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How to... write a book proposal

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By Margaret Adolphus


Are you thinking of writing a book?

Books are as much a part of scholarly communication as journal articles – whereas the latter are usually a write-up of a particular piece of research, a book provides the opportunity to go into a subject in a lot more depth, drawing on the research of others as well as your own.

Despite the emphasis on writing journal articles to fulfil the requirements of research measurement exercises such as the UK's Research Excellence Framework, a well-rounded scholar will write for both media, as can be seen from the biographies of most established academics.

Book ideas are normally sold to publishers on the basis of a detailed proposal. The proposal should answer the following questions:

  • Why is this book different from other books?
  • Why should it be published?
  • Why am I qualified to write it?

One publisher expresses this in its manuscript and book proposal guidelines by saying,

"A proposal should give an answer to what might be called the Passover question: 'How is this book different from all other books?'" (Harvard University Press, 2009).

Put another way, why does the gap in information need to be filled? Is there a gap in the literature? Has there been new research? Is this a new treatment of an old topic, but with a different slant?