Writing Textbook Proposals: The Brief & Expanded Table of Contents (TOC)

10 Jan

As I noted in this post about the components of a book proposal, two of its most important elements are the brief TOC and expanded TOC because, after your cover letter at the front of your proposal, these are the first real examples as to what your book is going to look like.

First, your brief TOC is a list of all the chapters of the book being proposed and should take up about half a page at the most. For textbooks and/or other types of non-fiction this can be especially revealing (and easy) to produce because each chapter title should—usually!—clearly reflect its subject. And, as well, there should be a certain linear/forward progression in the content from the beginning to end of the book that is evident from its overall layout.

The expanded TOC should immediately follow the brief TOC in your proposal and will, as you might guess, provide additional information about each chapter in the book. This is usually 2-3 sentences about a particular chapter: a breakdown of its main sections, particular elements to be present (I’ll post in the future about the elements common to individual textbook chapters), and, in the case of multiple authors, who will be writing each chapter and/or sections of each chapter. (For example, with our biomedical equipment textbook, Nick Cram was the lead author who wrote much of the main text while his co-author, Selby Holder, produced most of the labs at the end of each chapter.) In total, 3-5 pages—depending on how many chapters you’re expecting to have—should be enough to flesh out the brief TOC.

As I mentioned above, producing the initial brief TOC for a textbook can be relatively easy to produce. That’s because faculty who want to write a book have, in many cases, have already produced a brief TOC without even necessarily knowing it: it’s the course syllabus they’re already using. (A course syllabus is the schedule of subjects to be covered and assignments to be completed in a class over a semester.) I often tell faculty members that their syllabus—either individual or departmental—can be the best place to start in producing the brief TOC because it identifies specific information in a specific order with specific tasks to aid in learning that information.

There are a few things I’d like add in conclusion. First of all, neither the brief nor expanded TOC in the book proposal is an ironclad contract. There is still plenty of wiggle room to allow the specific content and its layout to morph during the writing process. On the other hand, the TOCs show that the author(s) have a plan for how the final book will look and a starting point as to how to get there.

Finally, one of my projects this semester is to write two brief e-books, one about how to be an adjunct college instructor and another about writing e-books. (When complete, both of these books will be available as free downloads from the TSTC Publishing e-commerce site.) I’m doing this because one of our strategic initiatives is to show faculty how to write short e-books in their areas of specialty that will be available for sale from our e-commerce site and these two e-books I’m working on will be designed—hopefully!—to provide examples and information on how to do this. But, in relationship to the discussion today, I’ll also be making periodic posts updating progress on these projects, especially as the development/writing process relates to producing those elements for the book proposal as well as the subsequent editorial, design, marketing, and sales areas.


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