J.L.Lemke On-line Office

How to Get a Book Published

It is amazing that academic books get published at all.

The only reason they do is that most university and major research libraries have standing orders to buy all the books from certain publishers in certain fields. That is a guaranteed market, and the publishers know exactly how big it is and how long a book they can afford to publish for that market and still make a profit. In minor academic fields, that cut-off point is about 200-250 pages.

Most such books are never read and are remaindered at deep discount or tossed out by publishers. Many publishers don't even print more copies than they are sure will be taken by libraries. You will be out of print almost as soon as you are in print.

It takes a book to get tenure in most non-science disciplines at better universities. Exceptions for people with two or more really good articles per year, some of which actually get cited by other people, and those for whom signficant people in the field other than your mentor are willing to write letters of recommendation.

Academic publishers dream of really profitable books. Generally these are books by established authors with major reputations. But there is another route to a marketable book, and marketability influences acceptance of book manuscripts, research quality aside. You need to address a larger market. Publishers know that the larger markets in the human sciences are in education-related topics and popular-psychology related topics. They also know that a book that can be used in courses, even advanced graduate courses, has a larger market. A few publishers count international markets, but this is often neglected. The US market is the market for most academic purposes.

The first book in a new field. The first intelligible book in a new field. A book that has practical uses, e.g. explaining methodology or reviewing and comparing lesser known but significant (that usually means European) theories. A book that applies a new approach to some well-known and widespread problem or issues. A book that has policy implications. A book that applies and in part popularizes the work of a well-known theorist in some new area.

Books, like dissertations, are long. There is room in them both for what will make the book marketable and for what you want to say about your research.

A successful first book makes you very welcome at that publisher for your second book. It may also make your work of interest to other publishers.

Academic publishers are usually looking for good manuscripts, i.e. marketable ones that also have academic quality. They hang out at conferences in the exhibit areas and they talk to people to keep up with what's going on. They especially talk to their current authors. Get an author to introduce you to a publisher's representative. Make a very, very sketchy suggestion of a possible topic you are writing about and drop in a few key buzzwords. Before doing this, make sure that those buzzwords are not already over-published (with all fashions the point is to keep ahead of the pack; in academic marketing you want to be just at the crest of a new fashion, not too avant-garde). If they show any interest, get their business card, and follow up with a letter that contains a more detailed, half-page, idea. Ask if they would like to see more.

It is unwise to just send a manuscript to a publisher without prior discussions and negotiations. In most cases authors get a book contract on the basis of a chapter outline and one or two sample chapters. New authors may not get the contract but just encouragement to submit the completed manuscript. That is enough.

Manuscripts are reviewed just like journal articles. It is harder to know who it will be sent to, but their current authors are likely and major publishers also have favorite academic advisors, often known as "series editors". It is a lot easier in fact to place a book with a series editor than with a publisher, and you should follow the announcements from publishers to see what new series are being established. Pitch your ideas to a series editor at a conference, or get a personal introduction to him or her from your mentor or someone else. New series are usually looking for manuscripts. You can initially contact a series editor by mail. Doing so with a publisher is less likely to produce results without a prior personal contact.

You can ask people who have recently published books in your area how they like their publisher or editors. This can sometimes lead to an introduction to an editor.

For a first book, any academic publisher is great. Your book will probably cost too much, be kept too short, not be marketed very well, and be quickly out of print. But it's a book.

If you are ambitious, or already thinking about a second book, choose your publisher more carefully. What matters as between academic publishers is marketing. You want a publisher who will exhibit your book at conferences, mail out announcements of it, include it in widely distributed general mailings, and even place it in bookstores. The point is not to get rich, the royalties are very small on these books. The point is to get your book read and known by more people.

Some publishers are also easier to get along with in the editorial offices than others, but this changes with personnel and should not be a major consideration except in extreme cases. Talk to someone who has published a book with a publisher recently.

Some publishers also take a very long time to produce a book; you wait your turn in a long queue for publication. Marketability prospects move you up the queue. Big publishers are general better for speed and marketing services than small ones, but small ones may give you more help and personal attention.

The top publishers in terms of the prestige of books published in the fields in which I work are:

Of course books by prestigious and well-known authors are also published by presses that specialize in sure bets, such as Harvard University Press, University of Chicago Press (more adventurous), and Stanford University Press, but these are not good bets for first books or new authors. Other good academic publishers in these fields include:

There are also smaller academic presses, such as Pinter / Cassell, Longman, and Arnold in England that publish good work in social linguistics. U.S. authors appeal to smaller U.K. publishers because they may bring access to the large U.S. market.

The publishing industry is in great flux these days. Many smaller publishers are being bought out by larger corporations and survive only as "imprints" or book-brands. What matters is the editorial team and their academic advisors. Find a senior faculty member who follows the publishing game closely and seek advice on the current situation.