Identifying Target Presses

For Your Scholarly Book Manuscript

Today I’m kicking off the 12–week pilot session of my book proposal accelerator for academic authors, which is going to be my fun project for the summer. I genuinely enjoy helping people get further along toward their goal of publishing scholarly books, and the plan is for all the participants to end up with a finished proposal they are ready to pitch this fall. While I had to cap the enrollment in the accelerator for logistical reasons, I wanted to make some of the accelerator materials available on a wider scale, and that’s where this newsletter comes in. For the next 12 weeks, the newsletter will be mirroring the accelerator, meaning that each week I’ll be sharing some info about a different aspect of scholarly book proposals. I’ll also share a few tips and answers to frequently asked questions that pertain to each 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.)

We’re starting things off this week by talking about presses and the acquisitions process for scholarly books. There’s a lot to say about this—and you can read a bit about it in my post on “Landing an Academic Book Contract”—but one of the important things to get right here is choosing the right presses when you pitch your manuscript. You should only be targeting presses that know how to publish and market books like the one you are working on. How do you figure out which presses those are, though? I’ve got a few methods you can try (and a printable worksheet to go with each one, because sometimes it’s fun to just write stuff down on paper—use any of the links below to download the whole set):

Similar Books
To figure out which presses are publishing books like yours, assemble a list of books that are similar to yours in topic, method, or spirit, and were published in the last 3–5 years. Your bibliography is a good place to start looking for titles. Which publishers come up most often on your list? [Download worksheets]

Journal Reviews
To identify recent books that are getting attention in your field, consult recent book reviews in the journals that you think would be a good fit for your work. Which publishers regularly get their books reviewed in the journals you respect? [Download worksheets]

To identify recent books that have been recognized for their quality and contributions to scholarship, look up the book prizes given out by scholarly associations or other organizations in your field. Which publishers have a track record of putting out award-winning books? [Download worksheets]

List books that might be taught alongside your book in undergraduate or graduate courses. You can consult actual syllabi for courses in which you think your book would fit. Which publishers are putting out teachable books like yours? [Download worksheets]

Your Networks
Use your professional networks to identify new and forthcoming books by scholars you respect. Networks to consider: your Twitter friends, your grad school cohort, your current colleagues, co-panelists and co-contributors to edited collections, scholars you’d love to have review or blurb your book. Where are these people publishing their books? [Download worksheets]

Which presses come up over and over again in your searches?

Once you’ve got a number of presses on your list, you can start doing a little more research on them. Check out the presses’ websites and ask around about them among your peers and senior colleagues. My Target Press Checklist worksheet can help you keep track of what you find out and narrow down your list of presses to your first-round picks [download worksheets].

With your top handful of presses, you can gather even more information. What materials do they require prospective authors to submit as part of a proposal package? Who are the relevant staff you might be working with? Based on the titles they’ve recently published, why do you think your book would be a good fit? I’ve got a worksheet where you can record all this info too [download worksheets]. Then you’ll have it ready to go when it’s time to actually approach an acquisitions editor and make the case for your book at their press.

I hope these worksheets help you get organized if you’re going through the process of finding a home for your book project. Look for another post later this week with a couple more tips on identifying target presses. And you’re welcome to send questions my way via the reply function on this newsletter. I’ll try to address what I can in future posts!