Our November theme is assessing group projects, which can be challenging no matter how complex the project. Do you assign a group grade for the final product? Assign individual students a grade based on how their peers say they contributed to the project? Read More

Why don’t my students know how to collaborate? Why do they only ever divide and conquer? I realized over time that this was the wrong question, a classic “it’s me, not you” scenario. Read More

Here’s a video of me talking through the Creating Strong Teams worksheet, sharing where the idea came from, how it might be useful for both you in thinking about setting up your student teams for success and for the students themselves to establish ground rules and early group cohesion. Read More

Dealing with Proposal Rejection

So I sent my Professor Burnout proposal to the publisher I thought most likely to appreciate the potential of the book. After about six weeks of waiting to hear back, I found out they had decided to pass. Read More

Regardless of how you decide to create student teams, an oft-neglected aspect of this process is what happens immediately after you put the students into their groups – giving the students an opportunity to create conditions for success immediately. Read More

Actually Writing the Proposal

So when writing your proposal, do what works for you. But if you feel strongly about the project, write however makes the most sense to you and think about the advice you would give your students on writing. Here are a few of my tips… Read More

So because I love nothing better than a good worksheet, Agile Faculty, I’m declaring every Wednesday Worksheet Wednesday! Read More

Book Proposal Elements

While different publishers will ask for different things in different forms, there are certainly common elements that will show up in most proposal. The proposal I’m working on is for a faculty development book, rather than a traditional dissertation-turned-monograph or a textbook, but the presses I reference below show examples of various manuscript types.s your thinking about these proposal elements, I recommend reading Rachel Toor’s excellent Chronicle article on book proposals as well.

Here are some of the main elements you will find:

  • Proposed and alternative titles – What words would both summarize the theme of the book and attract readers?
  • Purpose and scope – Why do you want to publish this book? Why is it important? What will it cover and why?
  • Intended readers – Who will buy the book, and why? How big is this audience? Might there we secondary or tertiary audience who might be interested, such as departments and programs rather than individuals? If you writing a textbook, what types of courses might it serve?
  • Statement of need – Why is this book important? What gap does it address in the literature or market? What will readers be able to do after reading your book that they can’t do without it?
  • Competitors – What books are already on the market that you might be competing with? How is your book different?
  • You – Why are you the one to write this book? Why would readers trust you? How does the publisher know you will be successful?
  • Proposed Table of Contents – What will you cover in the book in what order? What special features might the book have (graphics, images, activities, homework questions, etc.

Most publishers will also expect a sample chapter, usually the introduction or key example of how the book will work. This allows the publisher and review to see your writing style and judge how well the text will fulfill what you promise in the proposal. Some publishers will expect to see the entire manuscript, but most would rather work with you to shape the book during the writing process.

Other pieces of information you might be asked to include are estimated word count and image or figure count, a marketing plan for how you will help to support and sell the book when published, ideas for e-books or electronic resources to accompany the print version, a timeline for how you plan to finish the book.

Here are four examples of publisher guidelines for proposals as examples. You can find guidelines on most publisher websites.

University of Chicago Press


Johns Hopkins University Press

Stylus Press


Finding the Right Publisher

Once you’ve got a solid idea for a manuscript and decided that the topic really does deserve book-length treatment, you’ll want to investigate presses that might be interested in your book idea. You’ll notice this step comes before writing the official book proposal and for good reason: it’s easier to persuade an editor that you project a good fit for the publisher’s list if you know what they offer. Then you don’t waste your time pursuing presses that would not be remotely interested in the project. That might sound harsh, but really it’s just good research strategy.

So for the burnout book, I followed this process:

  1. Contact presses/editor I’ve already worked with. Since the University of Chicago Press published Agile Faculty, my contract stipulated that they had the first right to refuse of my next single-authored book. I contacted my editor at Chicago with a brief summary of the burnout book idea, but they have undergone staffing and list shake-ups, so they politely declined my idea for this book, freeing me to talk to other presses. Next, I contacted an editor I’ve corresponded with before to see if his press might like the idea. He gave me some good feedback on the idea, especially because it would be a hybrid of multiple genres. He was able to say that his press may be interested in seeing a proposal if the book had a few other certain attributes.
  2. Research other possible presses. Though I had one press initially interested in the book idea, I did my due diligence to explore other possible presses. I researched their lists to see if they had already published something similar and if my book might fill a gap in their list. This also helped me to pull other proposal guidelines for future reference.
  3. Decide to target one press at a time. After my research, I chose to move forward with drafting the proposal for the editor at the academic press I had already communicated with. Why didn’t I target multiple presses at one time? Like journal articles, it an ethically sketchy practice to do that. Presses don’t want to waste their time and that of their reviewers if you are seeking other offers at the same time. Most academic presses are spread very thin as it is, so proposing to one press at a time, though time-consuming on your end, is just plain respectful.

Karen Kelsky’s blog, The Professor Is In, has lots of good advice as well.

Next up, I’ll talk about the different elements of a book proposal.

Is It Really a Book?

In this series, I’m talking you through the thought process I’m using to write a faculty development book proposal on burnout. I had the idea, but before I could write a proposal, I had to step back, to decide if the idea was actually a book – and if the calmer, less externally driven new me actually wanted to write another book, let alone one about such a sensitive topic.

Essentially, I spent those months ruminating on a few specific questions:

  • Why is this idea interesting to me?
  • Why would the target audience want to read this book?
  • Why does it have to be a book? Could it be something else?
  • Can I/do I really want to commit to a big project, especially on this particular topic?
  • Am I the only one who can write this book?

In thinking through these questions, I was able to both logically and emotionally process the idea. I was obviously interested, and eventually passionate, because I was finding burnout to be an insidious, always-lurking possibility given the current culture of higher education. Once I talked openly about burnout, I saw that many of my peers were relieved to talk about their own experiences, that they didn’t have to be stoic with me. So, the answer to the first questions helped me decide the topic was important and relevant and had the potential to make a difference in other faculty members’ lives.

With the next set of questions – is it really a book? could it be something else? What if it was a website? A podcast? An anonymous Twitter account? A private Facebook group? After playing with and testing all of these options for a while, I decided it is a book and that the other media can support community-building around it. This is a book I want to write, not something I “should do” for whatever reason.

And lastly, I really thought about whether or not I could intellectually and emotionally write about burnout, if I was the right person for it. Was talking to other faculty about burnout going to be empowering or problematic for me? I talked through these concerns with my therapist, husband, mom, and trusted peers. One of the most useful things to come out of this thinking time was the suggestion from my coach, Katie Linder, that I didn’t have to write the book on my own, which had been a worry. Because I was imagining a hybrid genre anyway, I could invite others to share their stories and advice in their own words which would make the book far more compelling and valid to readers (more on this in a later post).

After this period of questioning, I decided that faculty need this book and I’m in a position to pull the curtain back and go public. So, that’s the mindset I took into writing the proposal.