In previous posts, I’ve outlined the general process for publishing a SoTL book and strategies for editing collections. Both posts note that part of the proposal process entails making a case for your proposed book. Why is your project worth publishing? And why should the publisher you’re approaching with the idea consider adding it to their catalog? In this post, I share some strategies for addressing those questions.

Move Beyond (Only) Addressing a Gap

Academic scholarship often spends at least some time establishing how this new article or book “creat[es] and contribut[es] to scholarly conversations” (Healey, Matthews, and Cook-Sather 2020, 25); see also Thomson and Kamler 2013; Moore 2018). Situating your new research amidst prior scholarship demonstrates to readers that you’re familiar with other explorations of your topic. Your choices about who to reference can shape how other scholars respond to your work (Hargittai 2013). Citations also can hide or highlight the work of other scholars (Chick, Abbot, Mercer-Mapstone, Ostrowdun, and Grensavitch 2021). Collectively, then, how you position your work with the prior work on your topic helps establish your ethos — your credibility as an author.

When you can convincingly demonstrate that you understand the scholarly conversation you’re entering, it’s also easier to answer the “So what?” question about your work. Why does your work matter in the context of this broader scholarly inquiry? What are you adding that moves the conversation forward, tests prior assumptions, or adds a previously hidden perspective?

Your answers to those questions matter to academic book publishers… But book publishers also want to know:

  • Is there a market for your proposed book?
  • Why is your proposed book a good fit for this specific publisher?

Analyze the Market for Your Book

No, you don’t need to project specific sales numbers for your proposed project, but you do need to explain why you think the press’s customers will buy your book. If the existing scholarly conversation includes other books by established experts on the topic, why would readers purchase your book in addition to — or instead of — those texts?

While a strong answer to the “So what?” question will help you make a case for your proposed book, you also should think about how you might be uniquely positioned to connect with your potential readers. For example, are you an established member of a professional organization whose members would be interested in your latest work? Do you regularly present at conferences where you could promote your book? Do you consult or give workshops on your topic, and if you do, how might your book fit into your consulting or workshop plans?

Bottom line: Your proposal needs to demonstrate that you understand your potential audience, and you need to make a compelling case for why those readers would be interested in your book.

Know Your Publisher

Sometimes an otherwise strong book proposal isn’t successful because it doesn’t align with the publisher’s mission and audience. Our target audience for the Stylus Publishing/Center for Engaged Learning Series on Engaged Learning and Teaching, for example, is “a multi-disciplinary, higher education audience interested in research-informed engaged learning practices” with a particular focus on “faculty, staff, faculty developers, administrators, and policy makers.” Therefore, we’re unlikely to respond enthusiastically to a proposal for a book that appeals primarily to one discipline. If we’re intrigued by the engaged learning topic, we might ask the proposal author if they’ve considered reimagining the project for a multi-disciplinary audience. Yet proposals that don’t address why the proposed project would appeal to our series audience raise questions about how well the proposal author understands the series.

So, in addition to demonstrating that you understand your potential audience, you also need to convince the publisher that your potential audience aligns with their target audience.

Make a Case for Your (Open Access) Book

Although open access publishing doesn’t carry the same sales goals that guide traditional publishing, open access publishers still track readership, so strategies for making a case for your proposed book still apply. The Center for Engaged Learning (CEL) Open Access Book Series, for instance, still has substantial production costs associated with publishing a book (e.g., series editors’ time, managing editor’s time, DOI registration, web-hosting costs, etc.), so even though CEL doesn’t pass those costs on to readers (or to authors), we have to decide if proposed projects merit the investment.

Successful proposals to the series help us assess our potential return on that investment by addressing how the project:

  • appeals to our international, multi-disciplinary, higher education audience interested in research-informed engaged learning practices; and
  • experiments with genre or medium in ways that take advantage of an online and open access format.

Whether you’re submitting a proposal to a CEL series or to another publisher, our academic book publishing blog series can help you learn more about the process. I wish you success with your next book proposal! Please reach out if you have additional questions — or alternate perspectives! — about academic book publishing.


Chick, Nancy L., Sophia Abbot, Lucy Mercer-Mapstone, Christopher P. Ostrowdun, and Krista Grensavitch. 2021. “Naming is Power: Citation Practices in SoTL.” Teaching and Learning Inquiry 9 (2).

Hargittai, Eszter. 2013. “Finding the Right Context.” Inside Higher Ed (blog). February 25, 2013.

Healey, Mick, Kelly E. Matthews, and Alison Cook-Sather. 2020. Writing about Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: Creating and Contributing to Scholarly Conversations across a Range of Genres. Elon, NC: Center for Engaged Learning.

Moore, Jessie L. 2018. “Writing SoTL: Going Public for an Extended Audience.” In SoTL in Action: Illuminating Critical Moments of Practice, edited by Nancy L. Chick, 119-126. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Thomson, Pat, and Barbara Kamler. 2013. Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals: Strategies for Getting Published. London: Routledge.

Jessie L. Moore is Director of the Center for Engaged Learning and Professor of English: Professional Writing & Rhetoric. With Peter Felten, she edits the Stylus Publishing/Center for Engaged Learning Series on Engaged Learning and Teaching and the Center for Engaged Learning Open Access Book Series.

How to Cite this Post

Moore, Jessie L. 2022. “Academic Book Publishing: Making a Case for Your Proposed Book.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. April 12, 2022.