Ready to Publish Your Book?
Publishing a book remains one of the highest goals in academia, particularly in book-heavy disciplines. You revised your dissertation or finally completed the last chapter of a monograph. Congratulations! Now's the time to take off your academic hat and put on your sales hat. For many academics this is a difficult thing to do. But to get your book published you now need to switch to marketing mode.
How do you do that? First, become both objective and practical. Distance yourself from your manuscript and view it with an impartial eye. Selling is a business where a bit of savvy, a lot of persistence, and a fairly thick skin go a long way.
First, make a list of possible publishers. Take a look at the recent scholarly books on your bookshelf. Who are the publishers? Ask your colleagues, dissertation advisor, or other mentors about presses they’d recommend. Take them up on any offers of connections to certain publishers—personal contacts really help. Spend an hour or two perusing Writer’s Market (the annually updated book, now in its 96th edition, at the OSF library reference desk) to find out who publishes what. Go to conferences and nose around book exhibits, talking to the reps and supplying them with a brief (one page) proposal. Include your book’s significance, main ideas, outline of chapters, and potential audience.
Targeting university presses is a good idea (and at R1 institutions you’d have to publish with the best to get tenure). However, keep in mind that there are fine trade academic presses (e.g. Routledge, Rowman and Littlefield, Palgrave Macmillan, Ashgate) that may be just as appropriate in your field. Do avoid vanity presses or any press that doesn’t peer review manuscripts or copy edit them. If you really can’t get a publisher interested in your manuscript after a good long try (say, a year or two), think about tailoring individual chapters for scholarly journals.
Once you have a list of possible publishers, scour their websites. Write down the acquisition editor’s name and contact information; note submission guidelines. It is just fine to send a single page letter of inquiry to multiple publishers. Early in my publishing career, when I didn’t know much, I found this an effective strategy to gauge interest quickly. You’ll get one of three responses: 1) no response; 2) “sorry, we don’t publish such material” or “it doesn’t fit in our current lineup” (the latter is often code for we just don’t want it); or 3) “we may be interested: tell us more.” Bingo—your list is now substantially narrowed.
Such an inquiry letter needs to be carefully crafted and customized for the presses you send it to. First, make sure your manuscript is completely done and polished: if you receive a positive reply you have to be ready to send it out right away. The letter should be personally addressed; if you simply cannot find a name start with Dear Acquisitions Director. Hook the reader in the first paragraph by stating your book’s significance. How does it fill a gap in scholarship? How is it unique? In the next paragraph or two elaborate on the book’s content, target audience, and your credentials. Sell your book to the press directly: state why it is an obvious fit for their particular lineup. In a brief last line, invite the editor to request more information. End with “I look forward to hearing from you soon.”
But perhaps your book is tailor-made for only one or two publishers. In that case, start with the one at the top of your list and follow the directions on their website for submitting a full-blown proposal. While directions may vary from press to press, all proposals have essentially the same elements. You should start preparing these questions even as you are completing your manuscript:
- What is the book about?
- What is its significance? Why is it unique?
- What is the book’s competition?
- How is the book organized and why?
- Who is the author? What are his or her credentials?
- Who is the target audience?
- When will the manuscript be completed?
Remember that a proposal is your prime marketing tool. It requires clear, concise, and convincing writing. You must persuade the busy and harried editor (they all are) to actually read your manuscript. Take your time in preparing it, get critical feedback from trusted colleagues, revise and revise again. Your thoughtfulness and care will show.
Oh—and you also need to have a great manuscript. But that’s another column. . .
Dr. Mary Reichardt is internal grants director and writing consultant in the Center for Faculty Development. Over her 28 years at St. Thomas, she has published 13 books in literature with a variety of publishers: University of Nebraska Press, University Press of Mississippi, Catholic University of America Press, Rowman and Littlefield, Ignatius Press, and Greenwood Press.