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How to... write a book proposal

Options:     Print Version - How to... write a book proposal, part 3 Print view

Article Sections

  1. Introduction
  2. Finding the right publisher
  3. Developing the proposal

Developing the proposal

The publisher you have decided to approach may often provides guidelines on its website about the way it wishes you to prepare a proposal. Emerald provides two forms, one for book series and one for individual books.

Download: Book proposal form (Word document)
Download: Series proposal form (Word document)
Download: Series volume proposal form (Word document)

Basic information

At the top of the forms are sections on the basic details of the work: title, author/editor, and specification.

The title is important because it defines the work. In professional and trade publishing it has a function similar to an advertising slogan, aiming to catch the attention of the buying public – for example, The God Delusion.

Academic books usually have less catchy titles, but the marketing function is still there in that they aim to define the level and content:

The series title Advances in ... (as in Advances in Austrian Economics) indicates that the volumes describe the latest research.

The specification will include the anticipated length, genre, estimated delivery date, frequency in case of a series, and an estimate of the number of figures and tables. This will help the publisher, which is taking a commercial risk, assess the costs associated with the proposed book.

You are also asked to indicate subject area, subheadings and keywords. The reason for this is so that Emerald knows exactly where to place the book in its product portfolio, and how to target its promotion.


Emerald asks for a brief synopsis, which should convey the essence of the book or series, what concepts it will cover, what problems it will solve. You may find it useful to provide an initial statement about what the work does, before going on to describe the content.

Recognizing the increasing gap between what is researched in the academic community and what is practised in industry, this series aims to bring together academic and industry leaders in their respective fields to discuss, exchange, and debate issues critical to the advancement of tourism. The book series intends to not only create a platform for the academics and practitioners to share theories and practices with each other, but more importantly serve as a collaborative venue for meaningful synthesis. Each volume will feature a distinct theme by focusing on a current or upcoming niche or "hot" topic. It shows how theories and practices inform each other; how both have evolved, advanced, and been applied; and how industry best practices have benefited from, and contributed to, theoretical developments. (From the proposal for Bridging Tourism Theory and Practice, edited by Jafar Jafari and Liping Cai.)

By describing the book's purpose, what it seeks to achieve, you will have already provided the rationale: why should this book or book series be published? You can also think in terms of what problems the book's publication will solve:

Bridging Tourism, by bridging the academic-practitioner divide, solves the problem that the two sides are worlds apart, with academics purely concerned with number crunching studies, and practitioners with developing branding campaigns and sensational slogans.

For a single book proposal, you are asked to provide a full outline, including a table of contents, and any additional features, e.g. are you offering any supplementary content online?

It is important to remember that whereas the purpose of the brief synopsis is to sell the idea to the commissioning editor, the full outline should help the person who is asked to review the title make a judgement. It's also an indication that you have thought through the structure of the book.

Series development

With a book series, the editor will need to be convinced about sustainability – will there be enough content to sustain the series over a number of years? You are therefore asked to provide a short synopsis of the first volume, and to describe your ongoing strategy.

This is an example of a synopsis for the first volume of the Bridging Tourism series:

Academic inquiries have predominantly treated destination branding as a marketing phenomenon that happens to involve tourists as customers in a marketplace. The practice of it has been entrenched in deploying tactical marketing tools such as attention-grabbing slogans.

Tourism Branding: Communities in Action treats a traditional marketing subject from multidisciplinary perspectives. It attempts to free branding research and practice in tourism fields from the shackles of marketing that are dominated by the conventional approach of product, price, place, and promotion. Special attention is given to the role and expectations of the main tourism stakeholders, particularly residents, business, and government in the hosting community.

Considering tourism branding as a community affair, this collection is distinguished from previous publications by adopting a global and more multidisciplinary approach, and brings the subject of tourism branding outside of the conventional domains of marketing and destination. By placing the host community at the central stage, many chapters explicitly consider different stakeholders in the process of branding.

Built on theoretical foundations with both empirical findings and practical cases, this book brings together different perspectives and offers an intellectual and open dialogue among academics and practitioners of the field.

The book consists of three parts. The first part is theoretical or conceptual in nature, and collects five chapters following the introduction to the book. The second part made up of five contributions links theories to practices through empirical investigations or synthesis of empirical findings. The third part includes five cases contributed by the practitioners of tourism branding, with some in collaboration with academic investigators. (From the proposal for Tourism Branding: Communities in Action, by Liping Cai.)

You also need to set out your commissioning strategy for the series, by looking at the following questions:

  • What are the potential themes for future volumes?
  • How will you obtain editors and contributors, for example, through an associated conference?
  • What will the lead time be for each volume?
  • What about the relevant research community – how is it developing and how will the proposed publication contribute to the development? For example, Bridging Tourism seeks to bridge the academic-practitioner divide: is the community generally moving in a more practical direction, and how will the series help?
  • A book series sits in between a journal and a one-off book in terms of review: some level of review will be necessary, even if the full double blind process is relatively rare. How will the review work – will you be appointing an editorial advisory board. If so, how?

Market information

You will also be asked to describe the book's target market. This should include:

  • the primary and secondary markets (academic library, teaching, student, practitioner, etc.), any courses which might adopt it, etc.;
  • the size of the market – give all the indications you can, including the number of active researchers and practitioners;
  • details of opportunities to promote the work via listservs, mailing lists, etc.

Imagine you were writing a proposal for the International Handbook of Distance Education, which is intended as a comprehensive reference work for practitioners, researchers and administrators. Ideally, you would need to give rough numbers. Would it also be suitable for people on master's courses in the subject – how many are there of these, and roughly how many people on each course? Do you know people who teach those courses who are likely to adopt the book?

For his proposal for Case Study Research, the author states the market to be research methods courses on MBAs and professional marketing courses, each of which has approximately 20-100 students.

Lastly in this section, you need to list and analyse the competition, and (which is the same thing turned around) say what is original about your work. If you are lucky, your proposal will be genuinely original in that no other relevant competition exists. However, it is more than likely that there will be at least one competitive title with similar features. In which case, ask yourself the question: given x, why do we need my book? It may be that x has weaknesses, for example the coverage may be shallow, or the number of research methods (for example in a book on case study research) may be limited.

Qualitative Research in the Study of Leadership was published in 2008. There are a large number of books on qualitative research, but none set in the context of the important field of leadership.

Editorial team

This is your chance to show your qualifications, and that of your team, for writing or contributing to this work. Emerald (and most other publishers) ask for a short CV (résumé) and list of publications.

Along with your main recent publications, you should include your current post, other publications of which you are editor, boards of which you are a member, organizations which you helped found, academic honours, fellowships, etc. You might want to include a section on "key qualifications" – what is it that makes you especially qualified to write this work? In the case of a book series, what editorial experience do you have?

Take the following example, from the Bridging Tourism proposal:

Jafar Jafari is founding editor of Annals of Tourism Research; chief editor of Tourism Social Science (book) Series; chief editor of Encyclopedia of Tourism; co-founding editor of Information Technology & Tourism; co-founder of TRINET: Tourism Research Information Network; and founding president of International Academy for the Study of Tourism.

A cultural anthropologist (PhD, University of Minnesota, USA) and a hotel administration graduate (BS and MS, Cornell University, USA), with an honorary doctorate from the Universitat de les Illes Balears (Spain) and the recipient of the 2005 United Nations' World Tourism Organization Ulysses Award, he is a faculty member of the University of Wisconsin-Stout Department of Hospitality and Tourism (USA).

For a book series, or a book with multiple authors, you should also provide information about the team, including details of the editorial advisory board.

Writing a book proposal can be hard work, but the time you dedicate to the proposal will be well worth the effort. You will end up with a strong purpose statement and with a list of headings for your content, which will provide structure and context for writing. And, the more time and effort you put into the proposal, the better chance it has of being approved and subsequently achieving success on publication.


Harvard University Press (2009), Manuscript and Book Proposal Guidelines, available at: [accessed 7 November 2011].


The author is grateful to Arch G. Woodside for permission to quote from his proposal for Case Study Research: Theory, Methods and Practice, to Jafar Jafari and Liping Cai for permission to quote from the proposal for Bridging Tourism Theory and Practice, and Dr Gartner for permission to quote from his proposal, Tourism Branding: Communities in Action.