How to write an academic book?

Have you ever wanted to write an academic book or wondered what are the steps to write one? In this blog post, I will give an overview of the steps to write an academic book, and mention some lessons learned while writing my recent book on high utility pattern mining.

how to write an academic book?

Step 1. Think about a good book idea.
The first step for writing a book is to think about the topic of the book and who will be the target audience. The topic should be something that will be interesting for an audience. If a book focuses on a topic that is too narrow or target a small audience, the impact may be less than if a more general topic is chosen or if a larger audience is targeted.

One should also think about the content of the book, evaluate how much time it would take to write the book, and think about the benefits of making the book versus spending that time to do something else. It is also important to determine the book type. There are three main types of academic books:

  • First, one may publish a textbook, reference book or handbook. Such book must be carefully planned and written in a structured way. The aim is to write a book that can be used for teaching or used as a reference by researchers and practitioners. Because such book must be well-organized, all chapters are often written by the same authors.
  • Second, one may publish an edited book, which is a collection of chapters written by different authors. In that case, the editors typically write one or two chapters and then ask other authors to write the remaining chapters. This is sometimes done by publishing a “call for chapters” online, which invite potential authors to submit a chapter proposal. Then, the editor evaluates the proposal and select some chapters for the book. Writing such book is generally less time-consuming than writing a whole book by oneself because the editors do not need to write all the chapters. However, a drawback of such book is that chapters may contain redundancy and have different writing styles. Thus, the book may be less consistent than a book entirely written by the same authors. A common type of edited book is also the conference or workshop proceedings.
  • Third, one may publish his Ph.D. thesis as a book if the thesis is well-written. In that case, one should be careful to choose a good publisher because several predatory publishers offer to publish theses with a very low quality control, while taking all the copyrights, and then selling the theses at very expensive prices.

Step 2. Submit a book proposal
After finding a good idea for a book, the next step is to choose a publisher. Ideally, one should choose a famous publisher or a publisher that has a good reputation. This will give credibility to the book, and will help to convince potential authors to write chapters for the book if it is an edited book.

After choosing a publisher, one should write a book proposal and send it to the publisher. Several publishers have specific forms for submitting a book proposal, which can be found on their website or by contacting the publisher. A book proposal will request various information such as: (1) information about the authors or editors, (2) some sample chapter (if some have been written), (3) is there similar books on the market?, (4) who will be the primary and secondary audience?, (5) information about the conference or workshop if it is a proceedings book, (6) how many pages, illustrations and figures the book will contain?, (7) what is the expected completion date?, and (8) a short summary of your book idea and the chapter titles.

The book proposal will be evaluated by the publisher and if it is accepted, the publisher will ask to sign a contract. One should read the contract carefully and then sign it if it is satisfying.

Step 3. Write the book
Then the next step is to write the book, which is generally the most time-consuming part. In the case of a book written all by the same authors, this can require a few months. But for an edited book, it can take much less time. Editor must still find authors for writing the chapters and perhaps also write a few chapters.

After the book have been written, it should be checked carefully for errors and consistency. A good idea is to ask peers to check the book to see if something need to be improved. For an edited book, a review process can be organized by recruiting reviewers to review each chapter. The editors should also spend some time to put all the chapters together and combine them in a book. This can take quite a lot of time, especially if the authors did not respect the required format. For this reason, it is important to give very clear instructions to authors with respect to the format of their chapters before they start writing.

Step 4. Submit the book the publisher
After the book is written, it is submitted to the publisher. The publisher will check the content and the format and may offer other services such as creating a book index or revising the English. A publisher may take a month or two to process a book before publishing it.

Step 5. Promote the book
After writing a book, it is important to promote it in an appropriate on the web, social media, or at academic conferences. This will ensure that the book is successful. Of course, if one choose a good publisher, the book will get more visibility.

Lessons learned
This year, I published an edited book on high utility pattern mining with Springer. I followed all the above steps to edit that book. I first submitted a book proposal to Springer, which was accepted. Then, I signed the contract, and posted a call for chapters. I received several chapter proposals and also asked other researchers to write chapters. The writing part took a bit of time because although I edited the book, I still participated to the writing of six of the twelve chapters. Moreover, I also asked various people to review the chapters. Then, it took me about 2 weeks to put all the chapters together and fix the formatting issues. Overall, the whole process was done over about 1 year and half, but I spent perhaps 1 or 2 months of my time. Would I do it again? Yes, because I think it is a good for my career, and I have some other ideas for books.

The most important lesson that I learned is to give more clear instructions to authors to reduce formatting problems and other issues arising when putting all chapters together.

In this blog post, I have discussed how to write an academic book. Hope you have learned something! Please share your comments below. Thanks for reading!

Philippe Fournier-Viger is a full professor working in China and founder of the SPMF open source data mining software.

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