john wilsey

How to Write a Book Proposal: 6 Crucial Elements, Guest Post by John Wilsey

John Wilsey teaches history and philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of One Nation Under God: An Evangelical Critique of Christian America and blogs at typewriterYour book proposal needs to be more than good. Your book proposal needs to be magnificent.

Your book proposal is your work’s first introduction to a potential publisher.

It is imperative that your proposal be clean, eloquent, organized, well-researched, realistic, and compelling.

Think of your proposal as your book’s coming-out party. You are giving wealthy suitors the chance to meet the lovely maiden you have raised from infancy. So you better make sure that she has nice teeth.


6 Elements of a Book Proposal

 Element 1: Project Description

The first element of a good book proposal is your topic statement.

In the topic statement, you need to spend a couple of paragraphs broadly summarizing what your book is about.

  • Discuss the importance of your topic.
  • Clearly state your thesis.
  • State the central argument of your book in one or two sentences.
  • Give a couple of clear and precise lines about your methodology.
  • Explain how your proposed book fits in with your other published works OR clearly indicate if this book will be a revision of your dissertation.
  • Write a few lines about your school, your program, and who sat on your committee.

If this first section is clear, concise, and original, your potential publisher will continue reading.

If not, the abyss of obscurity yawns before you.

TargetElement 2: Target Audience

Give details about the target audience for your book.

  • Are you writing for scholars?
  • Students?
  • Religious leaders?
  • An informed audience of laypersons?
  • Will your book serve as a course text?

Be as specific as possible when you identify your intended audience.

Target audience is one of the publisher’s first considerations.

If your book could serve as a course text, write a list of specific courses that could use your book. Again, be specific. Don’t make up interesting course names.

Look at the course offerings in academic catalogues, and get in touch with professors who teach those courses. Ask these professors if they would include a book such as yours in their course syllabus.

Request their permission to list their name and courses in your proposal.


BooksElement 3: Historiography/Comparable Works Section

Give some information on the related book market.

  • Where does your book fit within the literature?
  • Why is another book needed on your topic?
  • What original contribution does your book make?

Write a bibliography of the current literature related to your book. Annotate the 10 to 15 works that are most closely related to yours.

Annotation Includes:

  • A paragraph that summarizes the book
  • A paragraph that situates your work within the existing field. (A brief description of how your book will add to and differ from the book you just summarized.)

Provide another 20 to 50 titles that are less closely related to your work, but are still germane to your topic.

Show how your book is different from those as well.

The “Comparable Works” section shows your publisher that you are up on the literature.

It demonstrates that you have looked at the books in your field, and that you are confident your book contributes meaningfully and originally to it.

If you can show that your book is a meaningful and original contribution, then you are assuring your potential publisher that your book will make an impact, and thus a profit.


Chapter 1Element 4: Chapter Outlines/Annotated Table of Contents

You have to balance 2 goals as you write your chapter outlines:

1. Clear presentation of argument

2. Showcase the features and stories that make your book marketable

Note how you will present your thesis in the introduction of your book and explain how your chapters will argue and further your thesis.

Elements of Chapter Outlines:

  • List Chapter Titles
  • Provide 1 paragraph of summary for each chapter; include how said chapter will argue/further your thesis (NOTE: Do not make your argument in your chapter outlines. Be clear, but include a dash of ambiguity to leave your reader wanting more.)
  • Estimate the length of each chapter (10,000 words = approximately 30 pages of typed, double-spaced text). Many trade presses consider a work of 80-90,000 words the sweet spot.


Element 5: References

Include a list of references, scholars in your field who will endorse your ideas.

Ask 15 to 20 people to look over your proposal and ask them if they will affirm that your proposed book has the potential to make a valuable contribution to your field.

To clarify: these are not people who are endorsing the book. They are endorsing: 1. You, as a qualified scholar and 2. Your proposal.

In other words, you want recognized scholars to affirm that your work will be as valuable as you have stated in your proposal.

Your reference list will give comfort to the potential publisher concerning the viability of your proposed work. When recognized scholars in your field vouch for your project’s legitimacy, it bolsters your credibility.

Don’t be shy about contacting senior scholars and asking them for to help you in this way. Some will decline, but you’ll likely be gratified to see that many are happy to help you succeed.


Quill-and-InkElement 6: Writing Sample

The last element of your proposal will be your writing sample.

The writing sample should consist of a chapter that states your thesis, methodology, and organization.

Make sure, beyond all doubt, that your sample chapter consistently reflects how you’ve written your proposal!


The Finished Proposal

Your completed proposal should be about 10 to 15 pages total excluding your sample chapter.



Your proposal represents your first effort at marketing your book.

Consider it a major project in its own right. Devote time and thought to it.

The quality of your book proposal will determine whether or not a publisher will give your work their full consideration.


Share StoryShare Your Story

How many books did you include in your comparable works section? 

Did you include references with your book proposal? If so, how did you approach your references?


6 Tips That Will Help You Find Time to Write During the Academic Year, Guest Post by John Wilsey

John Wilsey teaches history and philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of One Nation Under God: An Evangelical Critique of Christian America and blogs at Tired businesswoman with telephonesEveryone’s busy.

We all have responsibilities that demand our time and attention.

Teaching is always a time-consuming and work-intensive demand. As are the array of other duties that go along with teaching: committee work, service projects, advisee meetings, and perhaps an administrative agenda.

Then there’s writing.

Writing is an extension of our teaching. Not only is it important element of how we advance our academic careers, it is essential for us to stay sharp in the classroom and in our fields.

Writing is a non-negotiable. If you want to teach, you must write.

So how does a professor find the time to write?


Tip 1: Don’t Find Time, Make Time

You may say—I don’t have the time. I’m too busy. Not only am I maxed out at school, I have a family, a neighborhood, or a faith/civil community that is depends on me.

However, if President Obama sought our regular counsel on some issue that required a time commitment, perhaps we would ask, “how do I make the time to accomplish this task?” rather then “how do I find the time?”

When you write, and write well, you never know, President Obama may indeed sit under your counsel by reading your work.

(Don’t laugh. I wrote a post, "Threats to Our Republic: the HHS Mandate and Incivility," last spring on civility in political discourse from my perspective as a conservative. One of the points I made was that everyone, including conservatives, must show deference to President Obama, because he holds the office of President. Two days later, I had the surprise of a lifetime: I received a note of thanks from Joshua DuBois, special counselor to President Obama on faith-based initiatives.)

CalendarRemember writing your dissertation?

When did you make time for that enormous undertaking?

You likely found it in the nooks and crannies of time during the day, in larger chunks late at night, and in the early hours of the morning. When you are busy, you must find time to write in similar ways.


Tip 2: Live By Your Calendar

Set aside blocks of time on a weekly calendar for writing and stick to those times. Be disciplined about your time management.

Ask the important people in your life to help you with time management.

If you’re married and/or have children, ask your spouse and kids to help you schedule your blocks of time on the calendar at the beginning of each semester.

When each semester is over, take a small sabbatical from being hard-nosed about time management—but keep writing.

When the next semester comes around again, go back to your family and your calendar and block out times for writing for the next three or four months.


Tip 3: Prune Hobbies to Create Time and Rewards

Something might have to give.

You may have to give up certain hobbies for a time—not permanently, but for a little while.

Goal text and question markSet goals for your writing and reward yourself with a renewal of those fun activities.

I’m an outdoorsman and for a few months I forgo outdoor activities so I can focus on writing. I renew my time in the outdoors each time I accomplish a writing goal.


Tip 4: Surround Yourself With Productive People

Good company encourages good habits: Surround yourself with people who research and write.

Create or join a peer group of people who regularly write. These people will provide positive peer pressure for you to do the same.

Group members should be colleagues who will encourage you in your projects. You should also encourage them.

Participation in a writing community can be a powerful motivator.


typewriterTip 5: See Writing As Important

If you can’t shift the question from “how do I find time?” to “how do I make time?,” you probably aren’t motivated enough to write. That sounds harsh, but it is true.

You will always find time for the activities you most desire to do.

If you don’t want to devote your energies to research and writing, then you won’t do it.

But if writing is important to you—and you see it as important to you—then you will find a way to make it a part of your day.


Tip 6: Methods that will Integrate Writing Into Your Day and Keep You Mentally Sharp

Perhaps you’ll practice your writing by keeping a journal or by keeping a blog that will hone your ability to communicate to a popular audience.

You may write book reviews to stay current in your field or sharpen your research skills by writing papers that you can present at conferences.

Maybe you’ll choose to sharpen your argumentation skills by writing editorials.



You have the time to write and you can make your schedule conform to your desire.


What do You Think?

How do you make time to write?


First Step to Publishing: Network to Build Relationships, Guest Post by John Wilsey

John Wilsey teaches history and philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of [amazon_link id="1608997928" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]One Nation Under God: An Evangelical Critique of Christian America[/amazon_link] and blogs at Successful-Guy“How can I get my ideas published in book form?”

This burning question can sometimes animate a young scholar’s mind, body, and soul for months, sometimes years.

For most new Ph.D.s, the dissertation represents the deepest and widest river of writing and scholarship they have ever crossed.

Therefore, the question of how a new Ph.D. can get their dissertation published is not only natural, it is expected.

In my experience, personal and professional connections go a long way toward getting your revised dissertation published.


Questions to Ask Before You Network

Just as significant to these connections are the questions that young scholars should ask themselves:

  • Whom do I know?
  • Do people respect my work?
  • Do others like me on a personal level?
  • Am I willing to ask my connections for help?
  • How willing am I to market myself to people who do not know me?
  • Am I willing to adapt my work, within sensible limits, to see it published?

Think first about the obvious question—to whom are you willing to entrust your intellectual baby?

A university press might be the natural choice for your work.

Perhaps a trade press is the best fit.

Only you can decide whom you are willing to entrust with your intellectual property and regardless of the choice you make, it will be important for you to establish a personal connection with potential publishers.

Thoughtful-WomanHow Do I Establish Personal Connections?

Attend academic conferences and present conference papers.

If you are not in the practice of at least attending one conference in your field, I have simple advice: Start.


Meet Scholars

Conferences are the best way to meet fellow scholars who work in your field.

You need to build relationships with your colleagues, even those with whom you disagree.

Presenting a conference paper allows you to formally introduce yourself and your research to other scholars.


Meet Publishers

Use the conference website or program to find out which publishers will be present at the book tables.

Look upon most these presses as potential publishers of your work.


Don’t Discount Small Publishers

Don’t be proud or closed-minded. Many small imprints are growing in size and sophistication.

For some, small imprints may be your only option.

Many scholars dismiss small imprints usually because they think their work is too good for them.

Remember: pride goeth before destruction—and obscurity.


CalendarMake Appointments with Acquisitions Editors

Make appointments with acquisitions editors two weeks or so ahead of the conference.

Search for the names and e-mail addresses of editors on press websites.

If possible, e-mail editors directly.

Request an appointment in a concise letter that explains your thesis in one sentence.

You might also attach your book proposal and a copy of your CV so the editor can see what you are offering.

You might have to send a letter as a general inquiry.

No problem. Just do it. The worst that happens is you get no response.

Be sure to bring a hard copy of your book proposal, your sample chapter, and CV when you meet for your appointment.

If possible, make appointments with as many of the editors as possible.

The more editors you meet, the more likely one of them will be interested in your work.


Set Realistic Expectations for Meetings

Keep your expectations realistic.

Few will offer you a contract on your first meeting, but the first meeting will establish a first impression, which is the most important one.

The best you can expect is to meet an editor (or two, or three perhaps) who is genuinely interested in your work and willing to start the process of formal consideration by taking your proposal to a committee.

The least you can expect is everyone rejects your work.

If this happens, keep a positive attitude. You will have gained valuable experience by establishing contacts and founding relationships among editors, which is pure gold.


publishing contractKeep a Positive Attitude

Editorial contacts have enormous potential, and if you are winsome, respectful, and willing to reasonably adjust your work to meet an editor’s standards, there is hope.

An editor who rejects your work may forward your proposal to another editor, just because she liked you.

Attitude is everything.

Go into every meeting convinced that someone will publish your work; maybe not the publisher you meet with, but someone.

Confidence—with humility, and a willingness to listen—go a long way.


Share-Your-StoryWhat Do You Think?

How did you find your publisher?

Interested in Sharing Your Wisdom on Uncommonplace Book? Email your post ideas to  lizcovart[AT]mac[DOT]com.