ALE Guidebook: How to Get a Contract from a Reputable Academic Publisher Before You Write Your Book

Female academic in the presence of numerous academic books

Writing an academic book is a daunting task. It requires a skill set involving research, creativity, persistence, and much more. 

One of the most challenging aspects in producing your book is that writing is only the first part of a two-part process. Part two is publishing. Regardless of your skillset in writing your research, navigating the publication process requires a different set of skills altogether, including marketing, salesmanship, social networking, to name but a few. 

Whilst this process may sound daunting, rest assured that this concise step-by-step guide will help you through the ever-challenging writing and publishing process with the objective of creating your winning book prospectus. 

Tackling the How? When? Who? of Publishing Your Academic Book

“How?” - Creating a Complete and Compelling Academic Book Proposal 

In order to prepare a successful proposal, it is important to put together a ‘publisher’s package,’ which includes the content and background that most publishers will require before offering you a contract. Different academic publishers may have slightly different requirements for their proposals. Make sure to be attuned and flexible and respect each publisher’s specific requests. Most academic publishers will ask you for the following items:

  1. A dynamic, attractive cover letter

  2. A thorough academic biography including your credentials, expertise, and previously published works

  3. A book prospectus 

  4. Detailed chapter outlines or a table of contents

  5. An introduction or abstract which summarizes your work 

  6. One to two chapters written in impeccable English

Note: As opposed to an article being published in a journal, you can appeal to multiple publishers simultaneously (unless they specify otherwise). Therefore, it is good to prepare one template proposal that you can tweak as needed according to the specific requirements of each respective journal.

How to Create a Winning Book Prospectus 

We will now focus specifically on the most critical part of your proposal: the book prospectus.

8 Characteristics of a Dynamic Book Prospectus:

  1. Length: Begin with a brief description of your book. Being concise can be difficult, so allow yourself plenty of time to edit and revise your prospectus in order to make sure it is perfect.

  2. Content: In some ways, your prospectus is similar to a brochure. Think of what might grab your interest or grab the interest of your readers. Perhaps lead with an interesting anecdote from the book, drawing the reader into the prospectus, just as they would be drawn into your book. You can test this on friends or colleagues to see if they find it compelling. 

  3. Subject matter: In many ways, your prospectus is similar to a catalog. You may wish to include detailed chapter outlines or a table of contents as part of your prospectus. A comprehensive table of contents, including the title and a short summary of chapter outlines, will be sure to give the publisher a good idea of what the book is about prior to reading it.

  4. Value: It is important to include information about the book’s argument. Prioritize the book’s outstanding features and your own contribution to the field. Describe how your narrative fits within existing literature and its potential impact. You might wish to refer to competing and/or complementary literature. 

  5. Target audience: Despite the tendency to feel: “Who wouldn’t want to read this?!” it is important to clearly identify the target audience to the publisher. Define who would most likely be the intended readership and consider whether the publisher you are turning to has a strong distribution network in that area. 

  6. Status: Since there is no agreed-upon formula as to the book’s degree of completion at the time of proposal submission, it is important to inform the publishers what the current status of the manuscript is. If you are submitting an incomplete manuscript or translating your book from another language, be sure to specify an estimated date of completion. See below for further advice on this topic.

  7. Specifications: In the final lines, include the basic characteristics of the manuscript such as length (number of words, not pages), number of illustrations/tables and any other relevant information. 

  8. Reviewers: Oftentimes publishers aren’t familiar enough with your field of study to know who should be reviewing the book. As a result, the book can become stuck in the review process. Think about which group of readers will give helpful feedback as well as a fair (or even favorable) assessment and don’t forget to submit their full name along with their contact information.

“When?” to submit your proposal – the secret of perfect timing 

Most writers begin thinking in earnest about publication only after completing the full manuscript. Others wait until the manuscript is nearly complete in order to leave time for revisions during the submission process. However, it may be worth preparing a publisher’s package in the early stages of writing, thereby attracting the attention of an acquisitions editor, eventually leading to an invaluable contract with a respected publisher. 

As you know, publication timing is not an elastic shoelace. One size does certainly not fit all. 

‘’Who?’’ is the best publisher for your manuscript 

Be sure to follow the main publishers you are targeting and see if there is a specific series that your manuscript would fit well into. Also, see if they have any specific requests for manuscripts in your preferred field of research. 

Choosing the right publisher can sometimes come down to not only what you know but who you know.  Professional colleagues, social networking, and even personal contacts can land you with the name of a reputable publisher in one of the industry’s leading companies, creating a potential publishing platform. 

But whilst publishing is a collaborative process, and knowing someone in the industry can help you get your foot in the door, bear in mind that professional publishers will only want to publish academic manuscripts which are commercially viable. 

Academic University Presses, Vanity Academic Publishers, and Everything in Between

University presses are instrumental in helping academics publish their manuscripts. Research published by internationally recognized publishing houses, namely Cambridge, Yale, Princeton or Oxford University Press, is the holy grail for many academic scholars. 

However, publishing with a respected university press might not always be possible. Your manuscript might not fit neatly into an existing series or you may not be able to afford to wait the amount of time required until publication. 

An alternative is publishing with a commercial press that specializes in academia. In many cases, these publishers will charge a subvention (fee) for the publication of your book. Here, it is important to carefully check the reputation of the publisher and make sure that they conduct proper peer review. Publishers that charge for publishing are often referred to as vanity publishers. 

There are disadvantages that you should be conscious of before entering into an agreement with a vanity publisher. Whilst being charged for the publisher’s services, vanity publishers do not necessarily help you with the basic requirements needed to publish a respected academic manuscript such as peer review, editing, proofreading, and marketing services. Publishing with a predatory publisher could call into question the reputable nature of the published manuscript and even that of the author. 

Final advice on writing and publishing your academic book

There are numerous steps that form the intricate writing and publishing process: academic research, innovativeness, and attention to detail, together with marketing, good salesmanship, and strong interpersonal skills. But the very scale of the tasks involved can leave you feeling discouraged, intimidated, and perhaps overwhelmed. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for help, guidance, and general support to accomplish your goal of publishing your manuscript!

Would you benefit from a visual roadmap of the book publishing process? Download our Book Publication Timeline below to gain a clearer understanding of what the various steps entail.


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