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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dissertation to Book: Preparing a Proposal

This guide explains how a scholar can approach revising their dissertation into a book in order to publish it with a scholarly press.

How do I prepare a proposal?

Authors often approach presses or editors before they have a proposal or manuscript, to see if their topic fits in with the press’s or editor’s current interests. However, once you have interest from an editor, the first document they want to see is often a proposal. Parts of the proposal are fairly universal, but each press—and even each editor at a press—may have certain preferences. As a result, it is important to check the guidelines at each press you plan on submitting to. The University of Illinois proposal guidelines request the following pieces:

  • Cover letter: This should include a brief description of the project, its anticipated length, your timeline for completion, and your complete contact information. You should highlight here that your project is a revised dissertation, and also include other special details, like interest in a series or special elements like color images.
  • Annotated table of contents: This document should outline each chapter and its relationship with the main argument. For a revised dissertation, it can be helpful to include the original table of contents and/or ways in which this new TOC differs from the dissertation.
  • Two sample chapters: These should be chapters that you have already revised, as they will show your departure from the dissertation. Some editors might prefer three sample chapters, and often reviewers will too, because they are able to get a better sense of how the project has changed from the dissertation. This will result in better reviewer reports for you!
  • CV or résumé: Often it is helpful to include the title of your dissertation and your committee members in your CV.
  • A description that includes the following:
    • Basic description of the project: What is your main argument or intervention? How will your book add new knowledge, new breadth, a new perspective, or a new approach to the topic? How will your book contribute to the field? If submitted for a series, how does it advance the goals of the series? Does your project intersect with public debates or issues in any way?
    • Audience and market: Who is the audience for your book? That is, who will buy and read it? Does it include insights that will be useful outside of your field, either for scholars in other fields or for a general audience? What books already exist on this topic, and what sets your book apart from these?
    • Format: What is the expected word count of your manuscript, inclusive of all notes, bibliography, appendices, and other textual material? Do you plan on including illustrations, such as photos, maps, charts, or tables? If so, how many? Do you plan on having digital ancillary material? If so, who will support this material?
    • Background: What was the genesis of this project? For a revised dissertation, you should describe the revisions you have made (or plan to make) that will set the book apart from the dissertation. Editors will be looking for substantive changes that mean the manuscript will be marketable as a new project.
    • Previously published material: Has any material been previously published? We recommend publishing no more than 30% of your project as journal articles. Keep in mind that you will have to secure permission for previously published material; please keep your fully executed contracts for this material on hand.
    • Simultaneous submission: Is your proposal being considered by any other presses? Presses will usually ask for exclusivity when a proposal or manuscript is sent out for peer review.

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