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Is this a bad time to pitch a book?
An advice post for those writing scholarly books related to troubling current events
Hello Manuscript Workers,
I had planned an entirely different newsletter for today to tell you about an upcoming free webinar I’ll be offering on publishing a book from your dissertation. I will still tell you about that very soon (hint: save the date for January 3rd, 2024), but there’s a more pressing matter I feel the need to address today.
Since October 7th, I’ve received a number of questions from clients and readers about whether and how they should be pitching their book projects to publishers, in light of the horrific ongoing events in Gaza. Some of these scholars are writing books directly about contemporary Palestinian activism and culture. Others are writing more tangentially related books about the Holocaust or other historical events. All of them are wondering whether they should still be reaching out to publishers at this time and to what extent they should address current events, both in their queries and in their manuscripts themselves.
I’ve responded to these writers directly when they’ve reached out to me, but I thought it might also be helpful to answer some of the most common questions here in the newsletter, since I’m sure many of you out there are struggling with similar issues at the moment.
Above all, my blanket advice is to take the time you need personally to deal with the stress of the current situation. While you may feel pressured to work toward your publication goals for professional reasons, your book might not be the most important thing to you at this moment, and that’s ok. On the other hand, if you find working toward publication is a helpful way to channel your anxiety/grief/rage right now, then I encourage you to keep going.
Here are some other questions you might be wondering about these days:
Do publishers want pitches for books about Palestine or Israel right now?
My answer here is reminiscent of my post from a few years ago about pitching a book related to any kind of current event.
To the extent that the publishers you are planning to target would ever have been a good fit for a book about Palestine or Israel, these publishers will still likely be interested in your book right now. By this I mean that you should always be thinking long-term about publisher fit. If your target publishers have a track record of publishing books related to your topic—and they should, otherwise I probably wouldn’t recommend trying to publish your book with them—they will most likely not be closing up shop for new books related to that topic in light of current events.
Scholarly publishing is a long game. Even if your manuscript was accepted for publication today, the soonest it would hit shelves would be 12-18 months from now. Add in time for peer review, revision, and internal review, and you’re looking at more like 2-3 years minimum from submission to publication. So you should never pin your book’s appeal to publishers or readers on an event ripped from today’s headlines.
A better approach is to think about how your writing will help other scholars think about your topic for years to come. That’s what you should be highlighting when reaching out to publishers with a query or book proposal, regardless of what’s in the news.
But, given what’s going on, should you address the current situation in your query?
I think that you should make some reference to current events when reaching out, because of the severity of ongoing events and the fact that these events will definitely hold long-term historical significance. It may just seem odd if you propose a book that’s topically relevant to Palestine or Israel and you don’t mention how you or the people you write about have been affected in the past weeks.
That said, there’s no one correct way to address current events in your query. You will have to decide how much those events will affect the content of your book and its relevance to scholarly audiences—and you get to decide this because it’s your book. You might think the current situation will make a big difference in what you end up writing about or who you want to be reading your book, in which case you might want to spend a paragraph or two talking about that in your initial outreach message to publishers. On the other hand, you might think that your book won’t change much from your original plan, in which case you can still acknowledge the present situation but pitch your book pretty much as you would have before October 7th.
What should you do if you think your manuscript itself might change substantially in light of the ongoing situation?
If you are writing about present-day Palestine or Israel, it may well be the case that you will want to change your manuscript before trying to publish it. It’s impossible to predict how events will unfold or how you will feel about what you’ve written in a few months time. If you have the time to spare, I’d probably advise you to sit on the manuscript for a little bit. If you feel up to it, you can keep writing and planning (keep working on your book proposal if you’re mid-stream on that). But you can certainly wait to reach out to publishers until things feel more settled for you.
However, I’ve spoken with multiple people who were already in the process of trying to get their books published before October. They had reached out to some publishers or planned to do so this fall. If this is the case for you, I also think it’s ok to keep going with your outreach. You can communicate transparently with acquiring editors that you’re not sure how your manuscript will need to change to account for the current and still unfolding events. Any good editor will absolutely understand that, and some will even welcome the opportunity to talk it through with you. Remember that the author-editor relationship should feel like a supportive partnership, with both of you working to make your book the best it can be.
Again, scholarly publishing is a long game. Editors and publishers want to acquire books that will stand the test of time and be relevant to scholarly readers for years to come. They are not looking for hot takes. They are accustomed to book manuscripts evolving and taking years to finish, even in cases where the material is not particularly time-sensitive. It’s completely ok to be up front with them about the fact that you want to be thoughtful and not rush your manuscript to print.
I hope that this post has provided some small reassurance at a difficult time.
If you have other questions about scholarly book publishing, you can always check out the Manuscript Works archive. If you don’t see your question answered there, you can reach out to me directly any time.
And if you have specific questions about pitching a book based on your dissertation, do keep an eye out for my next newsletter!
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Thank you for reading, and see you next week.