When my agent Roger and I decided that we might want to explore the possibility of going with a different publisher, the first step was to come up with a book proposal to shop around. For ten years or so I had been wanting to write a particular book, but had always put it off because it had seemed like such a MAJOR undertaking. I came to think that this was the perfect time to pursue it, to propose doing a new book on a completely new topic with a new publisher as a new beginning.
The book was/is to be about how Christianity spread throughout the Roman world, until, less than 400 years after it started, it had taken over and the Roman Empire had officially become Christian. In my mind I was thinking about a title like “The Triumph of Christianity: How Faith in Jesus Destroyed the Religions of Rome.” It would be unlike anything I had ever done.
The strategy was for me to write a 15-20 page prospectus in which I would explain what the idea behind the book was, why the topic was both important and interesting, and how I would go about structuring the book. A prospectus like this is designed to get a publisher interested and to give them enough of a sense of what would actually be argued in the book for them to see that it has already been carefully thought through. You can’t simply write a prospectus off the top of your head. You have already to have done substantial research on the topic and to know where you want to go with it. For many authors that alone takes months or years, just to get to the point of writing a compelling prospectus.
In my case, had been thinking, reading, and teaching about the topic for years. Many (many!) years ago I had taught a PhD seminar on “Christianizing the Roman Empire.” The seminar had developed out of an earlier one that I had taught when I first came to UNC in the late 1980s that dealt with the early Christian “apologists.” These were the earliest intellectual defenders of the Christian faith against attacks of pagan opponents, authors such as Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Tertullian, and Origen. I enjoyed that older course very much, as it allowed us to look at how pagans portrayed second- and third-century Christians, attacked them, persecuted them, and so on, and to see how the Christians defended themselves – how Christians argued that they should not be persecuted but instead should be recognized as the superior religion.
But while teaching that course one semester it occurred to me that…
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