Proposals That Don't Work and Proposals That Stand Out

Hello Manuscript Workers,

A few weeks back, I published some advice for prospective scholarly authors in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “6 Types of Book Proposals That Don’t Get Contracts.” I’ve turned that column into a one-page PDF handout that I’m making free to download for newsletter readers (i.e. you).

Download the PDF
Download an accessible Word file

If you read the article or check out the handout, I hope you’ll notice that I provide some constructive advice to go along with the “don’t do this” warnings. While it’s totally normal for people to want to know about “mistakes” or “what not to do”—and I play into that desire sometimes because there’s no denying that readers respond to it—I really do try to stay positive in my proposal advice when I can. For one thing, there are exceptions to every rule (and the “rules” aren’t formally codified anywhere), so what might generally be thought of as a “mistake” could actually work in some situations.

For another thing, I know how unpleasant it can be to approach your writing from a defensive, fear-based place, and that includes writing your book proposal. While it’s good to be aware of some of the common pitfalls so you can clear them up if you happen to see them in your own draft, I’d much rather help you focus on the ways you can proactively shape your work to achieve the results and impact you’re seeking.

This is the approach I’ll be taking in my upcoming public workshop, Outstanding Academic Book Proposals, happening Friday, August 20th, 2021, at 10am PDT. This workshop is designed to be a quick and concise intro to what goes in a book proposal and how the different elements function to help sell your book to a publisher. I will also be presenting my 10 best tips on what you can do to make your proposal stand out when it gets read by editors, peer reviewers, and other publishing personnel. These will be practical, concrete things anyone can incorporate into their proposal—I promise, no loosey-goosey, intimidating advice like “just build a relationship with an editor ahead of time!”

If you don’t have a draft of your book proposal written yet, the workshop will give you a template to start from. If you already have your proposal drafted, you can use the tips to polish it up and be more confident about sending it off. There will also be time for Q&A if you have specific concerns you want to get clarity on. I’ve set up pay-what-you-can pricing options, so I hope there’ll be an option to fit every budget. All registrants will get access to the slides, handouts, recording, and transcript, even if you’re not able to attend live.

Register for the workshop

Questions about the workshop? Reply to this email and let me know!