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How to Submit a Proposal
Stenhouse is always on the lookout for good authors and books. Our publishing ranges across the curriculum, from reading, writing, and visual literacy to math, science, and social studies. We also publish books on professional development and administration, and on important issues in teaching and learning. We welcome submissions from experienced and new authors, and we like to think you'll write "with" us, not "for" us. The information below is designed to encourage you and help you proceed.
As you're thinking about writing a book, this information is designed to encourage you, and help you proceed in a manner that will increase your chances of being published.
If you've never before written a book - or even submitted a proposal to publish a book - the process and prospects may seem daunting, if not downright frightening. In fact, while you are reading this, you may be thinking of a dozen other things you need to do before you start writing. Well, washing the dishes, mowing the lawn and paying the bills can wait. This is the time to start writing. You are in fact risking rejection, but rejection isn't the worst fate in life. Even if your proposal isn't accepted or your manuscript isn't published, you will have learned some valuable lessons that you can carry forward to your next attempt. And if your proposal and manuscript are accepted, you will have accomplished something to be proud of. Linda Rief knew it was time to start writing when she found herself vacuuming her pocket book. The outcome was Seeking Diversity, a wonderful book about teaching language arts with adolescents.
So, where to begin? A logical starting place is the proposal. The point of the proposal is to help you figure out what you want your book to be, to say, to accomplish, and you probably will be surprised by some of the ideas that emerge. There's nothing like writing to find out what you want to say.
The proposal also has a second purpose - and a second audience. You are writing to answer basic questions likely to be asked by any publisher reviewing the proposal. These questions include the following:
- What is this book to be about?
- What is its intended audience?
- What writing style will you use?
- How will your book be organized?
- What books have been written on this subject, and how will yours differ?
- Who are you?
- How long do you anticipate the manuscript will be?
- How much have you already written?
- When do you expect to finish the manuscript - or a first draft?
- Will your book include samples of student writing, drawing or other work?
Of course, we understand that every proposal has its own wrinkles and specific questions; try to anticipate and pre-empt as many of these as you can. Remember that your proposal may be our first exposure to the idea you're offering. You can't assume that we understand very much. For example, you may submit a journal article that forms the basis of your manuscript; or, the article may be written in an academic style and you are intending to rewrite it as Chapter 4 of your book. We don't know; so explain exactly what you plan to do to any writing you submit, including stylistic changes you will make.
Here are a few other considerations in preparing your proposal and manuscript:
- Print everything double spaced. Your submission should be readable, not fancy. And please number the pages, either by hand or computer.
If your project is accepted, you will need written permission for any student work that appears in the book. Photographs of students also require signed releases. If you are planning to reproduce extracts, poems, or illustrations from published books, we will work with you to obtain written permission from the copyright holder.
Finally, if you are writing in detail about the classroom practices of other teachers, it is both courteous and prudent to show them what you plan to publish.
We hope you will write the most complete proposal you can. If we are interested in your proposal but still have questions, we'll ask. For instance, if you haven't yet written any of the manuscript, we would ask to see a sample chapter or two if we think the proposal looks promising.
Which brings us to the next step. After you've submitted your proposal, we may call or write with questions, or we may notify you that we've decided, regretfully, that your book is not what we're looking for. We can't always respond to every proposal, but if we are interested you will hear from us in three months.
On the other hand, we may decide to send your proposal directly to one or more readers for their responses. These readers may be teachers who are familiar with your topic and/or target audience, or they may be other professionals with experience and expertise that qualifies them to assess your ideas. This stage of the process almost always takes longer than you would wish; like you, these people are trying to squeeze this project into their busy lives.
After we receive the readers' responses, we must decide whether any particular project is a "yes," a "yes, if . . . ," a "maybe," or a "no." A request for more material is an encouraging response that falls into the "maybe" category. On the other hand, please don't consider "no" as an indication that we judge your work unsuitable; it only means that it doesn't meet our present needs as publishers. Don't give up - on us or on writing.
Which brings us back to the beginning: Relax, give this project your best effort and get it done. The only proposals we will never accept are the ones we don't receive.
The rest of the material in this page consists of a sample cover letter and a sample proposal. We've included these as examples of how one author has chosen to present her material. You will see that she has written a rather detailed cover letter and a detailed chapter outline; a brief cover letter, overview, and chapter outline would also be an acceptable way to fashion a proposal. We did not want this packet to deter you with its sheer size, so we didn't include a sample chapter or vita; a brief vita can be helpful.
Enough. Now, start writing and good luck. We hope to hear from you soon.
Philippa Stratton, Editorial Director
William Varner, Senior Editor
Holly Holland, Acquisitions and Development Editor
Toby Gordon, Senior Editor
Tori Bachman, Acquisitions and Development Editor
Maureen Barbieri, Acquisitions and Development Editor
For all submissions, please direct them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Hard copy submissions are accepted, but e-mail submissions are preferred. For hard copy submissions, please send to:
PO Box 11020
Portland, ME 04104-7020
Sample Cover Letter
(The italicized comments in parenthesis represent Philippa's thoughts as she read the letter . . .)
Dear Ms. Stratton,
As I discussed with you during our recent telephone conversation, I am proposing the publication of a book that I would write concerning the teaching of high school English to reluctant readers with limited reading strategies. (Useful reminder - now I know who she is, and what she is writing about.)
I have taught English in a high school in central Ohio for 15 years, in a school with a 27 percent minority population. During the past five years, I've gradually turned to a student-centered philosophy in the classroom. This book would reflect my journey as a teacher, my current understanding of the reading process and my classroom strategies. The emphasis would be on classroom applications. (It will be interesting to see how she weaves these three strands in the book.)
I envision this book as directed primarily toward practicing and pre-service teachers. I believe that classroom teachers will understand how I've travelled to my current beliefs and approach; pre-service teachers can learn from my travels and can find a practical approach to teacher with theoretical support. Administrators also could find the book useful, but I view them as a secondary audience, along with parents and others interested in language education. (Realistic view of the market - doesn't think everyone in the entire world is a potential customer.)
I've decided to write this book for several reasons. First, I believe I have something to say that will be of use to other teachers. I'm excited about my teaching and the progress of my students as strategic readers. I believe my classroom practices are successful, theoretically sound and unusual. My "remedial" students read and respond to substantial texts, and I use their responses and analytic "Literacy Profiles" to help me assess their progress and determine what strategy lessons are appropriate for them. It is an individualized approach that respects and challenges my students - and I believe it has been highly successful.
Second, I've been unable to find a book that would speak to high school teachers of English who subscribe to a holistic philosophy and teach "problem" readers. (She's probably right in saying there isn't anything out there at present. That's a questions I always ask my authors - and also how this compares with what is currently available.) The literature of language education for such readers seems geared toward elementary and middle school classrooms; even the best high school books seem to focus almost exclusively on reader response, without considering those readers whose histories and limited understanding and use of strategies keep them from active and enriching reading experiences. To me, these are the forgotten readers in education. Even In the Middle, which I consider an excellent text, fails to address those readers.
I envision a manuscript of 200 to 250 double-spaced pages. (This would translate into a printed book of roughly between 100 and 125 pages. Reasonably short - that's fine.) Its voice will be informal but informed and confident - a mix of conversational reflection and observation; gentle, accessible theoretical background; and a detailed approach to teaching. I have not written any parts of the book yet, but I've collected a great deal of material to harvest in my writing, including personal journals, course descriptions and daily lesson notes, and student work samples. I do not yet have permission from students to publish their work, but I have enough samples to ensure that I will be able to locate and obtain permission from enough students to fill my needs.
If you accept this proposal, I am prepared to begin writing immediately. I can write on evenings, weekends and holidays during the school year and full-time next summer. If you tell me by the end of December that you want this book, I would expect to be done by the end of August. I understand and have written for deadlines (see my enclosed vita) and plan to meet any deadline that we agree upon. (Sounds a bit optimistic. On the other hand, this is a good cover letter [and when I get to it I'll find that the proposal is thorough and carefully thought out]. As always, the proof of the proposal will come with the sample chapters.)
I hope you will find the enclosed chapter outline useful and appealing, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Copyright Stenhouse Publishers
Catching Up: Supporting Reluctant High School Readers
The book will begin with an anecdote about Jeff, a student who intrigued and frustrated me with his approach and attitude toward reading. Jeff was a bright, engaging young man with a history of school failure and no interest in reading. He was a student in a "lower-level" English class, one of several that I taught each semester. I taught - or, more precisely, tried to teach - Jeff during my eighth year as a high school English teacher. At the time, I considered myself progressive. That meant my students actually read in the classroom. They also responded to their readings, completed skills assignments and took tests that measured their skills and comprehension levels.
As I worked with Jeff, I came to compare his reading habits and strategies with mine. I came to realize that we shared very little in our approaches to reading. I was an avid reader; he hated to read and avoided it whenever possible. I approached reading with active interest; he danced around books and held them at a safe distance. I wrestled with the text, treating reading as a rough contact sport (A metaphor I will employ often); he barely played two-hand touch.
As I will explain in my introduction, my frustrating experience with Jeff - and students like him - led me to a basic reconsideration of my approach to teaching English, one that was informed by my growing understanding of whole language theories - my wife is a second grade teacher and a convert to whole language - and the perspectives of Frank Smith. I've come to the conclusion that whole language has much to offer high school teachers and students, but no one has been listening.
My introduction will end with a brief discussion of this book and its contents, including a one-paragraph description of each chapter and an invitation to proceed.
Chapter One: The Way Things Were
This chapter will begin with a detailed description of my lower-level high school English classes as I taught them for years. These classes were marked by dominance of skills lessons - grammar, vocabulary development, punctuation, word-attack drills - and a paucity of authentic reading. In most cases, texts were chosen for students, and they often were excerpts or condensed or "dummied-down" versions.
At first, I thought I was an enlightened teacher, but I didn't think about reading from any theoretical perspective; in fact, if asked, I probably would have said proudly that I thought theory got in the way of good teaching.
Although I initially failed to examine the theoretical assumptions underlying such an approach to teaching English, I now realize that any teaching strategy is based on some theory of reading and learning. My approach was based on these assumptions:
- Reading can - and should - be taught as a collection of discrete subskills.
- "Remedial" readers need to learn these skills before they can read independently.
- Reading is a reward for the acquisition of skills.
- "Remedial" readers do not need - and perhaps cannot handle - individual selections of texts.
- "Remedial" readers cannot handle whole texts. They need pre-digested material.
- The success of a reading program can and should be measured by scores on "objective" tests.
Iï¿½ll end this chapter with a description of my deteriorating sense of satisfaction as a teacher and my search for alternatives. The result of my search will be explored in the next chapter.
Chapter Two: The Way Things Are
Just as I started Chapter One with a detailed description of my earlier classrooms, I'll begin this chapter with a detailed description of my present class structure. Students, for the most part, select their own texts and choose their own directions for responding. The teacher provides options and modelling for responses, and students do not have the option of not reading or not responding, but they maintain a great deal of freedom to choose their texts and responses.
My classroom also includes these features:
- Strategy lessons, taught as needed.
- Lots of written responses to texts, including Confidence Levels (explained in Chapter 3)
- Literacy Profiles (explained in Chapter 4)
Among the theoretical underpinnings for my current approach to the teaching of high school reading are the following:
- The acquisition of reading skills - and all learning - take place from whole to part.
- Reading is comprehension.
- Comprehension involves the construction of individual meanings.
- Reading engagements must be learner-centered.
- Learning must be meaningful and functional.
- Learners need language input from all four modes: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
- Reading - and learning - are social events.
The chapter will end with a description of me as a rejuvenated teacher with a clear sense of purpose, boundless energy and enthusiasm, and command over classes in which my own beliefs about reading and learning are acted on and acted out every day - by me and my students.
Chapter Three: Readings and Responses
In this chapter, I'll describe the basic operation of my classrooms, including details about each of the following:
- How students select texts.
- How students respond to texts.
- How responses are evaluated.
1. How students select texts. Students are given a great deal of freedom to select texts from among several sources: classroom collections, school library, public library, various other sources - including student collections. Most of those actually selected, however, come from my text sets, including short story anthologies, collections of biographies, and essay collections. I set basic criteria that must be met, depending on the genre.
2. How students respond to texts. Options for student responses vary with the texts and the units. For example, in the short story unit, students respond with literary letters, similar to those described by Nancie Atwell in In the Middle. When they read biographies, they work toward a personal essay on their definitions of heroes and heroines.
In all the reading, students state their Confidence Levels, from one to five. Confidence Levels have proven a useful tool for students to use in judging how well they understand a text, and my comparison of their Confidence Levels with their summaries and responses helps me determine if they know when they understand and donï¿½t understand what they read.
3. How responses are evaluated. Responses are judged primarily for the student's ability to share what s/he experienced in the reading event and what s/he took away from the event - whether a clearer definition of hero, a greater understanding of a public issue, appreciation for a writer, or the experience of making a personal connection with a text.
This chapter will end with samples of student responses to texts, from literary letters to responses to essays to biographical sketches. I'll close by explaining that these responses help me fill out Literacy Profiles on each student, to be described in the next unit.
Chapter Four: Literacy Profiles
As I mentioned in my description of Chapter Four, the Literacy Profile is a key document in the operation of my English classes. In this chapter, I'll describe the profile and explain how I use it in my classes.
At the start of the semester, each studentï¿½s file contains a profile with 10 categories and space for entries. The categories, each beginning with the words "Does the reader . . . ," include:
- Know when s/he understands and doesnï¿½t understand the text?
- Have trouble with words?
- Have trouble with ideas?
- Recognize ideas (as opposed to facts)?
- Relate ideas to his/her own life?
- View reading as meaning-making?
- Organize what s/he reads?
- Connect readings to purposes?
- Consciously employ strategies
- Enjoy reading?
As students read and respond to their texts, I add entries to their literacy profiles. I also ask the students to complete Reading Interviews at the beginning of the semester, which provide additional information for the profiles.
The entries in the profiles provide crucial information in helping me determine what assistance students need individually and what engagements would help the entire class. In fact, the majority of my strategy lessons are responses to patterns that I've seen in the profiles.
The chapter will conclude with some examples of literacy profiles and the student responses that prompted them.
Chapter Five: Strategy Lessons
Contrary to a common myth about whole language classrooms, skills are taught here. But the selection of the skills - which I prefer to call strategies - to be taught is based on the needs of certain students as they transact with certain texts for certain purposes. Everyone does not need to learn the same strategies at the same time for reading different texts.
Here are a few examples:
- Student decide what ideas are important and how ideas relate to one another through "Cloning an author," a popular elementary school language arts strategy.
- Students learn to figure out the meanings of difficult words by analyzing context clues.
- Students produce "Skinny Books" - collections of excerpts from children's books - to help build understanding and background knowledge of difficult topics found in textbooks.
This chapter will end with an annotated list of strategy lessons, with instructions and with explanations about appropriate occasions for their use.
Chapter Six: Profile of a Reader
In this chapter, I will follow a student through an entire school year, beginning with his or her Reading Interview and continuing through all the reading engagements, responses, strategy lessons, conferences, evaluations and the evolving Literacy Profile. I hope this case study will enable readers to see how students can grow as strategic readers, and how a teacher can map and respond to their changes over the course of a school year.
Chapter Seven: Questions and Answers
I expect readers of this book to find themselves asking questions as they read. (That's one of the strategies that I teach my students.) I can't assume that the book will answer every questions, but I can anticipate some questions, including the following:
- How do you circumvent required reading
- How do you control the volume of paperwork?
- What does your classroom look like?
- How do you maintain discipline?
- How do you teach students with learning disabilities?
- What do you do about students who choose not to read?
Chapter Eight: The End, and The Beginning
Teachers don't often have the luxury of second chances with students. If we "lose" them during the school year, we won't have the opportunity to fix the damage we've done.
I decided to end this book with a short flight of fancy by "fixing" what went wrong with my teaching of Jeff, and stand back in satisfaction at the end of the school year, marvelling at an enthusiastic, strategic reader.
Copyright Stenhouse Publishers