Before you get bogged down in a lengthy book proposal, send a few paragraphs to the editor instead. It could save you a great deal of time. Here’s three paragraphs I sent to a University Press editor and his response.
By way of background, I am fascinated by historical markers and I always pick up books on them when I find them. Most of these titles run into several printings over the years. Nowadays, states have online resources documenting their markers but having a book in the car while traveling is convenient and browsing at home is always fun.
As to this short query, there is a non-governmental group in the West that has been putting up markers for decades. I was dumfounded the editor, whose press deals mainly with history, hadn’t even heard of this group. But I got my answer quickly, saving us both time.
My short query:
I think there is a book waiting to be written on E Clampus Vitus. I run into more of their historical monuments than the “official” ones put up by California or Nevada. They commemorate everything from mining districts to saloons to brothels, presenting an alternative history not matched by their state sponsored peers. And all seem carefully researched.
Waymarking.com, if you search for “Clampus” suggest there are more than 600 monuments now scattered throughout California, Nevada, and points beyond. I’ve included some text below from Waymarking. The last book detailing these monuments seems to have been written in 1980 to honor their first fifty years of installing these plaques.
A secretive group, except when they throw wild parties in public, the Clampers might be an interesting body to research, possibly for the first time in the traditional press, relating their history, their work as a renegade historical society, and their compulsion for monument building. Again, I am writing out loud. I’d probably have to somehow become a Clamper to write about it.
Interesting idea but I don’t think it would be right for the Press. I’d never heard of E Clampus Vitus, and now having read their Wikipedia page I still don’t have any sense really of what they are or why they matter outside of an excuse to party and put up an occasional plaque here or there. I can imagine a really interesting human interest piece of long-form journalism running in a magazine, but I don’t see enough for a book, and I’m struggling to imagine the audience for such a book. Also the very practical question of access which you raise!