Ellen Lupton is curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City and director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore. An author of numerous books and articles on design, she is a public-minded critic, frequent lecturer, and AIGA Gold Medalist. Read More

How to Write a Book Proposal

Readers are sometimes curious about how to prepare a book proposal. In my experience, an effective book proposal includes some or all of the following elements.

Essential

:: Statement of intent, in the form of a “pitch letter” or narrative document, which states the title, concept, scope, audience, and point of view of the book, as well as positioning your book in relation to competing titles. Your book should be an original contribution to the field, but it should also relate to an existing discourse. In 2002, when I proposed the book Thinking with Type to Princeton Architectural Press, there were many, many type guides on the market, proving that this was a lively area. But none were exactly like my book. Unique selling proposition: Thinking with Type combines theory and practice, how and why, in a compact, contemporary, readable volume packed with strong examples. Likewise, when proposing the book Graphic Design: The New Basics (co-authored with Jennifer Cole Phillips), we were able to identify a strong literature and market in this area, and yet a void in books quite like this one. Unique selling proposition: Graphic Design: The New Basics presents classic modernist design priciples updated for contemporary technology and culture.

Your statement of intent should indicate the anticipated number of pages and images as well as a short bio demonstrating your experience and expertise.

:: Table of Contents, listing the different sections of the book and indicating overall page count. You don’t need to know exactly how long the book is, but the table of contents is a crucial planning document for both you and your potential publisher, providing a road map of the book and indicating its level of depth and granularity.

:: Sample chapter(s) (Word document), together with sample illustrations, if you are not planning to design the book. If you are planning to design the book, then the sample chapter(s) should be laid out.

Optional/recommended

:: Sample layouts, if you are planning to design the book. Ideally, these layouts will feature actual text and images, but placeholders can be used as well. Your acquisitions editor may request sample layouts after expressing serious interest in your project.

:: Published writing sample. This may be submitted in lieu of a sample chapter to demonstrate your writing ability.

Sample book proposals by Ellen Lupton

:: Thinking with Type, 2002 (pdf)
:: Graphic Design: The New Basics, 2006 (Word doc)
:: Designing with Materials, 2007 (Word doc)