone who would find it useful.
I need to say a few things about the proposal first. It is the version that made it through the Policy Press acquisitions process and led to a publishing contract. There was an earlier version which was sent out with a draft chapter for peer review. This is normal with academic book proposals, and also hugely helpful. I got four sets of comments on this proposal, and was able to make it significantly stronger as a result.
In this proposal, the outlines of what will go in each chapter are quite brief. That was OK for this book; headings gave the reviewers and the publisher enough information to go on. Other books would need more details. For example, the proposal for the research ethics book I’m currently writing has a full paragraph for each chapter. (I’m not ready to share that proposal yet, as it’s currently out for peer review; watch this space!)
Finally, the publisher’s acceptance of the book proposal doesn’t mean you have to write the book in exactly the way you said you would. Publishers understand that writing is a creative practice and books change and grow in their creation. Of course it has to be in line with what you’ve proposed. It would be unusual to make significant changes to the overall structure, for example – but what you put in a chapter might change as you read and think and write about your subject.
The proposal I would like to share with you is for my second research methods book, Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide. If you have access to a copy, you can compare it with the proposal and see how the book developed from my original plans. And here is the proposal itself. I hope you find it useful.