Academic Book Proposal, Preparation #1: Seeing Your Project Through University Presses’ Eyes

Are you writing your first academic book and wondering about the academic book publishing process? Interested in learning how to prepare an academic book proposal? Want to submit the strongest possible proposal to top university presses?

What if I told you that before you can even think about writing an academic book proposal, you must first do a lot of research–not just for your first academic book, but also about your  book and how it fits in to your field’s publishing landscape. Specifically, there are four steps you must take before you begin writing your proposal. This post tells you how to do the first step to prepare to write your first academic book proposal: seeing your project through university presses’ eyes.

Why You Need to Get to Know Your Book, Again

You know that university presses publish academic books. So, you might assume that you will just simply write an academic book proposal and submit it to well-known university presses.

This is not a good strategy, for two reasons.

First, university press prestige is field- and topic-dependent. The most respected university press in Civil War history might be mid-tier in Medieval European history.

Second, presses, like academic journals specialize in particular disciplines. Even if your book is the most pathbreaking in its field, a university press will not publish it if they do not publish in your field to begin with.

So, before you can prepare your academic book proposal, you must first get to know your book (again) in relation to your field’s publishing landscape.

How University Presses See Your First Academic Book

When you are writing your first academic book, you tend to think of it first and foremost as a set of “ideas,” “arguments,” “analyses,” and “interventions.” Presses, though, see it differently. First and foremost, they place it in very rigid categories tied to “traditional” notions of academic disciplines and methodologies.

How to Situate Your Book in the Publishing Landscape

Answer the following questions about your first academic book:

  1. Which one scholarly discipline would you categorize your book in and why? (Think national literary studies [English, French, Spanish], comparative literature, history, anthropology, cultural studies, art history, etc.)
  2. Which 1-2 subject areas listed on the  Association of University Presses’ Subject Grid best fit your book?
  3. What subdiscipline(s) would your book fit in (cultural anthropology, continental philosophy, postcolonial studies, etc.)?
  4. What methodologies or theoretical lenses do you use in your book?
  5. What is the scope of the work? Is it sweeping or narrow? Does it present a “grand theory” or a more nuanced account of its topic? Does it consider many authors or one? Multiple works or one?
  6. What geographical context does your book focus on? If it is comparative, justify the comparison.
  7. What time period does it focus on? Justify any non-traditional scopes. Examples of “traditional” time periods might be the long 19th century, 20th and 21st-century, the Civil War era, etc.
  8. What primary sources do you use for your analyses (e.g. letters, literary texts, fashion, interviews)? If these are non-traditional for your discipline, or if you are looking at types of evidence not normally considered together, justify your choice.
  9. If the audience for your book is not scholars for your field, who is it?

Write Your Book’s Summary


Puts as many elements above together as possible into a 1-2 sentence summary of your book. For instance, you might write that your first academic book is:

  • broad, cultural studies approach (using printed literature, visual images, fashion, dance, and popular music) to race, ethnicity, national identity in 20th- and 21st-century France. (My first book, Race on Display in 20th- and 21st-Century France).
  • narrow historical and cultural study of dreams and dreaming (literally and figuratively) during the Civil War  using soldiers’ letters and dream journals. (Midnight in America: Darkness, Sleep, and Dreams during the Civil War, which I heard about on the New Books Network).

How to Use this Activity to Prepare Your Academic Book Proposal

Now that you have a better sense of how university presses will see your book, you

Your Turn

What did you discover about your book by writing the publisher-centric summary? Let me know, or even copy the summary you wrote in the comments below or in an email.

Or, are you ready to use this information to continue learning about the academic book publishing process and how to write an academic book proposal?  Head over to the next activity, which will help you identify university presses that publish in your book’s fields

Finding a Publisher_The Ultimate Workbook Activity 1 Image

Interested in the Ultimate Workbook?

Finding an academic publiser the ultimate workbook ad image

Want to give your book the best possible chance of being published? Then you need to target the university presses who publish books like yours (not all presses do!) and tailor your proposal for those presses. Want a free, step-by-step workbook that shows you how to do it? Enter your name and email, and I'll send it right to you.

I won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

9 Replies to “Academic Book Proposal, Preparation #1: Seeing Your Project Through University Presses’ Eyes”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *