17 Anxieties About Pitching an Academic Book

Hi Manuscript Workers,

First, a thank you to everyone who responded to my last newsletter, inquiring about what kinds of anxiety you experience around writing and submitting a scholarly book proposal.

Today, I thought people might be interested in seeing what some of the responses were. I have to say that it was sort of difficult for me to read all of these without wanting to rush in and give all kinds of unsolicited advice to try to fix everyone’s problems. Wanting to help is what keeps me showing up to my job, so it’s not a bad impulse necessarily, but I also have to remember that there’s a time and place for just acknowledging how people feel. There’s value in seeing that others share your feelings and also in recognizing that sometimes there’s no easy fix.

Hence, today’s newsletter will not be about offering solutions but just about airing the anxieties. (I can only control my helping impulses for so long though, so next week I’m going to share some resources that I think address some of the concerns people expressed.)

Here are the sources of anxiety that are holding some of you up from starting/finishing/submitting your book proposal:

  • Thinking you don’t have time to write your proposal because each component is going to take too long

  • Feeling like you’re already behind because you should have done this earlier

  • The pressure of writing Book 2 and having higher hopes for it than for Book 1

  • Worrying that you’ll let down your research participants if you don’t publish somewhere “great”

  • Fear of being judged, not just once but over and over again throughout the book publishing process

  • Fear of being torn apart in peer review

  • Worrying you’re not caught up enough on the literature in your field

  • Fear of submitting and being rejected right away

  • Fear of submitting and having to wait a long time for a response

  • Feeling like the dissertation is too old and the content won’t be exciting or relevant to a publisher anymore

  • Fear of investing a lot of time into the proposal process, only to be rejected and have to spend more time revising before you can get a contract

  • Fear of committing to a whole book project and then not having time to write the whole book or not knowing how to write the whole book if the proposal gets accepted somewhere

  • Feeling like it’s too risky to invest time in a proposal when you’re precariously employed and may not be able to write the book at all

  • The pressure of your whole career riding on the publication and reception of your first book and fear that you’ll lose your job or not get a job if you don’t publish the right book with the right press

  • Feeling like the proposal has to be perfect because it’s your only chance to make a good impression on your dream publisher

  • Fear of editors not liking you or not treating you respectfully

  • Fear of getting locked in with an editor whose vision of the book doesn’t match yours or leave room for the project to evolve

As you can see, some of these are mindset issues that there’s no real solution for other than changing your attitude or acknowledging the fear and pushing through anyway because the end-goal is more important. If you’ve been struggling with these kinds of issues for a while, a writing coach might be helpful (I’m not a writing coach but if you ask around, you’ll probably be able to find someone.)

Some of the other concerns mentioned can be solved by having the right information or tools. For instance, the person who said they were overwhelmed about starting their proposal because they thought it would take too long also said that once they got my book, they saw that the components were actually very manageable and they were almost finished and ready to send their proposal out. (Sorry to toot my own horn there, but that’s really what the person said!)

Of course, some of the obstacles are structural and there’s not much any of us can do to fix them. I wouldn’t call these concerns anxieties so much as realistic assessments of present conditions. Precarity in academia is real. Rejection is real. Structural marginalization and exclusion in publishing are real. The payoffs of trying to publish an academic monograph won’t be enough for some people, and in some cases the wisest path is not to pitch and publish a book.

But if you have a goal of publishing your academic book and think your anxieties are worth facing to make it happen, please do stick around. Next week I’ll share some posts and tools that can help with some of the issues mentioned above. And I’ll continue to try to address them in my work moving forward.

In fact, on Friday, September 24th, I’ll be doing a public workshop to answer some of those nebulous questions that come up most commonly for scholars working on books, such as:

  • How do I figure out the right publisher for my book?

  • When should I be talking to editors?

  • What should I be talking to editors about?

  • How many presses should I be pitching to?

  • Should I try to get an advance contract or not?

  • How do turn my dissertation into a book publishers will want?

Worksheets, handouts, recordings, and a transcript of the workshop will be provided to everyone who registers, regardless of whether you’re able to attend live or not. If you’ve been struggling with any of these questions—or if you didn’t realize until right now that these are questions you should be asking—I’d love to see you there.

Register for the workshop