Proposal Guidelines

Harvard University Press publishes thoughtful books for both scholars and educated general readers in history, philosophy, literature, classics, religion, law, economics, public policy, physical and life sciences, technology, history of science, behavioral sciences, and education, along with reference works in a wide range of fields.

All HUP books are published in English, with translation rights licensed to publishers in other countries.

We do not publish original fiction, original poetry, religious inspiration or revelation, cookbooks, guidebooks, children’s books, art and photography books, Festschriften, conference volumes, unrevised dissertations, or autobiographies.

What Should Be in a Proposal?

Publishing involves a matching process between the particular strengths and styles of a manuscript and those of a publisher. Your proposal should give our editors and marketing staff a clear and detailed idea of what your book will be about. The proposal should tell the Press staff why you are writing this particular book at this particular time in your own career, and more important, in the development of your field.

Questions to consider as you prepare a book proposal:
  • What problems are you setting out to solve?
  • What confusions do you wish to clarify?
  • What previously unknown or unfortunately neglected story are you planning to tell?
  • How is this book different from all other books?
  • Why does that matter? To whom?
Possible audiences are as variable as publishers. Consider:
  • Is your book for specialists in your field?
  • Does your book focus on a particular area within a larger field?
  • Is it a book that students might use, and if so, students at what level?
  • Is it a “trade” book? That is, one intended for general readers, those without specialized knowledge in your area?

Whatever your answer, consider carefully the kind of approach, terminology, level of explanation, and scholarly apparatus that your book will need to make it most compelling for your ideal reader.

Successful proposals usually include:
  • A narrative description of the proposed book’s themes, arguments, goals, place in the literature, and expected audience. State your argument concisely and clearly.
  • A comparison of the proposed book to other books now available that are intended for the audience you seek. (If you are writing a specialized monograph, it is not especially illuminating to compare it to a popularized treatment of the same subject.)
  • A summary of your own professional experience, past publications, and relevant research, aimed at explaining why you are the right author for the book you intend to write.
  • An annotated table of contents, with a brief description of the contents of each chapter.
  • An estimate of the probable length of the book, the illustrations (if any) that you wish to include, the time it will take you to write it, and any possible complicating factors.

Full chapters should not be sent with the initial proposal, but if some have already been written, say so in your cover letter. You should also note whether any chapters, or substantive sections of chapters, have been previously published.

For more advice, we recommend:

Who Reads a Proposal?

Proposals are most likely to be read quickly when they are addressed (by name) to the appropriate acquisitions editor. Read more about our editors’ areas of interest.

Editors may decline to pursue a proposed book. They may encourage the author to provide more information or send in the chapters that are already written. They may consult with outside reviewers—and they will certainly confer with other editors and members of the Press staff—before making any formal commitment. Bear in mind, then, that your proposal may be read not only by editors but by specialists in marketing and production, and answer any questions they may have (Why are 50 b/w photographs necessary?) as clearly as you can.

How Should a Proposal Be Submitted?

Please note that Harvard University Press discourages cold calls. Email is the best method of submission to ensure that your proposal is reviewed in a timely manner. Please send all proposals by email to (Attention: Editorial). You should expect an answer within three to four weeks. If you choose to send your proposal by U.S. mail or courier please be advised that we are not responsible for lost packages and we do not return unsolicited manuscripts or proposals.

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