Are you a scholar who’s interested in publishing a book, but aren’t sure how to get started? Here’s some of the advice that our editors often share with academic book authors — from tips on crafting your manuscript to how to pitch your project.
For the Junior Scholar, Who’s Just Getting Started
Stacy Eisenstark: I enjoy working with first time authors because it’s a unique opportunity to make publishing feel like a welcoming and pleasant experience. You’ll interact with a lot of people at a press, but your editor—and the editorial assistant—will, ideally, be a reliable source for information and guidance.
Here are some of my go-to tips for early career scholars:
- No one writes their dissertation as a book. The audiences are too different. A dissertation must satisfy your particular committee. Your book should be much broader so as to reach beyond your specific subfield.
- Who are you writing for? Books can reach more than one field, but identify a primary readership. This will help when you get stuck and need to make tough choices about what to include and what to cut from your manuscript.
- You are the expert now! Your framing, content, and writing style should reflect that.
- Before contacting editors with your book idea, complete the bulk (at least 60%) of your revisions.
- Your introduction should foreground your argument—say what that is clearly and early on—and your unique contribution. What impact do you want this book to have?
- The introduction is the most reworked part of books, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it perfect on the first draft.
On Writing to Reach a Wider, Public Audience
Maura Roessner: Having a clear purpose about why your book is essential, and for whom, helps drive your book’s development from the very beginning. You want to start by really defining who your audience is, and then write every page for that sort of readership. Basically: What’s your argument, who is your intended reader, why are they going to spend money to engage with your argument, and what would you like them to do after reading your book?
I think it’s helpful to remember that “audience” is an infinitely variable category. There’s no one giant “general readership,” but rather a series of reader types that you identify, maybe identify with. So who are the ideal readers for your book? What will they bring to it in terms of expectations, experiences, and expertise? You can give these hypothetical readers shape and texture by outlining their other habits. What magazines, blogs, or websites do they peruse? What podcasts do they listen to? What’s on their bookshelves or in their Amazon recommendations? What social media tags and groups do they follow? Are there events or conferences they participate in? Memberships they belong to? What sorts of politics or identities do they bring? The better you understand your readers, the better you can write for them, and the more easily you can reach them. By painting a clear picture of the market….you’re starting to think about marketing!
Be Kind to Your Reader
Raina Polivka: Be kind to your reader. Provide places in your work where the reader can come up for air. Provide points of access for the audiences you wish to reach.
Niels Hooper: The skill that I find is hardest for new authors is getting to the point quickly. It’s also the most important advice I give for submitting a book idea. It’s a myth that editors spend all their time looking for new books (I wish!). At least 90% of our time is spent on shaping and producing the books we’ve already acquired. So, the quicker I can see what you’re doing—what you’re arguing, why it’s important, and why it’s interesting—the better. In the end, the success of the book will depend on your ability to broadcast these points for book buyers and readers, for review editors, for prize committees, and for instructors to think about teaching it.
Recognize the Value of Your Own Platform and Perspective
Kate Marshall: I think authors tend to undersell themselves when they pitch their books to editors. If you are an author, think of the press as your partner who is working with you to position the book in the marketplace. Recognize that you are an important part of the package, so we need to know about you and what drives your research. The easiest way to help us get to know you is to include an author bio in your proposal. Tell us who you are, what your platform is like, and what motivates you as a writer and researcher. Be sure to spell out ways you are already connecting with potential audiences. This can include highlighting your social media activity, where you give talks or publish, any relevant activism, or your personal backstory.
Maura Roessner: Authors are some of the most valuable members of the marketing team. You will always be your book’s best advocate, so it’s essential that you bring an understanding of the marketplace of your competitors and readers, and also an ability to reach those readers—what publishers call your platform. Building your brand as an academic and even a public intellectual starts long before the book is published, because your platform is about more than just a book. It’s about positioning yourself as a thought leader, as someone embedded in communities that want to hear your take on a given issue. You want to think not just about getting published, but getting read across a wide variety of outlets, and recognized for your contributions to scholarship and the public discourse. The idea overall is that you are generating attention for your work and building an eventual audience for your book well before it’s live out in the world.
On the Value of Book Proposals as a Writing Exercise
Kim Robinson: I’m a strong believer in the book proposal (see the UC Press guidelines on book proposals here). Even if you have a full manuscript, completing the proposal is an enormously useful exercise for strengthening your own thinking about a project. For instance, stepping away from the manuscript and summarizing the chapters means you have to think about the whole arc of the argument and how it holds together as a piece.
The proposal also helps authors think through important issues like who they want to read their book and what they want them to do once they’ve read it. And thinking through the competition for a project helps spell out not what books your book would replace, but what other books you are in dialogue with.
It’s important to remember that the audience for the proposal isn’t just the acquisitions editor. For each project, editors must talk about it with marketing, sales, and publicity. And then those teams have to talk about it to others, such as journal editors or conference attendees or external sales representatives. At each of those steps, the proposal provides the press with an invaluable sense of the book.
Look for an Editor Who Could Be a Long-Term Partner
Raina Polivka: When seeking out a publisher, remember that this is the start of a long-term relationship. Find an editor who gets you and your work, who will be your advocate for the duration of your project and after. Beyond the book, your editor may reach out to you to learn more about new trends and talents in the field, to serve as a peer reviewer, etc. There are authors with whom I’ve maintained close relationships with for almost 15 years.