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Academic Coaching & Writing
 

XXX. An Academic, Writing: Preparing the Book Proposal

Sep 05, 2013 by Lee Skallerup Bessette

After many, many, many laborious revisions of the introduction to my dissertation-to-book, it was time to write the book proposal for the editor who had already expressed interest in my project. I am really grateful that my coach, Amy, is very experienced in helping academics write book proposals (you should check out her very helpful webinars on these topics!). But at the end of the day, I had to put pen to paper (ok, fingers to keyboard) and get this thing written.

I received a great piece of advice earlier this summer from the editor of the academic press: If writing the book proposal is hard, then the book isn’t ready. This makes perfect sense. If I couldn’t clearly articulate what the book was about without a struggle, then the ideas weren’t ready, or at least the book wasn’t polished enough to be publication-ready.

The website that describes what this particular academic publisher is looking for in a book proposal is incredibly helpful and clear, making it easy for me to follow the guidelines and give them exactly what they ask for. I felt particularly inspired by the line: “Your proposal gives you the opportunity to tell us what your manuscript is about, why it is important, who it is for, and why you are the best person to write it.” The emphasis is mine, as it was this one element that provided the motivation I needed to finally write the proposal.

If there is one thing that the long process of revising has shown me, it’s that I am the best person to write this book. I no longer fear asserting, confidently and directly, what makes my book unique, important, and what it will do for scholarship moving forward. I have devoted over ten years, which includes countless hours in archives, microfiches, and wandering stacks, thinking and writing about this topic. I know now, in ways that I didn’t when I was graduate student, what I want to say about my relatively narrow topic, as well as what that means within the larger disciplines from which I draw my theories.

One strategy that worked particularly well for me was just to start “from scratch” when describing my book, rather than cutting-and-pasting from the revised introduction. Another strategy I used was to imagine myself confidently explaining from a position of authority and confidence what my book does. In other words, instead of trying to justify my book’s existence, I was showing, through my description, how it is already important—showing rather than telling, illustrating rather than timidly asserting.

Much to my relief, after months of struggling with the revisions, writing the book proposal did, in fact, come easily to me. My book proposal has also provided me with a newly articulated purpose and focus moving forward as I revise the rest of the book. I feel confident now, not only about the possibility of the book being published, but also about the final version that will appear in print.
 

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