How to Write a Book Chapter or a Book


Congratulations! You have been invited to write a chapter in a multiauthored book. Here is one more sign that you have attained visibility in your field. Enjoy the compliment, and accept the invitation if you have the time to prepare the chapter well and submit it promptly. If you cannot write the chapter, recom­mend a peer if possible.

If you agree to write a chapter, be sure that the editor provides thorough instructions. Follow the instructions carefully; only if chapters are of the proper scope, length, and format, and only if they are submitted on time, can the book be published without undue difficulty and delay. If events arise that may slow submission of your chapter, tell the editor immediately so plans can be revised if needed.

In many cases, writing a book chapter is much like writing a review paper. If you are writing a chapter that summarizes knowledge on a topic, follow relevant advice from Chapter 23, “How to Write a Review Paper.” In particular, plan the chapter carefully. Time invested in organizing the chapter can later save much time in writing.

After submitting the chapter, you may receive queries from the copy editor (for example, requests for clarification of points). You also may receive an edited manuscript and then page proofs to review. So as not to disrupt the production schedule, take care to respond by the deadline. If you will be unreachable for
a substantial time while a chapter is in press, tell the editor so alternative plans can be made.


There can be many good reasons to write a book. A monograph focusing on a specialized technical topic can aid fellow scientists. A handbook can assist scien­tists and those applying science. A textbook can greatly help students of science. A work of popular scientific nonfiction can interest and enlighten general readers, including those in fields of science other than your own.

There also can be good reasons not to write a book—or not to do so at pres­ent. In most fields of science, scientific papers (not books) are the currency of advancement. Thus, it can be unwise to spend time writing a book early in one’s career. Of course, writing a book takes much effort and so should not be pursued without careful reflection first.

As for the monetary aspect: A widely used textbook or bestselling work of scientific nonfiction can net the author a nice sum. Most books in the sciences, however, earn the author relatively little—sometimes less than the author spent preparing the book. Thus, only if the psychological rewards would suffice should one embark on writing a book.


Sometimes the publisher finds you. At companies publishing books in the sciences, editors keep track of science, for instance by attending scientific conferences. Thus, an editor may approach you about the possibility of writing a book.

If you are the one with the idea, see which publishers have published good books on topics related to yours. These publishers are most likely to accept your book. They also can best edit and produce your book and market it to the right audience. For scholarly or technical books in the sciences, university presses and commercial scientific publishers often prove most appropriate. Popular books in the sciences often are served well by commercial publishers that include such books among their specialties. Some university presses also excel at pub­lishing science books for general readerships.

Whether the idea for the book is yours or a publisher’s, you generally must submit a proposal before receiving approval to prepare and submit the manu­script. Typically, the proposal includes an annotated table of contents, a descrip­tion of the intended market for the book, a sample chapter, and curriculum vitae or resume. To help decide whether to accept the proposal, the publisher may send it out for peer review. The publisher also will do a financial analysis; if the expected profits do not seem to justify the cost of producing the book, the publisher may decline the project even if it seems otherwise promising. Sometimes, however, another, perhaps more specialized publisher will then accept the project. For example, sometimes a university press but not a com­mercial publisher agrees to publish a book that is of scientific importance but for which sales are expected to be low.

Book proposals, unlike scientific papers, may be submitted to more than one publisher at once. If, however, a proposal is being submitted simultaneously, the author should inform the publishers. For specialized scientific books, the author typically submits a proposal directly to the publisher. If, however, a book seems likely to sell very well, using an agent can be advisable.

If a proposal is accepted, the publisher is likely to offer the author an advance contract to sign. (Some publishers, however, do not generally offer a contract until the book manuscript is completed and accepted.) An advance contract, which typically runs several pages, usually specifies such items as length, max­imum number of figures and tables, deadline, royalties paid to the author, electronic rights, and even film rights (not a likely concern for most book authors in the sciences). Review the contract carefully. If modifications seem called for, work with the publisher to come to an agreement.

An advance contract is not a guarantee that the book will be published. It does indicate, however, that if you satisfactorily complete the manuscript, pub­lication should proceed. In the sciences, unlike in fiction writing, you gener­ally should have a contract before doing most of the work on a book.


Joy at signing a book contract can readily become terror as the prospect looms of writing several hundred manuscript pages. Breaking the project into man­ageable chunks, however, can keep it from becoming overwhelming. While still remembering the scope of the book, focus on one chapter, or part of a chapter, at a time. Soon you might be amazed at how much you have written. Unless chapters build directly on each other, you may be able to write them in whatever order you find easiest. Similarly, a chapter, like a scientific paper, often need not be written from start to finish.

Much as journals have instructions for authors, book publishers have author guidelines. These guidelines, which sometimes can be accessed from publish­ers’ websites, present the publisher’s requirements or preferences regarding manuscript format, preparation of tables and figures, and other items, such as obtaining permission to reprint copyrighted materials. The guidelines also may specify the style manual to follow. Before starting to write, look carefully at the guidelines. For convenience, perhaps prepare a sheet listing the main points to remember about the manuscript format, print it on colored paper for easy identification, and place it where you readily can consult it. Following the instructions can save you, and the publisher, effort later.

Immediate demands on your time can easily rob you of opportunity to work on a book. If possible, set aside specific times for writing. For example, include in your regular weekly calendar some blocks of time to work on the book, as if they were appointments. Or have certain times of the year to focus on writing. If opportunity permits, perhaps arrange beforehand to get a sab­batical leave to work on the book, or negotiate to have reduced duties while doing so.

For a busy scientist-author, the writing of a book can extend over months or years, sometimes with interruptions of weeks or more. Therefore, a consistent style and voice can be difficult to maintain. One tactic that can help address this problem: Before resuming your writing, reread, or spend a little time editing, a section you have already drafted. Also, once you have drafted the entire book manuscript and are revising it, look for consistency.

And yes, be prepared to revise the manuscript. In books, as in scientific papers, good writing tends to be much-revised writing. Some book authors do much of the revising as they go, a paragraph or subchapter at a time, and then have little more than final polishing left. Others do a rough draft of the entire manuscript and then go back and refine it. Take whatever approach works for you. But one way or another, do revise.

If the book will include material for which you do not hold copyright—for example, illustrations published elsewhere—you will need permission unless the material is in the public domain. You also may need to pay permission fees. Obtaining the needed permissions is your responsibility, not your pub­lisher’s. However, your publisher may be able to provide advice in this regard, and publishers’ guidelines for authors often include sample letters for seeking permission. Start the permissions process early; identifying copyright holders, receiving permissions, and (if needed) obtaining images suitable for repro­duction sometimes takes many weeks.

Once you submit your book manuscript, the publisher may send it for peer review. Beforehand or simultaneously, consider obtaining peer review of your own. Show the manuscript to people whose views you regard highly, including experts on your subject and individuals representative of the intended readers of your book. Solicit and consider their frank feedback. If appropriate, thank your reviewers in the acknowledgments (with their permission) and give them copies of the book when it appears.


At the publishing company, the proposal for a new book typically goes to an editor in charge of obtaining new manuscripts in your field. This editor, often called an acquisitions editor, oversees the review of your proposal, answers ques­tions you may have while preparing the manuscript, and supervises the review of your manuscript. Once your manuscript is accepted, responsibility com­monly moves to another editor, sometimes called a production editor, who coor­dinates the editing of the manuscript and other aspects of the conversion of your manuscript into a book.

Open communication with the editors facilitates publication. If, as you pre­pare the manuscript, you have questions about format, permissions, potential changes in content, or other matters, ask the acquisitions editor. Getting the answer now may save much time later. If you fall behind and might not be able to meet deadlines, inform the acquisitions editor promptly, so that, if necessary, plans can be revised. Similarly, if at times during the editing and production phase you will not be available to review materials or answer questions, inform the production editor so that schedules can be designed or adjusted accordingly.

Book manuscripts in the sciences, like scientific papers, commonly undergo peer review. Your editor may do a preliminary assessment to determine whether the manuscript is ready for peer review or whether revisions are needed first. Once the manuscript is ready for peer review, you may be able to help the editor by suggesting experts in your field to consider including among the reviewers. After peer review is complete, the publisher will decide how to proceed. At a university press, a committee of faculty members is likely to advise the pub­lisher in this regard.

For a book manuscript, as for a scientific paper, any of four decisions may be reached. Commonly, the manuscript will be accepted but some revisions will be required. Occasionally, the manuscript will be accepted without revi­sions. Sometimes, if the manuscript needs major revision, the author will be asked to revise it and submit it for reevaluation. And sometimes, if a manu­script has fallen far short of its seeming potential, it will not be accepted.

In the likely instance that some revisions are required, the editor will indi­cate how to proceed. Commonly, you will receive peer reviewers’ suggestions. You also should receive guidance from the editor—for example, regarding which suggestions are important to follow and which are optional, or what to do about contradictory advice from different reviewers. The editor will also determine with you a timetable for completing the revisions.

Once your manuscript is successfully revised, the book will enter production. In this phase, a copy editor will edit the manuscript, a designer will design the book, and ultimately, the book will go to the printer.

Your manuscript probably will go to a freelance copy editor who specializes in editing book manuscripts in your field. Because this copy editor knows your field and the conventions in it, he or she can edit your manuscript more appro­priately than a general copy editor could. Your communication with the copy editor is likely to be through the production editor coordinating publication of your book. You will receive the edited manuscript for review, as well as any que­ries (questions) the copy editor might have, for example about points that seem inconsistent or otherwise in need of clarification. Check the edited manuscript in the time allotted; if inaccuracies or other problems have been introduced, correct them. Answer any queries so that necessary changes can be made.

In addition to receiving the edited manuscript to check, you will later receive page proofs—that is, copies of the draft pages of the book. Review the page proofs promptly but thoroughly. Make sure that nothing has been omitted, that all corrections of the edited manuscript were entered accurately, and that all photographs and other illustrations are included and correctly oriented. Limit your changes, however, to those that are necessary. Now is not the time for rewriting.

For many books in the sciences, a good index is crucial. Once the page proofs are ready and thus one can see what information will appear on what page, an index can be prepared. Some authors prepare the indexes for their books themselves. Others, however, use professional indexers. Indexing is a highly skilled craft, and often a professional indexer can prepare a more use­ful index than the author could. A professional indexer also is likely to prepare the index more efficiently. If your book will be professionally indexed, your publisher should be able to identify and hire a suitably qualified indexer. In some cases, the contract for your book may indicate that the publisher will pay for indexing. If you are to pay, the publisher may deduct the sum from your book royalties rather than ask you to pay directly. In any case, the money is likely to be well spent.


If you have chosen well, your publisher will have experience and expertise marketing books to the audiences for yours. To do its best job, though, the pub­lisher needs information from you. Thus, you are likely to receive an author questionnaire. The questionnaire may, for example, ask you to identify scien­tific organizations that have members interested in your topic, conferences at which your book might appropriately be sold, journals for which your book is suitable for review, and people well suited to provide endorsements. The ques­tionnaire also is likely to request information about you, as well as other infor­mation that can aid in promoting your book. Take the time to complete the questionnaire thoroughly. The information can help the marketing department ensure that the appropriate audience knows of your book and thus that your book receives the sales it deserves.

Increasingly, authors are expected to take active roles in marketing, espe­cially if their books are for general audiences. “Today, I do not offer a contract or invest in a project if the author isn’t willing to promote his or her book,” states an acquisition editor at a university press. “In today’s world of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogs, and so on, we ask authors to actively seek venues in which to speak, lecture, present—anything to get the book into the right hands. Markets are increasingly specialized and targeted, and a reader is more likely to purchase a book on astronomy at, say, a star party where the author is a fea­tured guest than by walking into a Barnes and Noble and reaching for that book among the other 150,000 or so titles available each year.”

You may also be asked to participate in the marketing of a book in other ways. For example, you may be interviewed for radio or television or for a pod­cast or webinar. Book signings may be arranged. Arrangements may be made for excerpts of the book to appear in magazines. Be open to such possibilities, and suggest any that occur to you. If you have questions, consult the marketing department.

For scholarly or technical books, marketing remains more restrained. Although pushing one’s book in inappropriate venues, such as scientific pre­sentations, can be counterproductive, do mention your book when suitable occasions arise. For example, if a posting in an email discussion list requests information that your book happens to contain, mention your book. Likewise, consider mentioning your book in science blogs and on professionally ori­ented social networking sites. Doing so can at least prompt prospective users to seek the book in the library. And given the ideals of science, the success of a book should be measured not only in sales but also in service to those who can benefit.

Source: Gastel Barbara, Day Robert A. (2016), How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, Greenwood; 8th edition.

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