Guidelines for Prospective Authors

From the Editors of Studies in Legal History (Holly Brewer, Sally Gordon, Michael Lobban, & Reuel Schiller)

Studies in Legal History LogoThis document is designed to make your own work on a book proposal smoother and more successful, and also to give authors a sense of how editors and presses think about projects as they are submitted for their consideration. Every proposal is different, and yours will most likely not follow exactly the template we describe here. Instead, this is a guide rather than a strict formula. Studies in Legal History has a well earned reputation for working closely and collaboratively with authors, and the editors will of course be of whatever assistance they can as you draft your proposal, as well as at later stages as you write a cogent and persuasive book. Our shared commitment to you and to the ASLH is to building the field of legal history. Publication of the best new work in the field is critically important to this endeavor.

A carefully crafted book proposal to the series editors and the Cambridge University Press (which publishes the series) provides an explanation of the scope and weight of your project. The proposal is not simply a list of what your book is about, nor simply a listing of what scholars might like about your book. To craft a strong proposal, you must consider the issues that any press cares about as well, especially issues of sales and markets. Your proposal should contain several components, therefore, and each should address a variety of questions.

  1. Opening Statement:
    Following your proposed title and anything following the colon, you need to explain what is exciting and innovative about your project. What main questions and controversies are you engaging in your work? Why is this topic important, both in terms of subject matter and historiography, and how will your work change the way we think about your topic?If you can convey your own excitement, you have a better chance of catching an editor’s attention and convincing readers that your book will sustain their interest. But you need to do so in an informed way, showing you know the historiography in which you are intervening and making a coherent claim for how and why your work will be persuasive. This section should consist of about two or three pages.
  2. Outline of Content and Argument:
    The second section of your proposal should explain the shape of the proposed book in much more detail. This section provides the reader with a sense of how the book will flow, and what kinds of materials will be marshaled to sustain the argument(s). Take the reader through the chronology and central events of the book, summarizing the major points in narrative form. This section also provides an opportunity to explore the historiography in more detail in ways that correspond to where prior work will be addressed in your book. In connection with this more detailed explanation of the work, therefore, you are given the opportunity to demonstrate more completely why your approach is fresh, original, and important.You will also need to include an annotated outline of the chapters, either at the conclusion of this section, or at the very end of the prospectus. This section generally runs about five to seven pages (if included in this section, the annotated outline is generally a page or two, three at most).
  3. A note on length, timing and market:
    This part of your proposal should address issues such as word count, which is the preferred method among publishers for predicting length. You should aim for a book that is short enough to be used in a college classroom but long enough to make a significant contribution to the literature. We recommend about 110,000-130,000 words including text and notes (which translates into 250-300 printed pages total, including notes). Authors will choose whether to place notes at the bottom of the printed page, or at the end. In addition, authors may include a bibliography or bibliographic essay.You should also consider carefully when you will be ready to submit a complete manuscript to the press. It is generally advisable not to be too optimistic, but instead to assess realistically how much time you will need. It is acceptable to say something like “the anticipated date of submission is spring 2017.” Editors and presses are on the whole ready to grant extensions, especially when they are notified in advance that one or another roadblock has arisen. Equally important, throughout the writing period, the editors will be in touch with you, and are happy to respond to drafts.Finally, you should discuss here who your potential audience might be. What literatures are you engaging–e.g. in addition to legal historians, what groups of law professors and/or historians might be interested? Would your book appeal to other disciplines, such as political science or sociology? Does it address questions of race or gender that could draw in scholars in fields where those issues are especially salient? How would you envision other scholars using the book? Would it be suitable for inclusion, say, in an advanced undergraduate class, or in a law school seminar?

With your prospectus, you will also need to include your c.v. and generally two sample chapters that demonstrate the ways that your proposal will translate into the longer work. The total length of your prospectus should be about 10 – 20 pages (often, longer proposals provide excessive detail that does not enrich the proposal). After reviewing these materials, we will give you feedback on whether your book seems to be a good fit for the series.

Holly Brewer

Sally Gordon

Michael Lobban

Reuel Schiller