Six Essential Elements of an Effective Textbook Proposal
A well-crafted textbook proposal can catapult your book idea into a full-fledged project. So, how do you catch the attention of an acquisitions editor or academic publisher, and what exactly should you include in your proposal?
While every academic publisher will have their own requirements and guidelines for submissions, these critical elements will help you pitch your book ideas to nearly any publisher.
1. Clearly identify what will set your textbook apart from others currently in its course market. What gap will your textbook fill at your school or in the discipline as a whole? Does it feature cutting-edge research, address the subject matter from a new or different perspective, include topics that are omitted by other texts, or feature examples, illustrations, or cases that are especially important for students in your field?
It’s essential for a publisher to understand how your project will fit within their current list of offerings as well as within the academic marketplace. This information helps the publisher assess the market need for your title and identify the types of courses that your text could support.
2. Be sure to articulate the primary audience of your textbook. Is your text most appropriate for an undergraduate or graduate-level course? Is it robust enough to serve as the primary or core textbook, or is it an ideal supplementary text? What are the specific course names for which your book would be adopted? (If you’re writing a text that would best serve an emerging course or cutting-edge topic, researching which institutions offer the course could be extremely helpful as well!)
Though it may feel advantageous to list every course that could use your book, it’s best to emphasize the primary course(s) it can serve. If the market for a text is too broad, it may signal that the text is too general and might not be able to compete with other textbooks within the market. Ideally, your book should offer instructors and students a better option than existing resources.
3. Include detailed information for 2 – 3 competing titles within the market. These should be top-sellers or books that you know colleagues and other instructors are currently using in their courses. This research will provide a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the books that are currently available – and how those titles compare to your proposed project.
It’s important to note that competitors’ strengths are every bit as important to consider as their weaknesses, as they may indicate topical areas, pedagogy, or standards that are “must-haves” within your discipline. Conversely, understanding your competitors’ weaknesses can help you develop a textbook that provides instructors and students with a valuable learning solution. The more familiar you become with the books that will eventually compete against yours, the more carefully you can craft your chapters from the outset to offer advantages those competitors lack.
4. Provide a table of contents that consists of more than mere chapter titles. While chapter titles can provide a publisher with a general idea of what your book will cover, they often aren’t detailed enough to provide the full picture.
We recommend listing chapter titles followed by a short paragraph summarizing the content/coverage of each chapter (or a bulleted list of headings) and what the student take-away will be. This level of detail helps to provide a better understanding of the general organization and direction of your manuscript. In addition, a well thought out and well-organized outline will make the process of writing your manuscript that much easier.
5. Your proposal is your first opportunity to provide a publisher with a preview of your writing style and voice, so take advantage! A well-developed proposal can signal to a publisher that you will deliver a well-crafted manuscript. Take your time to ensure your proposal well represents you as a scholar and the work you’d like to publish. Share why you’re interested in writing your textbook and how your proposed text can help instructors and students conquer challenges in the classroom.
6. A curriculum vitae (CV) or resume that details your background and qualifications for writing a college textbook. Share your teaching history, the research you’ve published, your professional experience within your discipline—anything that speaks to your expertise and your ability.
You will need to tailor your textbook proposal to each publisher’s particular guidelines, but having these elements developed ahead of time will help you develop a compelling case for your project.