What are Editors Looking for in a Proposal when Deciding Whether to Publish a Book or Not?

We recently held an online event with series editors and authors from our Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching series about publishing their books, with an opportunity for audience questions at the end. Here’s a taster of one of the questions that was discussed, answered by series editors Sarah Mercer and Stephen Ryan.

What are editors looking for in a proposal when deciding whether to publish a book or not?

Sarah Mercer
The key thing is a contribution that belongs in the series you’re submitting your proposal to, so in our case, it must be about the psychology of language learning and teaching. It should have something original to say and the authors need to show that they can identify the gap their research is filling.

Your proposal should be relevant for a global market – it can be researched at a local level but must be reflected on in global terms too. It must be professional in terms of writing and content and should be worthy of book-length treatment and not something that could be covered by an article. It should have a clear coherent thread running through it – something to watch out for especially with an edited collection.

Stephen Ryan
In the case of a proposal from an early-career academic, the initial question we are asking is along the lines of “Do we believe this person can deliver a first-class manuscript?” We only have a few pages on which to make that evaluation. We go to each proposal in a positive state of mind; we are looking to encourage publication, not prevent it. It may sound obvious, but a professional presentation of your proposal is important. Careless mistakes, such as errors with names or dates of works cited or clumsily copied chunks of text, start to raise red flags. Basic care and attention make a difference.

Once we start considering the content of a proposal, we are looking for a clear idea; what is the proposed book about and where does it fit within the existing literature? What is unique about the proposed book? Who is likely to be interested in the proposed book?

My own personal view is that reading academic works should not be an ordeal. Reading should be a pleasant, rewarding experience. Evidence of a clear, engaging writing style is always welcome.

You can watch the recording of the event and find out the answers to the rest of the audience questions here:

How Do You Prepare a Successful Proposal as an Early Career Academic? 

Last month we held an online event with series editors and authors from our Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching series about publishing their books, with an opportunity for audience questions at the end. Here’s a taster of one of the questions that was discussed, answered by series editors Sarah Mercer and Stephen Ryan.

How do you prepare a successful proposal as an early career academic? 

Sarah Mercer and Stephen Ryan

Perhaps the biggest challenge in preparing a book proposal is adapting your research to a very different kind of audience than that of a PhD. As an early-career academic, your potential audience is likely to be unfamiliar with you or your work. That potential audience needs to be persuaded to engage with your work and needs to be persuaded quickly. This means that the scope and purpose of your book must be clear and you must ensure that the findings are relevant beyond the immediate local setting – they must have something to say globally.

When preparing your proposal, it may be a useful strategy to formulate a very brief explanation of your book and why someone should read it – an elevator pitch, if you like. Once you have this in mind, you can use it as a guide for writing the proposal; make sure your proposal does not divert too far from these central ideas.

The proposal should be professionally presented and follow the template provided on the website by Multilingual Matters. It needs to be offering something fresh and appealing to a global audience, so the proposal should make clear what gap it is filling. We would recommend giving your proposal to colleagues for feedback and getting them to ask you questions about it. If you can get hold of examples of past successful proposals, that can help to give you an idea of what is expected.

Take time to get the proposal right, which means getting clarity in your own mind about what exactly you intend and what your main message is. In many respects, a proposal is a unique genre of writing: your task is to present complicated and nuanced ideas clearly and briefly. It is a very difficult balance. When struggling with that balance it is probably better to lean towards the side of clarity and brevity, but a little careful wording can help show that you aware of complexities.

One more point worth thinking about is your title. An attractive, memorable title can go a long way to getting the prospective reader to engage with your work.

You can watch the recording of the event and find out the answers to the rest of the audience questions here: