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Q&A: What is the first step in launching my idea for an academic book project?

Q: I have an idea for an academic book. What is my first step in launching this project?

John Bond, Publishing Consultant, Riverwinds Consulting:

“Whether it be an academic monograph, textbook, or other type of book, the first step is to solidify ‘The Idea.’ This process has several components. My recommendation is approach this in a stepwise fashion:

  1. Start by writing a short, one sentence summary of the project (less than twelve words).
  2. Then write a three to four paragraph description. This should be similar to what you might see
    on the back of a book or marketing copy. Describe the book, its features and benefits,
    and who the book is geared towards. These two exercises help define what the book is and therefore what the book is not.
  3. Now, create a table of contents. Add in a working title and subtitle for the book. For the title, think about what keywords should be included. Keep the title short and perhaps catchy. All of these items can evolve and change down the road.
  4. Research and clarify who your customer is. Create concrete descriptions of your target audience. Be specific. ‘Anyone interested in science’ is too broad and non-specific. ‘Under- graduate engineering students’ or ‘certified accountants’ digs into who your book is made for.
  5. Now, list three competitive in-print books. Write a paragraph for each about how your project will specifically differ from, or be better than, each individual book. Be realistic.
  6. Make a list of the pros and cons regarding writing the book on your own, or with a co-author(s), or whether you want to edit a book with many contributors. After evaluating this list, make the decision that is best for your project.
  7. Author marketing and promotion have become important decision points for publishers when they decide on a project. Think about ways you feel comfortable connecting with your readers and audience. Coming up with exact ways to promote your book will help you to plan for this key aspect of committing to a project.
  8. Establish a realistic deadline for completing the project—then add six months to that.

After working through this process, let this information sit for a week before you come back to it to review for possible changes. Don’t become wedded to any one aspect of your idea. Projects can grow and contract, both can be beneficial. Once you complete your review, make changes that help improve the project overall. Look to make your book compelling, attractive to publishers, and (dare I say) commercially viable. I suggest you take a summary of the items above and share them with two or three trusted colleagues. Ask for honest advice and be willing to make more adjustments.

These steps will help you define the project. Understanding your effort early on will help you in many ways but mostly give you direction and focus. Lots of work remains down the road but this is a great start. Good luck!”

John BondJohn Bond is a publishing consultant at Riverwinds Consulting. He works with individuals on publishing and writing projects. In his career, he has directed the publishing of over 500 book titles and 20,000 journal articles. He is the host of the YouTube channel “Publishing Defined.”