Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How to find a publisher for your book manuscript

It seems that I have had a bunch of requests lately for advice on finding a publisher for academic books in archaeology. In most cases these are young scholars, recent PhDs, and in many cases the book in question is or will be based on a dissertation.

My main advice is to buy and read Beth Luey’s book, Handbook for Academic Authors, Cambridge University Press. The 5th edition just came out this year (2009), although I still have the 3rd edition (oops, time to upgrade). This book is essential for academic authors, with all sorts of useful advice. Is your publisher offering a fair deal on royalties? Should I think about writing a textbook? How should I handle nasty reviews from a journal on my brilliant manuscript? What are the pitfalls of trying to publish my dissertation as a book?

My second piece of advice is to talk to your colleagues and mentors about your situation. They will know your work and have a good idea about publishing formats and venues.

Here are some suggestions, based on my own experiences and on Luey’s book.

(1) Think hard about whether your dissertation really needs to be published as a book. Maybe you are better off publishing several good journal articles (that’s what I did).

(2) Spend some time investigating publishers. Luey divides publishers into several groups. Of these, the most relevant for young scholars and rewritten dissertations are:

  • University presses (generally the best bet for dissertations)
  • Commercial scholarly publishers (there is wide variation here)
  • Technical monograph series
  • Vanity presses and other rip-off commercial presses. See Nova Publishers here, or perhaps VDM Verlag Dr. Mueller (thanks to Anastasia Tsaliki for this example). For a really, really bad rip-off publisher, see this post.

(3) It is often a good idea to talk to an editor from one of the relevant presses, perhaps at a professional meeting or by email. This can give you an idea of what they might be looking for.

(4) Prepare a good prospectus for submission. Each press has slightly different requirements for a prospectus, but most have these components:

  • A description of the book, including a table of contents
  • Information on the target audience
  • A list or discussion of possible competing titles
  • Information on the current status of the manuscript and a projected timetable.
  • A copy of your CV
  • A writing sample

If you want to see a less formal description of a book prospectus, see the “Series Description Document” on my web page for the book series, “Ancient Cities of the New World.” Prepare the prospectus in correct format for each relevant publisher, and send it off to as many publishers as you want. In our case, authors communicate with one of the series editors (me, Marilyn Masson, and John Janusek) and submit the prospectus to us. We often suggest some revisions to the author, and then if we think the proposed book is appropriate, we forward it, with our evaluation and recommendation to the press. In most cases, however, you will be submitting the prospectus directly to an acquisitions editor at the press.


Michael E. Smith said...

Well, I guess that since I put in a plug for our urban book series in my post, I should also put in a plug for another book series I am involve in:

The Early Americas: History and Culture. Brill Publishers, Leiden.

Mary Ellen Lepionka said...

Well said, Michael. For your readers contemplating publishing a textbook, I recommend Writing and Developing Your College Textbook 2nd edition (Atlantic Path Publishing, 2008). It contains information relevant to scholarly publishing as well, although not about dissertation makeovers for the academic trade. I've edited archaeology textbooks, BTW, and the problem with quality for commercial publishers is that photos and art quickly become too expensive proportionate to income from sales because of low enrollments in archaeology courses nationwide. This is a business decision and a good reason, I think, to go another route, such as open access.
Best regards,
M.E. Lepionka

Anastasia said...

Thanks a lot for the useful post!

Mitch Allen, Left Coast Press Inc said...

Very good summary, Michael. Many archaeology publishers will give workshops or run roundtables on this topic at national and regional meetings. I've done plenty of them as have other archaeology publishers. A good place to start gathering information and to ask questions.

Mitch Allen, Left Coast Press Inc said...

one additional plug, Writing Archaeology, Second Edition, by Brian Fagan, has a chapter on what to do with your dissertation in the new edition, coming out from Left Coast in Oct 2010