Q&A: Following up, making changes, and comparable works

Happy February, Manuscript Groundhogs.

Today’s newsletter will be a Q&A. These are all questions that authors have emailed me and that I thought others might find helpful to see answers to. (I will do more of these Q&A newsletters in the future, so feel free to send questions any time. You can simply respond to this email and it will come directly to my inbox.)

A. asks: About three weeks ago, I sent my proposal (w/ letter of inquiry, CV and two sample chapters) to three university presses. One responded immediately, and she sent it out for review. The reviews that came back were encouraging, and I'm currently writing my response now. My questions are: (1) can I follow up with the other two editors; (2) if so, should I mention my progress at the one university press?

My answer: Follow up with the other editors to let them know you have a status update. This isn’t weird to do — it’s actually helpful to the editors because it lets them know they need to move quickly if they’re interested in the project and want to have a chance at it. If they aren’t interested in the project, a follow-up can also prompt a quicker decision, which is useful for you to have, even if it’s a no.

You don't need to name the other press but you can say that one publisher has moved forward swiftly with peer review of the proposal and sample chapters and you believe they will be making an advance contract offer soon (I assume that's the subtext of the first editor having you write a response to the reviews -- they're going to take it to their editorial board or internal committee for approval to offer you an advance contract?). You can say that you have not yet made a commitment to publish with the first press and you are still hoping to explore the possibility of publishing with Press X. And then just ask if they are still considering your proposal submission or have an update on its status.

It sounds like the first press really fast-tracked the process, which is great and indicates strong interest on their part. Have you told them that you have submitted the proposal for consideration at other presses? They might be trying to preempt any offers from other publishers by moving so quickly. If you haven't told them that you are still exploring multiple publishers, that might be a good idea, just so the editor knows where they stand. You can definitely tell them that you'll need more time before making a decision, or you may be able to use their eagerness as leverage to improve their offer in order to keep you from going elsewhere (though tread carefully—you don’t want to give the impression that you’re trying to force their hand and you do want to show gratitude for them making the effort to move quickly for you).

How you proceed kind of depends on how you've ranked the presses in your mind. If you're very happy with the first press, you could just go with them. They seem invested in your project and eager to partner with you. If you think another press would be better for your book/career, then don't stress about asking the first press to wait for you. They might not love it, but it's your book/career, and you have the right to take time to make such big decisions. Just do them the courtesy of giving them a time frame within which they can expect your decision, and try to not stretch it out too long. Their interest may wane if you go months without being in touch.

(FYI: A. implemented this advice and immediately heard back from one of the other publishers, who also expressed interest in A’s project. A good outcome!)

B. asks: I'm wondering if you could elaborate on what happens at the copyediting and proofs stages. After the assigned copyeditor does their work, is there still time to make substantial edits (if something arises or if you find you really hate a particular section)? And what about after you receive your proofs (or is that only for making tweaks/corrections)? This is a bit of a self-serving question, as I'm about to enter this stage of the process, and don't want to bug my (very busy) editor during a trying time.

My answer: I’m actually planning a future post that will cover in-depth what happens after you submit your final manuscript to your publisher. But to answer these specific questions here, my biggest tip is to communicate clearly with the production editor for your book. This person might be your (very busy) acquisitions editor, depending on how labor is distributed at your press. But answering questions like this is their job, and it’s much better that everyone be on the same page than for you to guess at what you can and can’t do (and inadvertently end up causing a big inconvenience for someone else who has their own deadlines to meet). In my experience, you can make changes after copy editing, but you should only do so if you find something that’s a genuine error or could cause problems for you or your publisher if it makes it into the printed book. The problem with making the changes after copy editing is that any material you change won’t get a full copy edit. Personally, I would want to talk to my editor about the change I was proposing and get their perspective on it, just to make sure I wasn’t overthinking it. And also to give them a heads up that the manuscript you’re returning to them has changed, so they can review the changes if they want. If you alter something substantial at this stage, it could necessitate another round of peer review, which is something everyone (including you) probably wants to avoid. So yeah, I’d run it by your editor before doing anything major.

My answer for changes at the proofs stage is similar. Changes at this point are even more serious because they can mess with the pagination of the typeset proofs. Some of the pages may need to be redesigned, and if your book has already been indexed, you may throw off the page references there. That will all result in extra cost and time, because additional labor will be needed to accommodate the changes. This isn’t the end of the world, and if you’re polite about wanting to make the changes and you offer solutions that will result in the least possible disruption to the production process, it’ll probably be ok. But really try to restrain yourself if you can and make as few and as small requests like this as possible.

C. asks: If I know two scholars who have books under contract with academic presses on a topic that is really relevant to my own project, can I include them in the ‘comparable works’ section of my proposal?

My answer: Yes! As long as you also have some already-published works on there too. The Comparable Works section of the proposal serves a few different purposes for publishers, some of which can be fulfilled by listing forthcoming books, and some which cannot. Listing forthcoming books establishes that your topic is currently relevant and that other publishers are interested in it right now. This can make your project look even more appealing to the press you’re targeting, especially if the presses putting out the forthcoming books are seen as comparable to your target press (e.g. they’re a similar type of university press). One of the other function of the comparable works is to give your publisher reference points as to the kind of book you’re planning to write and how it should be marketed. Forthcoming books may be a little less useful in this regard, simply because they’re likely not known to your editor and the marketing remains to be seen for them. A third function of comparable books is to help the publisher get sense of the kind of reception and sales they can expect for your similar book. This information will obviously be unavailable for a book that hasn’t been published yet. This is why I say that you shouldn’t list only forthcoming books, but as long as you have some known quantities on your list, the forthcoming books can still be a useful supplement.

D. asks: A publisher has asked for my full manuscript for review. I currently have the references listed at the end of each chapter (for sample chapter purposes), so should I centralize all the references into a single list when I submit the full manuscript?

My answer: I’d definitely just ask the editor who solicited the manuscript what their preference is. Technically, it’s probably best if you can consolidate the references so that the peer reviewers know where to find them when they look at the full manuscript, but this could also be a tedious chore and if your editor doesn’t think it matters, then why give yourself more work to do.

I know this seems like a very basic question, but I wanted to include it in the Q&A, because a lot of times the answer really is “just ask your editor what they prefer.” You might think you’re bothering them with a silly question, but if it’s something they haven’t given you clear direction on, it’s still worth asking about. If your editor is the kind of person who is way behind on email and you have trouble getting quick responses from them, then I’d probably just do what you think is best but flag it when you send the manuscript to let them know that you can make formatting changes if they’d prefer.

That’s all for today! Keep the questions coming, and good luck with your writing and publishing projects this week.