Writing a Book Prospectus

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Module Summary

Print books (and their electronic counterparts) have long been a critical way for those in academia to share their learning and research. Even today, tenure committees across the higher education learning domains value editor- and peer-reviewed publishing as a sign of the instructor’s scholarship and value to the larger society. Usually, after years of publishing in journals, an instructor looks to publishing collected works or wholly new works in a book. Or he / she looks to editing a collection. To that end, it helps to know how to write a prospectus.


Learners will...

  • Describe the role of a book prospectus in the academic publication cycle
  • Define what a book prospectus is and list the elements that comprise one
  • Describe the writing style of a book prospectus
  • Describe the steps to conducting an environmental scan for competitor texts; explain the importance of having CVs for all team members on the proposed book project
  • Explain what the editorial and marketing staff will look for in a book prospectus

Module Pretest

1. What is the role of a book prospectus in the academic publication cycle?

2. What is a book prospectus? What elements comprise a book prospectus?

3. What is the typical writing style in a book prospectus? Why?

4. Why is an “environmental scan” important in a book prospectus?

5. In the book prospectus, what will the editorial staff look for? What will marketing look for?

Main Contents

A book prospectus (essentially a book proposal) is a core element in the book development cycle. It is often the first step in an author-proposed work. (Book publishers may also empower their editors to talent-scout, but that is not covered in this particular module.)

1. The Role of a Book Prospectus in the Academic Publication Cycle

To oversimplify the academic book publishing process, the process generally starts with a book prospectus submitted by the aspiring author. Prospectuses are usually unique to the particular press / publisher, but they do share many similar elements.

The prospectus is vetted by the publisher, particularly their editorial staff and their marketing personnel. They formulate some feedback to the author, and the author responds with a revised prospectus (or at least a revised work plan). Together, they decide whether extending a contract is warranted—since any such agreement binds the publisher to a fairly large investment of their staff time.

Once a contract is signed by all sides, the work begins. By the agreed-upon deadline (optimally), a (peer-reviewed) manuscript is submitted. This is vetted by editors who “clean up” the manuscript (as needed). Then, the book proofs are sent out to the author(s) and editor(s). The book is finalized.

Then, the book goes into production. Marketing will design a book cover and a marketing plan. The book is distributed into the world.

2. The Elements of a Book Prospectus

A book prospectus is a proposal for a new book that is submitted to a publisher. This may be done in response to an RFP (request for proposals), or it may be a “cold call” submittal.

Typically, a book prospectus consists of the following elements:

  • A narrative of the objectives of the proposed book
  • A projected table of contents (TOC)
  • A target readership
  • The type or format of a book
  • An environmental scan examining the competitor texts in the marketplace (and how this one would fill an unmet need)
  • The proposed work timeline
  • A marketing plan for reaching book contributors (if this is an edited text)
  • A marketing plan for reaching the book’s “user base” (with more information requested as the book’s release date gets closer)
  • Curriculum vitas (CVs) of the editors / authors

Some publishers request that 2-3 sample chapters of the proposed text be submitted. Most do not request completed manuscripts.

3. The Typical Writing Style of a Book Prospectus

A book prospectus is usually written in a professional, third-person, objective point of view. For works for which individual voices are a critical part of the content, that should come through in the sample chapters.

4. “The Environmental Scan:” Assessing Competitor Texts

An environmental scan is a formalized analysis of the publishing environment to see what competitor texts there may be to this proposed text. If there are no similar texts, that would be a bad sign because then there may be no audience for the text. If there are directly similar texts, then there may be direct competitors in terms of a readership, and that may discourage the publisher. If there are some semi-related texts (to show interest or relevance of the topic) as well as a gap in the literature that this text might fill, that may show an alignment that encourages a publisher to possibly pursue a publishing project.

5. What Editors Look For... What Marketers Look For

Editors generally look for quality of contents and novelty (newness of the topic).

Marketers look like simple ways to create "hooks" or angles of interest on which to advertise the texts. This is not to say that the texts cannot be complex, but the advertising will hide or encapsulate complexity in order to sell the book.


Once you have identified a target publisher, review their resources for potential authors and editors. Many will have online prospectus forms that help people shape their proposals. Read into the form to understand what the publisher is looking for. Assume that having a healthy potential market is a critical aspect of approved book projects.

How To

Those who would write a text have to know their fields sufficiently well. They have to have sufficient expertise and standing to address an issue with credibility. They need sufficient professional connections to rally interest in the work (as contributors, as users). They have to have a track record of publishing to show that they can actually deliver on what they would like to write or edit. They have to have sufficient creativity not to recreate existing texts but to add to the literature with new insights.


What are the steps to putting together an edited book?

Usually, the concept for the book is the first step. This is encapsulated in the prospectus. A title usually follows. After that, there are conceptualized tables of contents (TOCs). What authors create will determine what the book actually looks like, so the TOC is likely to change. Indexing is done by chapter. Then, after the book's contents are collated, the front matter (forewords, prefaces) comes next. If an epilogue or back matter is included, that follows. Author professional bios are also sometimes included.

Possible Pitfalls

It’s important to “vet” the publisher first.

  • What is the publisher’s niche? Who are their main authors? What topics does the publisher cover?
  • Who are the competing publishers in the environment?
  • What are the editorial policies of the publisher?
  • How much support does the publisher offer to its editors? Its authors? Are they sufficiently flexible?
  • Do they have a reasonable timeline for the work?
  • Does the publisher have respect in the industry? Among indexes? Libraries?

Another consideration here would be whether one has the follow through to complete the work. Writing a book is a little like writing a dissertation. It’s a long-term endeavor involving plenty of hard work. The author has to have drive and a sense of organization. Editing a book involves challenges, too. Authors have much competition for their time. They may have fine intentions, but they may not be able to deliver chapters within deadline.

Module Post-Test

1. What is the role of a book prospectus in the academic publication cycle?

2. What is a book prospectus? What elements comprise a book prospectus?

3. What is the typical writing style in a book prospectus? Why?

4. Why is an “environmental scan” important in a book prospectus?

5. In the book prospectus, what will the editorial staff look for? What will marketing look for?


Please refer to the various publishing houses for their respective book prospectuses.