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Getting to first base: How to pitch your textbook idea to publishers

You have a great idea. You know your book is needed. As you pick your way through the prospectus (or guidelines for authors), here are some thoughts about what editors are really looking for, the core messages to keep bringing home:

You know this market. Editors tell me that their number one question as they read a proposal is: ” Do we need this book”? To convince them, be familiar with every comparable text. Then, if possible, do your own informal survey to concretely make your case: “My colleagues at X, Y, Z university have been yearning for a book with this orientation.” “The existing texts do not fully capture the new trends (be specific) in my field.” ” Based on my intimate knowledge of our students my book will be ideal because it does A, B and C.” Inflated self-serving phrases such as this book is “utterly unique” or ” for all undergraduates” are total turn offs— signs of an author who doesn’t know the market, or, worse yet, is planning a text that is too weird ( won’t sell).

You can write. Editors (no surprise) are also asking themselves: “Can this person write for students?” To calm their fears, spell out your book’s virtues in a clear, succinct, jargon free way. In the special features section of the prospectus, perhaps use bulleted points to tout your text’s advantages. In the section where you outline the book, don’t assume that an editor will read your mind. Explain in accompanying paragraphs why your topic coverage is superior, or why your structure offers an interesting alternative to what’s out there now.

You will be a joy to work with. Editors will immediately reject a proposal if they think that an author might be an arrogant, prima donna. So, before you send off the prospectus, consider how you come across as a human being. One way of ensuring that you fall into the egotistical, unprofessional meanie category is to trash the competition (or, once again, sell your book as the magnum opus of the century appropriate for everyone). Remember your proposal will be sent out to reviewers who may really love the book you are excoriating and want to retaliate for this insult to their own teaching choices.

Finally, send your proposal to different publishing houses, expect to get rejected and go forth unafraid. What could be more important than making a difference for the students and field!

Dr. Janet Belsky is the author of three textbooks in developmental psychology, including Experiencing the Lifespan (Worth, 2007), and teaches in the psychology department at Middle Tennessee State University.