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Highlights from Last Week's Panel for BIPOC Authors
Hi Manuscript Workers,
I hope you’re hanging in there as the semester and year hurtle toward their ends. We had a great turnout and discussion at last week’s panel on What BIPOC Authors Need to Know about Academic Book Publishing. If you were there, thank you for coming and participating.
We could have spent many more hours and days covering how academic publishing works and what issues are encountered by authors of color in particular, but these were some of the highlights I took away from the wise comments of panelists Dominique J. Moore, Jenny Tan, and Karma R. Chávez:
Jenny shared that a good acquisitions editor is someone you trust to advocate for you and your book. They should be someone with whom you feel comfortable sharing your concerns about the publishing process and someone who can help you anticipate and navigate any particular barriers you might face. They should understand and support your vision for your book and what you’re trying to do in your field, and be able to advocate for it in a room of scholars or publishing professionals (often an all-white room). Dominique added that a supportive editor will also want to understand what your goals are for your book—what you hope to get out of it and use it for—and how it fits into the long-term trajectory of your career.
Karma urged authors to seek out mentoring and information about publishing as much as you can, because it can be scarce, especially for scholars of color. If an editor contacts you to talk, take the meeting and use it as an opportunity to receive information and mentoring, even if you aren’t ready to publish yet or aren’t sure you want to work with that particular editor or press. [NB: if you’re not sure what to ask an editor, see this post.]
Peer review can be a bumpy process but having a good relationship and clear communication between you and your editor can help a lot. Your editor should make you feel comfortable coming to them with concerns you have about peer review, e.g. having your work adjudicated by white scholars. Your editor should be ready to help you interpret the reader reports and to formulate a response that will be effective with the editorial board. If your editor is someone who can detect and explain bias in the reader reports, they’ll be able to advocate for your project when the time comes. It’s often better if that comes from your editor rather than yourself in your response memo. If before going into peer review you don’t trust your editor to have your back in this situation, they might not be the right publishing partner for you.
You can shape peer review and other aspects of the publishing process to your advantage by requesting reviewers or kinds of reviewers who you believe will be supportive and by alerting your editor to anyone who you are certain will not be supportive. Your editor wants the peer review process to go well, so they should welcome your insights. Just know that certain requests can come with a cost. For example, if you are very invested in having scholars of color as reviewers, you may need to wait longer since these scholars are often burdened with more requests than their white counterparts receive.
It’s helpful for authors to be proactive in conversations about the editorial, design, and production process so that your editor is aware of your concerns in advance. If there are certain stylistic copy editing choices you intend to make in your manuscript (e.g. regarding capitalization or spelling), you can alert your editor before the manuscript goes into copy editing. You can also request a copy editor and cover designer with a particular background or expertise if you think it’s needed for your work (but know that it may not be possible for publishers to satisfy every request like this). If you know certain images or tropes should be avoided in your cover, you can also bring this up before the cover gets designed. But also be wary of micromanaging the process — again it’s important to work with an editor and publisher you trust to make the best professional decisions for your book so that it will reach its readership.
Authors are not always aware of all the marketing efforts that go on behind the scenes. Your editor should be willing to talk early on in the process about any marketing concerns you have and what is typically done for books at their press. Your editor may not be able to guarantee you a paperback edition or certain other aspects that may be important to you — the earlier you have conversations about format, pricing, and marketing, the better equipped you’ll be to make decisions about which publisher is best for your book. If one of your marketing concerns is an accessible price point, be aware that the manuscript you submit will affect that. Length and images increase price.
The timing of when you should approach an editor varies based on a lot of factors. If you have a supportive community around your writing, you may be able to get pretty far on a project before you feel you need an editor’s input. But it’s also ok to approach very early on to discuss book ideas with an editor and get their perspective on what direction you could take the project. If you have a lot of material in your book that you will need permission to republish, start thinking about that (and talking to editors about it) as early as possible. [NB: see this article for more advice on when to start talking to publishers.]
If you weren’t able to attend the live discussion (either because registration was full or because the timing didn’t work for your schedule), you can download a recording of the event here and get the full transcript here.
Of course you’re also welcome to download these resources even if you were there. We tried to pack in a ton of info and it could take a few viewings to process it all I’m sure.
If you’re ready to learn even more about the academic book publishing process, there’s a bunch of tips in the archives of this newsletter. And then there’s also The Book Proposal Book: A Guide for Scholarly Authors, which you can purchase in paperback, ebook, or audiobook form from your favorite retailer. If you’d like to buy directly from Princeton University Press, you can use the discount code LPS21 to get 30% off.
If we weren’t able to get to your specific questions during the panel discussion, please feel free to send them my way again (you can reply directly to this email). I do Q&As here periodically, and I’m happy to address anything I feel qualified to answer.
If you want to get in touch directly with any of the panelists, please also feel free to do so. You can find Dominique J. Moore at the University of Illinois Press (you can also schedule a meeting with her via Calendly), Jenny Tan at the University of Pennsylvania Press, and Karma R. Chávez at the University of Texas at Austin. Dominique also wanted to make sure you knew about this site where prospective authors can ask questions and have them answered by university press staff, in particular this post about picking presses to submit to.
I’ll be back next week with my annual academic authors gift guide/recommended reading list. If you’re not already subscribed to this newsletter, you can do that here to have it come directly to your inbox. See you then!