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The BubbleCow Guide to Academic Book Pitching: Part I

This is the first in a guest series by Gary Smailes of BubbleCow.

At BubbleCow we work with writers on a daily basis to help prepare their books for submission to publishers and agents. As part of this process we have taken the time to talk and listen to publishers and agents to discover exactly what they are looking for in a successful book proposal. In this series of 6 blog posts guest written by myself, Gary Smailes (with Charlotte Frost), I will share what we at BubbleCow have learned and give you, the writer, all the skills and tips needed to write a great query letter and book proposal. 

OK let’s start at the beginning. Here’s the first mistake most writers make when preparing a book pitch:

They think like writers and forget they are selling a product!

Book publishers are in the business of making money – even not-for-profit academic publishers need to keep themselves afloat. It’s true that many of them love books and want to see new knowledge disseminated, but at the end of the day they will not acquire a book unless they think it will sell enough copies to make back enough money to at least break even.

It’s your job to convince publishers that your book has what it takes to make it in the marketplace that that publisher specialises in. In reality this means you must pitch more than a unique contribution to knowledge. You must demonstrate that your book has a readymade, and accessible, academic readership, which means that your query letter and proposal are, in a sense, sales documents.

So, you thought you were in the business of having ideas, but what you must now take onboard is that you also in the business of selling them!

The aim of your query letter is to show the publisher four things:

  1. You understand the marketplace,
  2. Your book will fit into their current list,
  3. Your book will sell enough copies to make it worthwhile printing it in the first place,
  4. You, as an author, can support and promote your book.

So, before we turn you into a sales person, here’s a bit of research work to ease your way in.

Firstly, I want you to clarify exactly which subject area(s) your book belongs to. This sounds obvious, but just make absolutely sure. For example, you might be an art historian and your book might definitely be about an art historical subject, but does it also fit into cultural studies, design or architecture, and/or is it also about gender or politics. Be clear, what are the categories it fits. This needn’t be a long list, in fact it’s best if it’s only a couple of items long, but just clarify this for yourself.

Secondly I want you to make a list of at least three books that you feel the intended reader of your book would also have read. This might be because they relate to the same subject (art history) or political or philosophical school (Marxism/metaphysics). It might be because they are by authors you admire or liken yourself to. Or it might be because, set against your planned book, they build a fuller picture of a particular issue. Whatever, just draw some comparisons!

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