FAQ about Scholarly Press Fit

Should you publish with a commercial academic press?

Between now and August 30, the Manuscript Works newsletter will be mirroring the Book Proposal Accelerator I’m running with a group of authors who are preparing to take their scholarly book projects to presses. On Monday of each week I’ll be sharing some info about a different aspect of scholarly book proposals. Then later in the week I’ll also share a few tips and answers to frequently asked questions that pertain to the week’s topic. (If you like what you see and want to get access to *all* the accelerator materials, you can sign up to be notified about future sessions here.)

This week’s topic is Presses and the Acquisitions Process. On Monday I shared some worksheets to help you identify which presses are the best fit for your book manuscript. A major way to establish fit is to look at what the presses have been publishing recently, because this shows that they are currently committed to publishing in a particular area and that they have a marketing apparatus in place to reach readers who are interested in those kinds of books.

But what if an editor approaches you and says their press is looking to expand into a new area, which your book would fit into? Should you consider that press, even if the fit between your book and their previous offerings isn’t obvious?

It depends on a lot of factors! If the press ticks all your other boxes (for some literal boxes to tick, see my Target Press Checklist worksheet), then I would probably say to go ahead and consider them. But really keep an eye on that box about what your senior colleagues think about the press. Because the press won’t have established a reputation for its offerings in your specific area, you’ll want to be sure that it has an all-around good reputation that will help your tenure case or job market prospects (if those matter for you).

If the press is starting a named series that they want your book for, that can be a good sign too. When a press establishes a series, they send the message that they are committing to building a reputation in that area and will put resources behind that. If there is a scholar heading the series who has a big name in your field, all the better.

What if the best fit for your book seems to be a commercial academic publisher, rather than a university press?

Before deciding whether to submit a proposal to a commercial publisher, I recommend getting back in touch with your goals for your book. If you are hoping to leverage this book for an academic position or promotion (e.g. tenure), a university press is a much safer bet (in the United States at least). There may be some exceptions based on the field you’re in and subject matter you write on. Check with the relevant people in your field for advice. Note that just because your current chair or dean says it’s ok to publish with a commercial press, that doesn’t mean it’s definitely ok for you. What if you want to change institutions? Will it definitely be ok everywhere?

If a commercial academic publisher approaches you about publishing your dissertation, proceed with caution. Find out how they intend to edit, package, and promote your book. If there will be little editorial vetting beyond a perfunctory peer review, if you will be held responsible for the copyediting yourself, if the book will be published only with a $100 library binding and a generic cover, or if it will never be marketed or brought to conferences in your discipline, ask yourself whether publishing there is worth it. Just because the press’s name is on the spine of some famous books in your field doesn’t mean your book will get the same treatment there. While you may be tempted to go with the press that will seemingly take your diss without a lot of revision, that may not be the right strategy for your career. There are situations in which a commercial publisher could be the right choice for a scholarly book; just make sure you’re in one of those situations before you sign a contract.

Next week we’ll be talking about connecting with acquisitions editors. See you then!