Frequently asked questions:
How do I put together a proposal?
To aid us in our presentation of a book project to publishers, we ask our authors to submit a carefully detailed publishing proposal. This proposal is a selling tool. It will maximize our ability to place your work for the best possible terms because it will enable the publishers to evaluate your project and determine their ability to market and publicize your finished book successfully.
These are the five important questions that editors will want answered in a book proposal:
*What is the book about?
*What is the book’s thesis or argument, and what’s new about it?
*Why are you the person to write the book?
*Why is now the right time to publish the book?
*Who makes up the core audience for the proposed book, and why will they find it appealing?
Here’s what we need:
1. Introductory pitch. This should be 10 to 20 double-spaced pages explaining: (a) what your proposed book is about and why what you have to say is important, original or provocative; (b) why the book is needed – i.e. the problems, reasons or situations that prompted you to want to write it; (c) what makes it distinctive or unique – i.e. what makes it different from all other books in the same area; and (d) any fresh approach or perspectives you will offer. Please do not break this part into sections: it should be written as a continuous narrative tale that hooks readers from the start (a good plan might be to start with a revealing anecdote or personal story). One way to think about the introduction is to imagine it as a hybrid of jacket flap copy and the review you’d like to read of your book in The New York Times: in a sense an overview of the book that advertises its structure, contents and style.
2. Market and Competition. Who is the intended audience for the book? Is the audience local or international? What benefits will your book bring to this audience? Why should they buy, read and talk about it? Are there any circumstances we should bear in mind from the point of view of timing? Be as specific as possible: e.g. is your work likely to be adopted for use by colleges, schools, or membership organizations – and is it likely to be used year after year by these audiences? Are foreign sales likely? Also, how does your book compare and contrast with other similar books in the area? Without knocking them, set your work apart. Do identify the title, author, publisher, and year of publication for all titles you mention.
3. Chapter summaries. Begin with a table of contents to give a snapshot of the book's contents. Then start a new page for the chapter outlines. These should run to two or three single-spaced pages and show in more detail how you conceptualize the book and how its contents will unfold. Each chapter heading should be followed by two or three paragraphs (but no more) presenting brief capsule versions of the planned content and main arguments and objectives of that chapter. The summaries should be written in full continuous prose and convey how the contents will move the book forward – that is, reveal the narrative arc of the book by showing how each chapter leads logically on to the next. Avoid jargon, abbreviations and textbook language. And aim to show, not tell; marshall concrete evidence to back up all your claims and general statements (one way of doing this is to use the first paragraph to identify the point of the chapter and the second to highlight materials or devices that the chapter will use to support that point).
4. Publishing details. Please outline: (a) the proposed book length (an average general nonfiction book contains 70,000–90,000 words, which makes a 250–320-page book); (b) the number and type of display items, if any (tables, graphs, charts; line drawings; photographs; plate sections – colour or black-and-white); (c) how long you realistically need to complete the finished manuscript – i.e. its delivery date.
5. Biographical sketch. Written in the third person, this should stress your background, training and experience and point to your authority to write the book. Include the following information if pertinent: (a) a list and description of books you have published (title, publisher, year; sales figures; reprint, book-club and foreign deals if possible); (b) details of your activities to promote your books, including newspaper columns, blogs and websites, author tours and public talks; (c) a selection of book reviews; (d) a selection of articles written by you or about you and your work, particularly if aimed at a general audience; (d) a list of academic publications and current research interests; (e) details of your lecture activities and media appearances; and (f) membership of any relevant forums, associations and organizations. Don't hold back from blowing your own trumpet; we'll help you to tone it down if necessary.
6. Sample chapter. Editors and publishers will need to know how your book is going to turn out in the telling (in fact this is often the decisive factor). The will need reassurance of your ability to translate your idea effectively in your writing. So a sample chapter (preferably not the first chapter or introduction) showcasing your style and approach and indicating the breadth and depth of the book's contents is invaluable if not essential. To what extent, for example, will your own voice appear? What literary devices do you intend to use to sustain the narrative – e.g. literary, historical or philosophical references, comic asides, personal anecdotes, imaginative metaphors? If different parts of your work are different in tone or approach, you can instead provide selections from different chapters. Or if you’ve written long articles on the topic of the book, you can submit these as long as they seem enough like the stuff of book writing and not too much like journalism. That said, it is always best to see at least one chapter carried through from beginning to end – after all, you're going to have to write it eventually.
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