A Book about Book Proposals

I’ve been talking about this book I’ve been working on for the past several months, but now I’m very pleased to announce that it has a publisher and will be a real thing you can buy in a year or so!

It’s a practical guide for scholars that walks readers through every step of writing and pitching a book proposal to academic publishers. I’ve signed a contract with Princeton University Press, which is a dream press for me. I’ll probably talk about how I decided where to publish in a future newsletter post (because I think that decision process might be useful to other authors). For now I’ll just say that I think PUP will be a great partner for this book because of their demonstrated efforts and ability to reach a wide audience of academic readers (i.e. the people I want to end up with this book in their hands).

I’ll have much more to share about the book in the coming months, but for now here’s a sneak peek at the working table of contents (which will no doubt evolve before publication):

  • Introduction

  • 1. Know the Process: Your Preliminary Readers and the Importance of Fit

  • 2. Write for Publication: What Presses Want to See in Your Scholarly Book

  • 3. Find Your Place: Competing and Comparable Works

  • 4. Identify Your Audiences and Market: Who Is Your Book Really For?

  • 5. Showcase Your Core Thesis: Strong Arguments Make Strong Books

  • 6. Assemble the Overview: A Template for Project Descriptions

  • 7. Expose the Structure: Effective Chapter Summaries

  • 8. Invite Readers In: Titles

  • 9. Put Yourself On the Page: Style and Voice

  • 10. Really Put Yourself on the Page: Author Information

  • 11. Round It Out: The Remaining Elements of a Complete Proposal Package

  • 12. Make Your Pitch: When and How to Reach Out to Publishers

  • 13. Keep Your Cool: Navigating Reader Reports, Contracts, and Other Decision Points

  • 14. See It Through: Permissions, Proofs, and Promotion

  • Conclusion: Maintaining Perspective

  • Appendix I: A Comprehensive Book Proposal Checklist

  • Appendix II: Sample Book Prospectuses

  • Appendix III: Sample Letter of Inquiry

  • Appendix IV: Sample Response to Reader Reports

  • Appendix V: Worksheets

  • Appendix VI: Additional Resources

If you think of anything I absolutely must include in this book, please feel free to let me know!

Crossover content alert! After I landed my deal, Kate McKean, literary agent and writer of the Agents and Books newsletter (of which I’m a big fan) asked to feature me as a “reader success story” in her newsletter. It’s a subscribers-only post—and I definitely recommend subscribing—but she gave me permission to cross-post it here, so:

Hi friends,

I’m THRILLLLLLED to share another success story with you today. This time, it’s Laura Portwood-Stacer, long time friend of the newsletter and writer of her OWN newsletter Manuscript Works about the ins and outs of academic publishing. Laura is a developmental editor and a consultant and has her PhD in Communications so if anyone could be called a Book Doctor, it’s Laura. Her book, currently titled THE BOOK PROPOSAL HANDBOOK, will be published by Princeton University Press in Spring 2021!

We chatted by email about books and newsletters and more!

How did you learn about Agents and Books? What prompted you to sign up?

I learned about Agents and Books when you announced it on your Twitter feed back in January, because I already religiously followed your tweets about publishing. As a freelance editor and consultant whose daily work also involves advising prospective authors about publishing, I saw the newsletter as a great resource for continuing self-education, and thus totally worth the investment to become a paid subscriber from Day One. [ed. awwwwww, thanks LPS!] I particularly appreciate your perspective as someone who knows trade publishing very well, since my own niche is academic publishing where the norms and expectations are somewhat different but not entirely.

What's been the most helpful advice you've learned from Agents and Books?

There have been so many helpful pieces of advice but I think the one I returned to most recently was in one of your newsletters about contracts. Ok, I just went back and looked at it again and it turns out that was one where you literally answered a question I had sent you about contract negotiations, so no wonder I found it helpful!! But the fact that you titled the newsletter "Contracts are not about feelings" was maybe the most helpful part of all, because I'm definitely a person who can be afraid to ask for things even if I am perfectly entitled to them. That post, and the subscribers-only one that followed it, were really useful to me when I negotiated the contract for my own book deal last fall. I think the meta takeaway about the newsletter from those posts is also that you actually directly answer questions that your readers send you! It's basically professional consulting that honestly makes the subscription fee an incredible bargain.

You're writing for an academic audience. How has your experience been different than anything you've read about here?

Because I work as an editor for academic authors and am currently working on a book that will be published by a university press, I'm attuned to some aspects of publishing in that world that differ from trade. For example, most of my author clients aren't represented by literary agents because it's the norm to approach editors at scholarly presses (e.g. university presses and commercial academic presses) directly, rather than through an agent. But a lot of your advice for querying agents and pitching books applies for authors who are submitting proposals to editors directly, which is why I recommend the newsletter to academic authors. (For the record, one certainly can query university presses through an agent, I just chose not to go that route this time. For clients whose books I think will be very marketable to a crossover audience, I often do advise them to seek representation with an agent.)

You've got a newsletter, too! Tell everyone what it's about!

My own newsletter covers similar ground to yours—I talk a lot about book proposals and publishing—but it's geared toward authors who work as academics and hope to publish with scholarly presses specifically. For instance, a recent post I'm proud of offered a template for responding to reader reports, which is a key part of the peer review process that's unique to scholarly publishing. While most academics have been through peer review, they don't necessarily understand the role their written response plays in the book publishing process. I wanted my readers to understand that the way they respond to the reviews can actually make a big difference to their relationship with their editor and the chances that their book will be approved for publication. Even a "bad" review can be handled in a way that reflects well on the author and makes them look capable, and I tried to show how to do that in my post. I think that understanding how publishing works on the inside can empower authors to make informed choices and take ownership of a process that often feels mysterious and disempowering, especially to marginalized scholars.

Congrats on your book deal! Tell everyone what it's about!

The book I'm working on now is a handbook about book proposals and scholarly publishing. It draws on the material I've been using in my "book proposal accelerator,” the online workshop I run for academic authors. It's a really practical how-to guide that doesn't quite exist in the market yet: it breaks down everything authors need to know about how to pitch and publish a scholarly book in nuts-and-bolts terms, plus it's got templates and worksheets (for people who want everything really broken down), and every chapter has "time-tested tips" and answers to frequently asked questions drawn from my work as an editor and consultant for hundreds of academic authors. I've just signed a contract to publish it with Princeton University Press, which I'm very excited about. They have a great reputation and reach among my target audience. Both my editor Peter Dougherty and the press's director Christie Henry (current president of the Association of University Presses) really understand and support my vision for the book, and they and their staff have so much experience in the publishing world that I can continue to learn from as I complete the manuscript. It's an ideal partnership for sure. Right now the working title is THE BOOK PROPOSAL HANDBOOK: AN INSTRUCTION MANUAL AND REFERENCE FOR ACADEMIC AUTHORS, but I'm betting we'll come up with something much better before the thing goes into production.

Now that you have a book deal, what are you hoping I'll cover more?

Now that I have a book deal myself, I really like the posts where you talk about writing as a whole career. Like the "when can I quit my job - probably never" post. I wasn't sure if I would ever publish another book after my first one (a revision of my dissertation which I published with Bloomsbury in 2013), but now I'm working on this new one that's connected with my work as a consultant and editor, rather than to my academic work. And I've been approached by another publisher with a really exciting project that may or may not happen but may also lead to another book with my name on the cover in a few years. The money coming in for these projects is not insignificant, especially compared to what I got paid for my work as an academic writer. So I'm starting to think of myself as a working writer in a way I haven't before. Your newsletter helps me get in touch with that identity and inhabit it more confidently! Thank you for writing!

Thank you, Laura! Congrats on your book deal and thank you for being a reader!



The next few months are going to be busy-busy for me as I finish up the manuscript, but I’m still open to new clients for Quick Proposal Evals. And I will be announcing the dates for this summer’s Book Proposal Accelerator session very soon, so watch this space for registration information.

Thanks for reading, y’all!