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Book proposal for university press - help!

(5 Posts)
CloneMeNow Thu 05-May-16 14:36:22

Advice from anyone with experience of book proposals for university/academic presses would be much appreciated.

I have submitted my PhD thesis (waiting for viva). My supervisor has encouraged me to try and publish it as a book. I am researching how to do this at the moment, and have found some good pointers online. But I still have a lot of questions. Supervisor is away on sabbatical now, so not contactable for a while. If anyone who knows about these things can spare a few minutes, that would be wonderful.

The thesis is multi-disciplinary but comes primarily from an English literature/disability studies perspective, with a large infusion of consciousness studies, in case that helps.

AvengingGerbil Thu 05-May-16 15:37:13

The key thing for publishers is always 'what added value does the book provide over and above the PhD, which is going to be available for free through open access'?

Think about your readership - who should be interested in your book? How big is the market? Will it be required reading for any courses, and, if so, at what level?

And of course you need to pitch the content - What will your book contribute to the field(s)? What is new/exciting about your methodology or findings?

If you have particular presses in mind, most have pretty good Potential Author pages.

CloneMeNow Thu 05-May-16 15:43:46

Thanks for replying, AvengingGerbil

All good stuff to think about. This is harder than writing the Phd!

Rollinginthevalley Fri 06-May-16 07:41:43

1. Identify the publishers who already publish in your area, and with whose books your book would have a dialogue or a body of likely readers.

2. go to their website & read the advice for authors - CUP, OUP, Palgrave, Routledge all have this on their sites.

3. Download the proposal form. Fill it out. This usually means:
A broad outline of the argument & intellectual field of the book
A chapter plan
A sample chapter

Some presses (eg CUP) will want the whole ms before they will give you a contract.

In that process think about the broader scope of a book from a PhD. Think about why more people may want to read your research; who should read your research; who is your preferred audience?

BTW, no-one should read your book, or anyone else's. You have to craft a proposal, sample chapter, and book that people will want to read.

PhDs tend to be rather inward looking & solipsistic. A book can't be. So you need to think beyond yourself & your research for a book that others will want to read. (I'm talking about scholars here, not thinking of the general reader or trade press, primarily).

Ways to test this: give bits of drafts of chapters as conference papers. See what intrigues other scholars about the ideas & research results you're offering.

When you submit a proposal, it will be read by the commissioning editor for that area of the press. They will approach a couple of people to read your proposal & write a report (I've done 5 this year so far, phew, I'm statring to say no). On the basis of those reports, the editor will refuse, ask you for changes, or give you the go ahead.

Readers will be looking at your central ideas, your chapter plan, the quality of your sample chapter. I always look to see how much an author is engaging with other scholars, but also how far they're going beyond that. I do judge writing style, grammar, expression (please don't use 'incredibly' as an intensifer - my current bugbear). If a proposal is badly written, and the chapter has grammatical errors, I do wonder about the writer's capacity to produce 80,000 words that people will have to buy. But that's just me.

When I've gone through the process, I've always found readers' reports to be very very helpful. Even the reports which contradict each other. Even the really bad one for my first book, which made me wonder whom I'd been spectacularly rude to in real life (I am rarely rude at all, it was a rogue reader). But I have very little ego about my work; I don't take criticism of my scholarship personally - it's always a chance to improve (student evaluations of my teaching is an entirely other matter, how dare they? grin ).

CloneMeNow Fri 06-May-16 11:03:51

Fantastic advice, Rolling, thank you (I won't say 'incredibly', I promise.)

I think both you and Avenging are identifying the important element that I need to address. I need to identify my audience. Does the following look too general - do I need to drill down further? Should I leave out the secondary audience?

I believe my research has uncovered something important about a particular area of disability: how it is represented in Western literature (from ancient to contemporary) in particular ways; what the reasons for and effects of this are; and how it results in a widespread and profoundly damaging effect on real life social attitudes towards people with this disability.

So - the people whom I think might be interested in this -

Main audience:
- Disability studies scholars, and undergraduates on courses involving disability studies components (the book is in conversation with others in the area of cultural disability studies,)
- English literature scholars and undergraduates (it challenges accepted ways of reading many well known texts, in the same way that gender studies and colonial/postcolonial studies have done.)

Secondary audience
- Consciousness studies scholars - the book interacts with an ongoing debate in the consciousness studies field (in what might be considered a niche and controversial manner)
- Creative writing scholars/students - the book discusses ways of using narrative to recreate the experience of a particular disability (rather than writing 'about' it)
- Other academic fields with an interest in the study of embodiment of metaphor (philosophy of language), social psychology, psychology of language) - the book applies ideas from these fields

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