Proposing the “The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories”

I’m writing a book. Specifically a trade academic publication, “The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories”, for Palgrave Macmillan.

Huzzah, right?


So, I’ve been asked, how does propose a book to a publisher?

Well, the first thing to do is look at who is publishing what. My first choice, a trade academic publisher, had published a book I thought was a close fit with my work. I looked up who the Philosophy editor was and then, crucially, looked to see if there were any submission guidelines.

The thing about submission guidelines is that every publisher wants to see a submission which is subtly different from some other publisher. Some want you to provide detailed chapter summaries of about five hundred words a piece. Others want very short paragraphs. You’ll have to give an account of what competing publications are out there, what makes your work unique and how long the finished version of the book is meant to be.

I ended up writing five proposals for “The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories” and the only thing that stayed the same was the author bio, the name of the book and the list of chapters. Everything else got either rewritten or created from whole cloth to fit the submission guidelines.

I submitted proposals for “The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories” to three University Presses and two Trade Academic publishers (I might talk about that important distinction another time). These were not simultaneous submissions (some publishers allow that, others do not), so it took the best part of six months to go from initial submission to the book being accepted somewhere. ((“The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories” was not my first book proposal, but the timely nature of my other proposed book has passed.)) Without naming names, one of the presses never got back to me about my proposal, despite fortnightly polite e-mails to the Philosophy editor asking how things were proceeding, one got back to me a mere eight hours after I submitted the proposal to say they weren’t interested, one liked the proposal but had published something similar a year earlier and thus didn’t want to compete with their own line up (I was hoping they might think my book was complementary rather than competitive, but I was wrong), and one press kept promising to get in touch but only managed to do so a month after I had accepted terms with Palgrave Macmillan.

I can’t talk much about the various submission review processes, since in one case no one ever got back to me about it, in one case it was rejected within hours of submission and one publisher liked it but felt it would compete with another of their books (but he also enthusiastically encourage me to send it elsewhere, saying it deserved to be published; that was both annoying and gratifying). Basically, all I can say is that Palgrave were very professional: they emailed me to say they had received the proposal and that they would send it out for review. I was told the turn around for getting the proposal was about two weeks, which unluckily for me, meant that I was going to be waiting anxiously to hear back from them whilst on holiday at Lake Tarawera, aka “The Place with No 3G”.

Time passes.

I remember getting the email to say they had accepted the manuscript on the drive back into Rotorua. I had my phone in my hand the entire journey (I was not driving; I was getting motion sickness from focussing on the screen), waiting for, at the very least, the letter “E” to appear on my phone’s screen, (a promissory note that meant I could, very slowly, check my e-mails). The reception flickered on and off as we passed the Green and Blue lakes and then, outside of a sportwears store my Mother, for reasons unknown, thought I was going to buy shoes from, the internet reception on my phone sprang to life (3G!), mostly with emails from students but also with that one, crucial message.

I read it about three times before deciding my senses were not being deceived. “Mother”, I said, because I am a very formal-kind of son, “I’m going to write a book.”

“Well done. Shall we see if there are any shoes you want?” she replied.

There weren’t.