There are scams and traps aplenty when you are trying to get your first book out: so seek expert advice and never, ever pay someone to publish your work. Be sure to read the small print. Do not publish with inappropriate presses just because it is easy to do so. If they contact you unsolicited over the internet asking to publish your PhD or conference proceedings they are on a trawl and will have approached hundreds.
They only want to sell copies of your book back to your contributors. Walk away from anyone who asks you for money to publish your book. If you believe in your material, take it seriously and treat it well. A fundamental mistake made by prospective authors is to look first at the status of the publisher rather than at what they actually publish. Do not pay to publish your work. If you are asked for money at the start, you can be sure that the in-house editing will be rubbish, the copy-editing will be left to you and the distribution will be non-existent.
Although it can be time-consuming, it is important to take pains over your proposal — you will stand a greater chance of acceptance, and your book will be the better for it. This can take some time often several months but will add a lot of weight to your book idea, if positive. American and some European publishers seem to work differently, and I have had books accepted by both without reviews.
In short, prepare the proposal for a publisher as carefully as you would prepare a bid for funding. But also consider whether the best way forward would be to publish first in journals rather than going for a monograph. After all, the cost of monographs means that readers are often deterred from buying your work, even if you manage to get it into print.
How can you secure the right one? What if they leave during the process? And what happens if you do not like what they are doing with your manuscript? There may be a balance to be struck between the prestige of your publisher and how much attention you will get from them. Personal relationships also matter. Unfortunately, there is a high turnover of editors in publishing and it is likely that you may lose your editor during the gestation period of your book. It is important that you meet, face to face, with any replacement to make sure that you have the same expectations and that you can work with them.
Sometimes there is only one person at a publisher responsible for editing books in your field, and you will be lumbered with him or her — if this happens you should let him or her know about any ground rules that you and the previous editor had established. Editors quickly get a reputation for being encouraging or not , conscientious or not , imaginative or not. Bear in mind that you also have to balance out the advantages of a prestigious publisher against the possibility that the editor there may not be very helpful, as has been the case in some instances in my experience of helping my PhD students to find a suitable publisher.
In the world of academic books, copy-editing has changed and much of this work is now outsourced by publishers. But while there are some horror stories, input from true professionals can improve your work. Indeed, awe-inspiring. Old-school copy-editors at Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press were important figures in the academy: they genuinely improved books and saved authors from embarrassing errors of fact and travesties of style. Some were first-class scholars in their own right. In Italy, Sebastiano Timpanaro, one of the most important Latinists of the 20th century, worked as a copy-editor rather than as an academic.
Since my first book, copy-editing has been outsourced and has completely changed in character. In my experience it is now a perfunctory affair at best, and introduces several errors at worst. I always imagine they are ladies of a certain age in North Oxford with a sharp eye for grammar and style. In my case they need to read German, for the footnotes.
It had to be withdrawn and reissued. Again, the designers could not cope and we had to re-index — and pay again. Who decides on the cover image, how many illustrations will be included and who will source them and obtain permissions?
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What about the publication date, price, format, footnotes and whether it will include a bibliography and index? Think about what you are and are not willing to let others decide on your behalf and be prepared to involve yourself in the details. Insist on a bibliography and index. Footnotes at the bottom of the page are a bonus.
This can be both a good and a bad thing: in general, I think it would make sense for authors and indeed editors of academic books to devote some time and energy to style and presentation: well-written books tend to be more influential. A first book is unlikely to change your financial fortunes, but with the right approach there should be other benefits. Just think of the secondary income it can generate and benefits to your academic career.
In addition, they may well take costs such as indexing out of any earnings. Only a very few authors make money out of this process, and usually only when the book is sure to have wide commercial success.
Some academics write commercially successful books, but this is not the norm and should not be a primary consideration if the aim is to produce a book of scholarly significance. I think that if publishers offer outstanding peer review and excellent production including copy-editing, which is in fact currently sliding from generally mediocre to largely incompetent , as well as wide distribution, academic authors should be satisfied. Narrowly academic books do not make much money, but the money that is made can in my view legitimately go to the publishers, if they offer all of the above.
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Many scholarly authors will not have — or need — an agent, but many authors writing potentially more popular books, especially in history and popular science, do. A good agent can be a godsend. But they are not essential, or appropriate, for all authors. Much will depend on whether your book has wider, commercial appeal.
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My first book, based on my doctoral thesis and published by Cambridge University Press, was deemed to be well written, and I began to be mentioned as an academic who could write things people enjoyed reading. Then Catherine Clarke, of Felicity Bryan Associates, got in touch and taught me how to pitch a proposal to commercial publishers. The proposal did well and received various offers: at that point, at least as far as the UK auction was concerned, I had to choose between a publisher I liked and trusted Profile Books and one that offered more money.
My agent supported my choice of Profile Books, even though it represented a short-term loss of income for her. She also helped me negotiate conflicting feedback I received from my UK and my US publishers on the same manuscript, and generally helped me to make the best use of feedback, without losing my own perspective on what I had written. My experience of working with my agent is entirely positive: I admire her insight and her patience. For most academic books, with reasonable sales potential but not large market reach, you can find a publisher yourself without involving an agent.
You can do this by surveying similar books to the one you want to write and shortlisting a few publishers that seem most appropriate. If you do take this route — and your book is not overly country- or culture-specific — make sure that the publisher you choose has global reach so that your scholarly book or monograph can fulfil its potential in other countries.
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Ask friends and colleagues who have agents; experiences vary. Go for one who really cares about books rather than just seeing them as commercial objects. What will be done and by whom? How many copies will be serviced? Is there a marketing plan available for the author to see? Publicity matters, and some academic publishers perform poorly in this area so it is worth doing your research. Think about international markets, but be realistic.
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For academic books there are few marketing opportunities; try to find out which publishers make an effort to get their books into the bookshops rather than relying on mail-order catalogues and Amazon sadly, far too many academic publishers do this. It is also worth thinking about translation rights. Sometimes authors of narrowly academic books expect the same kind of publicity and promotion that suits a book for general readers.
That can lead to disappointment. Sign up, and I'll send you resources and advice to help you get a handle on your manuscript , find the best publisher , and develop productivity habits to get the book done. Your email address will not be published. Notify me of follow-up comments by email.
Notify me of new posts by email. Skip to content. Do it right? But publishing your first academic book is much more than the proposal alone. For more, read my full review of Scrivener 3 for academic writing.
Resources for research impact and journal quality
Familiarize yourself with the tenure and promotion requirements of your institution or an institution where you would hope to earn tenure. Write a tentative five-year plan showing how you will get there. Take stock of your research interests and where you see your research heading. Research which conferences would be good outlets for your work. Put their dates and abstract due dates on your five-year plan.
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