In the final post of this series on gaining a book contract, Dr Alice Eden discusses the various sections of an academic book proposal in the humanities based on her recent success gaining a book contract with Routledge.`
After my viva, and while holding the post of Early Career Fellow at the University of Warwick, I sought a book contract with Routledge.
After the important ‘blurb’ and abstract section (see part two of this series), an academic book proposal should include a detailed synopsis of the book including a table of contents and chapter summaries. Crucially for each of these sub-sections, the main point of the chapter should be clear, briefly supported by the historical examples and evidence you will include. Major academic publishers have a number of invaluable resources on their websites. I found the online documents and guidelines on the Routledge website tremendously helpful during this process. In particular the template and notes regarding the book proposal and an infographic overview of the stages of publishing with them.
I used the synopsis section to reconsider the material in my thesis and how best to order the material for readers. I particularly looked at my introduction and conclusion. There were a couple of areas that I decided would be more central features of this proposal. One of these themes was ideas of Englishness/Britishness and ‘the modern’/modernity. I did more reading and looked back at my thesis in order to draw these themes out. I wanted to develop the argument that would frame the book by discussing evidence and scholarship which I hadn’t been able to include in my thesis. Refining these arguments helped me explain the importance of my work for a new book audience.
Be prepared in these sections to explain why your research is innovative, what gaps it addresses and why it is relevant and important today. This is also the time to consider the audience for your book. I conducted a lot of research and networking at this stage to understand the academic context and scholarly audience. I would recommend you take the following steps to shift your focus for new readers:
- Find out as much as you can about current academic teaching in your area. Could your book be used for teaching and if so, which areas and courses? Know about institutions and courses which could use your work and at what level of study.
- Think about journals, historical organisations or networks who would be interested in your work.
- Linked to this, ensure you can detail the main books in the field which are directly linked, compete with or complement your work and importantly, explain how is your book is different? What alternate approaches, arguments, emphases or sources will you consider? How will you advance the field?
The above section can be very helpful to your work as it requires you to know who is working in your area, what has been written and where the gaps are. This goes hand in hand with applications for research funding or academic positions.
It is worth noting in your proposal which of the publisher’s series the book mostly closely connects with and how your work is of a similar level to those books. This detail tells the editor that you have researched the publisher, that you know that your book fits with them and you are familiar with, and are prepared to work toward, the textual standards of their publications. I found researching for this section particularly helpful as some of the editorial overviews of the series allowed me to re-frame my work, think about new questions and position my work in the context of existing scholarship. While I had done this during the PhD, this is by necessity an ongoing professional activity.
The proposal also requires a timeline, wordcounts and image details, your CV and details of academic referees. Also, take a moment to consider these questions:
- Who has the strongest connections with your work, who would find it most interesting?
- How do your arguments fit within pertinent historical debates?
- Where does your work fit in the academic field?
A last, critical section concerns the journey from thesis to book – a subject in its own right which I consider in part one of this series.
The proposal writing requires a considerable amount of work. Far from a summary of your thesis, this text requires you to rethink or overhaul your work so far. It asks you to advance your critical thinking and develop your academic position.
This was a crucial and beneficial activity for me. The process not only allowed me to obtain a much-prized book contract, but also progressed me forward in terms of consolidating my academic identity and developing as an academic writer. I found this work well worth the effort.
What did you find to be the most challenging aspect of writing a book proposal? How did you go about determining your audience? Tweet us @ResearchEx, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
Alice Eden is an Early Career academic and Associate Tutor in the History of Art department, University of Warwick. Her primary interests are modern British cultural history, spiritualties and feminisms, with expertise in Victorian and Edwardian art history. She currently works in educational administration and is writing a book based on her PhD thesis (see future posts!) Alice can be contacted via email and followed on twitter at @Alice_Eden4.