I received a question on Twitter a few weeks ago that is becoming relevant to more and more scholars as the structure of the academy continues to implode and traditional, full-time faculty employment fades away for a lot of PhDs. A scholar asked whether a university press might want her next book, even if she’s no longer employed in the academy. The questioner already had a book under contract with a university press, but I am regularly asked similar questions by people who are still hoping to find a publisher for their first book and are unsure of their job prospects.
The answer to the question of whether a university press will want to publish a book by an author who is not employed at a university has a lot to do with the mission of university presses. But it’s not always a straightforward answer because university presses have multiple missions. One of their missions—and this one goes back a long time—is to support the work of the academy, to make accessible the work of scholars employed within universities. Hearing that, you might think, “ok, if I’m not a professor, they won’t care about me.” But university presses also have an additional, broader mission to “serv[e] the public good by generating and disseminating knowledge.” If your book project is consistent with that mission, there are many university presses who will be interested, regardless of where you’re employed.
I think this is also a larger question about fit. Ask yourself why you, someone who does not need a university press book for tenure or promotion, wants to publish your book with a UP. Is it because you are speaking to an academic audience with your work? Or a regional audience, or some other public that a particular UP is well-poised to reach? If so, you can explain that when you make your pitch to a UP editor. You can show how your project fits with their publishing strengths and how you will be an ideal collaborator to produce a book that will appeal to the readerships they know how to connect with. Maybe you’re not employed in the academy anymore, but do you still have a platform among academic readers? Are you giving talks and publishing articles and doing the other things you need to do to keep yourself on the radars of the kinds of people who buy books from UPs? If that’s the case, then I think you have a good chance with a number of university presses. If that’s not the case, then you may want to reevaluate your list of target presses. Maybe a UP isn’t the right home for your book after all.
There are definitely some editors and some presses who are swayed by institutional prestige. My advice if you run into one of those—and they pass on your project for that reason—is to simply move on. You can’t control their attitude or your job situation, and it would be a waste of time to dwell on it. It may be frustrating, but ultimately, they aren’t the right partner for you anyway. And that’s what you need to be looking for, a partner who is invested in helping you meet your publishing and career goals, not a gatekeeper who wants to keep people like you out.
Enrollment is now open for the next session of the Manuscript Works Book Proposal Accelerator! For seven weeks this May and June, I’ll be leading an international group of scholars in crafting book proposals suitable for pitching to university presses and other academic publishers. First-time authors, seasoned authors—you’re all welcome. Your participation can range from working on your own with the downloadable materials to actively attending live video Q&A sessions and interacting with me and other participants in the online forum. For more info + an enrollment form, click here.