As I mentioned last week, I’ve been doing some exploratory reading as I wrap up a draft of the manuscript for my next book, a how-to guide on book proposals and book publishing for academic authors. The final appendix in that book will be a list of recommended resources that fall outside the scope of my own guide, and I’ve been vetting titles for this list. (Is there a book you think I should definitely include? Reply to this email and let me know!)
Last week I read Eric Hayot’s The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities (and you can read more about that here). This past Sunday, I discovered a brand new book when I took my kids to an actual physical bookstore, and I spent the first couple working days this week reading through it. The book is Courtney Maum’s Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book, and I think it has a lot to offer, depending on what you’re looking for.
First of all, this book is not aimed at academic authors. Maum’s target reader seems to be an author of trade fiction, though most of the advice works for trade nonfiction authors as well. The book is divided into two parts, and the first part, which covers “before the book deal,” is solidly grounded in the trade publishing world. This is not a fault of the book—every book has to have a target audience and it can’t address everybody fully—I just share it so that you know what to expect if you pick it up. I personally found the first part interesting because I like learning about publishing in general and the experience of being a career writer, but this is not crucial information for most academic authors.
The second part, “After the Book Deal” is where I think the advice works very well for trade and academic authors alike. There were five key highlights in this section that I think are well worth paying attention to:
Maum walks the reader through what happens when an author meets their book’s “team,” that is, the staff at the publisher who will play a part in getting the book produced, marketed, sold, and promoted. Now, in my experience, academic authors do not usually get a formal meeting with their book’s team. Honestly, you might not even be told the names of any of the people who undertake the labor involved in making your book into an actual object or a sales success. So the value in this aspect of Maum’s book, for me, is to remind academic authors that these people exist and that you can and should seek them out to talk about what will happen to your book after you turn in the manuscript. Ask your acquiring editor if they can introduce you to the key staff who will be working on your book. If possible, arrange a phone conversation with, at the very least, the publicity person assigned to your book. Use those conversations to find out what is expected of you throughout the publication and promotion processes, what you can expect the people at your press to do, and how you can best support them in making your book a success. (And then remember to thank these people in your acknowledgments.)
Maum covers a bunch of little details that you probably won’t think about until the minute your editor (or their assistant) asks you to address them, such as who usually gets thanked in book acknowledgments, what author photos should look like, how to describe yourself for the bio on the book’s jacket, and what elements you should include on your author website. I’ve bookmarked all these pages in Maum’s book so I can start thinking about them in preparation for finishing my own.
The book offers some great ideas for how authors can get involved in marketing efforts, both online and in person with readers and reading groups. News flash: in academic publishing, a lot of the work of marketing and promotion falls on the author. While I think some academic authors feel this is a unique burden that trade authors don’t experience, Maum’s book helpfully shows that even commercial writers have to do a lot of the lifting when it comes to getting their work in front of readers. Honestly, I think academic authors might even have it a little easier than Maum’s target audience of trade fiction writers, because we should be able to pretty readily identify “reading groups” with whom we can engage about our books. I’m thinking here about the many college courses we can make virtual appearances in and faculty departments and research groups that might invite us to give talks or workshops. Again, I’ve bookmarked her list of marketing ideas so I can put them into my own personal marketing plan for my book a few months before its publication date.
Maum also shares some helpful tips on preparing for public readings and media appearances. I particularly liked the advice she gave on “controlling the conversation” about your book by focusing on the message you want audiences to take away. This means thinking ahead of time about what readers will find valuable about your book and what overall contribution it makes to your field(s)—and being able to articulate both in a couple minutes or less.
Finally, I really appreciated that the book devotes substantial space to the experiences of authors from marginalized communities and the issues they face when promoting their books. Maum addresses ableism, homophobia, misogyny, and racism; most books on writing and publishing don’t, so I found this refreshing. Porochista Khakpour’s contribution—10 survival tips “for people of color who are about to have a book out”—felt particularly helpful.
Ultimately, I do recommend this book for academic authors, especially if you are looking for some guidance on what the heck you’re supposed to do with your book after you’ve finished writing it and turned it in to your publisher. But you will need to sort of adapt the advice for your own situation as a scholarly writer, which may be somewhat distinct from that of Maum’s target reader. And I would probably hold off on reading this until you’ve got your book manuscript drafted and submitted. These aren’t details you need to sweat until that point.
If you’re now sweating the details in an earlier phase of the academic publishing process—writing and submitting your book proposal—allow me to help! I’m offering my Book Proposal Accelerator for academic authors again this May & June and I’d love to have you join us. I’ll answer all your questions about this mystifying process and walk you through every step with a group of scholars who are in the same boat. More information and a sign-up form is right here!