Book Proposals as Persuasion
What makes a good book proposal? Before we can answer that question, we have to take another big step back – what is a book proposal? OK, not that far back; let’s go with “what are the content elements of a persuasive proposal?”
Before even considering the different proposal sections, you must have confidence that the book you propose is unique, needed, and important in some way. Because from this confidence you must build a strong persuasive argument for editors to even consider the proposal. In an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Rachel Toor argues,
“The important thing to remember is that a book proposal contains an invitation, a seduction, and an unromantic assessment of where you stand relative to others. You have to work to get the editor interested in you, and then outline exactly who will buy the book once you’ve written it.”
I’ve reviewed book proposals that don’t do this work, that just assume the main idea is as clear to the reviewer as it is to the author, so they miss an opportunity to really hook me and want to see a full manuscript.
So like any good writer, you must assess your writing situation and do a good rhetorical analysis that will help feed into the persuasive content in the actual proposal. Basically, you want to ask yourself 5 questions:
- What are the main a secondary purposes the book will achieve?
- Who is the audience for this book, and why would they care?
- Who am I in relation to the intended readers, and why would they listen to be on this topic?
- What content is most important to the book, and why?
- What context – in the discipline, higher ed more broadly, etc. – might affect how people receive the manuscript?
Or if you want to get really Aristotelian about it, try this process.
Whichever rhetorical analysis strategy you choose, this preliminary step will help you remember that you have to be persuasive in your proposal, not just assume the brilliance of your idea will be obvious to everyone else.