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Humanities & Social Sciences
Cambridge University Press is keen to evaluate proposals for books on subjects in the humanities and social sciences. These notes are to help you to prepare a proposal that can be fully, carefully and rapidly assessed.
About Cambridge University Press
Cambridge University Press is an integral part of the University of Cambridge and is constitutionally devoted to printing and publishing for 'the acquisition, advancement, conservation and dissemination of knowledge in all subjects'. The Press is governed by a University Syndicate, an official committee comprising 18 senior University academics from a wide variety of disciplines, which was first established in the sixteenth century. The Press Syndicate meets every two weeks during term time (and monthly during the vacations). At these meetings the Press editors recommend proposals to the Syndicate for publication. When a recommendation is accepted by the Syndicate, a contract is then offered to the author(s) or editor(s).
Preparing your proposal
The function of the proposal is to convince the Press editor, referees and Press Syndicate that the book you propose will be a valuable addition to the literature. In essence, why should your book be published? Never simply assume the a priori importance of what you intend to do. In general, the more you can tell us about the book the better. We need to know the working title, your reasons for writing, what the book will cover, the expected readership and information about you and other authors or contributors.
The choice of title is very important. The title defines the subject area, the level at which you will write, and the relationship of this book to others in this area. It will appear in catalogues and publicity listings, and in bibliographies and reference lists and it may be the only indication of content, of crucial importance to librarians, booksellers and other institutional customers. The title should therefore be given careful thought and should be as informative and descriptive as is compatible with a bold statement. If you are offered a contract, your Press editor will expect to work with you on the final wording for the title and subtitle.
Reasons for writing
It may be that we have asked you to write; it may be that the impetus has come from your students or your colleagues; perhaps you yourself have felt the need for a book on the subject for your own work; it may be that you teach a course and want to produce a book to accompany it. You may have other reasons. Please tell us why this is a good topic for you to write on at this time, and why you feel motivated to write a book now.
We need to know as much as possible about the proposed structure and contents of the book. The subject area and the way you will present the topics should be stated clearly. Any scheme you draw up at this stage will inevitably change as writing proceeds and your book grows and develops, but the more detailed your initial presentation, the better. As you prepare your outline, you may find it useful to consider these questions:
Please give a list of chapters and a paragraph or two about the content of each, or at least detailed subsection headings. If you have already prepared one or more sample chapters, we may ask to see these.
Please tell us about the readership you expect to reach with the book
Is the book primarily for
About the authors/editors
Please give a brief account of each author or editor's present academic interests and position or professional affiliation, with a list of any recent publications and any other information you think might help us. If the book is an edited volume, please also provide the names and affiliations of each contributor, together with an indication whether or not they have agreed to contribute to the volume, at least in principle.
The book you are going to write will most probably fit into one of the following broad categories:
Monographs are works of original scholarly research, engaging with other relevant primary and secondary literature and pushing forward disciplines into new areas of enquiry. Publication of the best and most important monographic work is central to what Cambridge does as a University press. In selecting monographs we apply extremely stringent criteria of ambition, significance and quality, and indeed in many cases recommend to individual scholars (and particularly those who have recently completed doctoral theses) that their research is more effectively disseminated in article form in appropriate scholarly journals, rather than as a book proper. We very rarely contract monographs on the basis of a proposal alone: our referees need to see at least a substantial section of a completed monographic typescript to make a considered evaluation.
A textbook is best defined as a book written for a college or university student. It will be used to explain and expand the content of a particular lecture course or series of courses which students are expected to attend. A textbook must be an essential adjunct to a course and students will be strongly recommended to buy it. Its coverage may be truly comprehensive or relatively specialised, depending on the type of student to whom it will be directed. It should be sufficiently wide in its appeal (and broad in its exemplification) to be suitable for courses other than your own.
In your proposal, please indicate the courses for which your book may be appropriate. Is the book for first year undergraduates, or for graduate students, for example? What would typical courses for this readership be called?
It is particularly important to consider how your book relates to the competition. How is your book superior to, or more up-to-date than existing texts? You may wish to devote a special section to the strengths and weaknesses of the established textbooks.
Multi-author or edited works
Edited works should be thorough and structured reviews of a major subject, in which both the chapter topics and the contributors have been carefully selected by the volume editor(s) to ensure that the resulting book is as comprehensive, coherent and integrated a treatment of that subject as possible. Cambridge does not publish conference proceedings per se, and if you are proposing to edit a book based on an academic meeting or workshop, then it is essential that the chapters are written expressly for the book and are not transcriptions of presentations, that you have selected only the best contributions from the meeting, and have, if necessary, supplemented these with specially commissioned chapters to ensure that the book is fully rounded and cohesive.
For all edited works, please give us the contributors’ names and affiliations, chapter titles and short abstracts of each chapter in the order in which they will appear in the book. Have all the contributors been approached and/or agreed at least in principle that they will contribute? Tell us how and why you have selected the topics and contributors for the chapters and how they fit together. How will you as editor ensure that the resulting chapters are of a consistent standard and level? Please also indicate a timetable for contributors to submit first drafts to you, and an estimate of when you think the volume will be in final form and ready to send to the Press.
The above notwithstanding, the Press Syndicate is committed as general policy to taking on fewer unsolicited edited volumes of the kind described, and in such cases we now often recommend to potential editors that they consider dissemination of their proposed articles as a special issue of an appropriate journal, rather than as a book proper.
This type of book collects together and summarises all the information available in one area. That area may be wide or narrow, but it is important that it is covered comprehensively. Currently there is a good demand for specialist dictionaries and reference handbooks and manuals in most areas of the humanities and social sciences.There has always been a demand for dictionaries, and as the boundaries between traditional subjects become less well defined, the usefulness of specialist encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, practical guides and other works of reference becomes ever greater. Such books may be organised thematically, or alphabetically. A proposal for this type of book should include a provisional list of topics to be included and, if possible, some specimen pages. Please also provide information on how you see the intended readership using the book.
What we don’t publish!
We do not publish new fiction, poetry or other forms of creative writing. We do not publish autobiography or memoir. We do not publish overtly devotional or religious tracts (except for the Bible), or political polemic. We do not publish cookbooks, car handbooks or D-I-Y manuals. We do not publish highly illustrated books for the general reader. Everything we publish must have some educational and/or scholarly value.
Your proposal and any supporting material will be read by the appropriate Cambridge editor, who will discuss it with colleagues: we strongly advise you to show your outline before we see it to any immediate collaborators, students (if it is a text) and other professional colleagues, and that you consider their opinions carefully. This will speed up our assessment process and will almost certainly help you to write a well-balanced proposal. At this stage we may take external reports from referees, with a view to a formal commitment to publish, or we may simply ask you to prepare a more substantial draft (without any commitment to publish on either side): much will depend on the nature and level of the intended book, as described above. Or we may simply decline to pursue your proposal, as inappropriate in level or intention for Cambridge University Press.
The amount and type of information you give, overall, should be the amount and type you yourself would need if you were asked to assess a proposal from another authority in your field. Your initial proposal should include:
Principal Editorial Contacts
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