Recycling publications for your book
How much is too much?
Hi Manuscript Workers,
It’s another heartbreaking week in the United States of America. I assume many people’s minds are not on academic books and publishing today, which is very understandable. I already had this newsletter drafted, so I decided to go ahead and send it out in case it might still be helpful to anyone.
Today’s newsletter will be a quickie Q&A to address a question I get from prospective authors all the time. I answered this one in the FAQs of The Book Proposal Book, but I’ll answer it again here with a little more elaboration.
Before I get to the Q&A, I just want to say a quick thanks to everyone who signed up for this year’s Book Proposal Accelerator and especially to everyone who has helped spread the word about this program over the past 3 years.
Because of your support, I was able to make a $10,000 donation to Higher Education Labor United, an intersectional coalition working to organize efforts for labor justice across all employee ranks on campuses in the US. I feel very strongly about supporting campus labor movements — because they are what make livable jobs possible in corporatized institutions — and I’m grateful to be able to support this cause. Thank you.
Back to the Q&A…
Question: How much of my book material can I have published previously as journal articles or chapters in edited volumes?
Answer: When I get this question, I usually point people to Beth Luey’s advice in her Handbook for Academic Authors (now available from Cambridge University Press in a 6th edition blurbed by yours truly). There, Luey says that most presses won’t want a book submission with more than 25% previously published material.
As I said in The Book Proposal Book, “that’s probably a safe figure to rely on, but I’ve encountered many exceptions to this rule, so there may be wiggle room with your publisher on your particular book. It’s all in how you pitch it. If you can demonstrate convincingly that the audience for the previously published work is distinct from the audience for the book, or that even those who have read your other work will find some new value in the book, you’ll be in good shape.”
I recently received a question from an author that got into a little more detail on this topic, and I thought it would be helpful for others, so I want to share it here too:
Question: Thank you for all of your work to demystify the book proposal and publishing process. I have a question about publishing work in advance of the book. It seems like it's generally agreed that you should publish (as articles, chapters, etc.) no more than 50% of your book manuscript—but is this a "true" 50%? For example, I've published two articles related to my four-chapter book so far, but each article only contains, say 30-50% of the content that will be in the respective book chapter.
I realize this is a very nitty-gritty question and I feel a little ridiculous for even asking it! The only reason I am asking is because I've been asked to contribute to a special edition of a major journal in my field and I'd like to say yes if it won't risk my book proposal. This would involve publishing material from a third chapter (but as with the two previous articles, it would only overlap partly with my book chapter). Thank you in advance for any advice you can offer, and thank you again for your fabulous newsletter and other resources.
Here’s what I said to this author:
Thanks for reaching out with your question, which is not ridiculous! It's very common so you're not alone in wondering.
The guideline I usually quote about previously published material is actually closer to 25% (see Beth Luey's Handbook for Academic Authors). I'm sure that some books do get closer to 50%, but I would say that if you're approaching that you should consider holding back on the article/chapter publications at least until you've had a chance to discuss the project with publishers and find out what their preferences are. It's hard to say how they'll see the overlap—whether they'll see that technically it's not the entire chapters that are being published elsewhere or whether they'll just consider the chapter as previously published. This is a very reasonable question to ask an editor you’re thinking of working with, so don’t be afraid to bring it up.
The overarching concern from the publishers will be that the previous publications might undercut demand for the book. I think in most cases that concern can be overcome, since the articles function differently than a book does. Usually the book has a more expansive argument and sustained engagement with the subject matter that readers can't get in an article. The style you write your book in may also be more accessible/teachable, further enhancing the book's value for readers.
These are points you can make explicitly in your proposal if you want: include a section on previous publications and briefly explain how your book goes beyond what you've published before. But you may decide it’s not worth taking the risk until you've secured the interest of a publisher.
I guess a question for you is how beneficial that major journal publication will be for your career in the near term and whether it would be worth it if it meant you had to write an additional chapter or two for your book to make it more new in the eyes of publishers?
Sorry I don't have a more definitive answer for you but I hope this is helpful!
(That last line is basically how I end every response to prospective authors. For more on why definitive answers are hard to come by, see this post on mythbusting in scholarly publishing.)
Got a publishing question you can’t seem to find a straight answer for? Don’t hesitate to send it my way! I try to respond directly to everyone and I may share it in a future newsletter too (with your permission).
Need to write a book proposal this summer and not sure where to start? My Book Proposal Shortcut for Busy Scholars is a self-paced program that guides you step by step through writing the book proposal document and how to pitch your book to scholarly publishers.
The idea is to save you time and struggle by spelling out exactly what information you need to provide about your book project and how to present it in a way that will be legible and appealing to publishers.
The program also includes pep talks in every module to keep your spirits up, as well as a library of worksheets and successful proposal examples.
The Shortcut program can also be purchased in bulk as a block of enrollments for faculty and advanced grad students. If someone at your institution would like to arrange this, please have them email me directly at email@example.com.
See you next week with another newsletter. June’s newsletters will share a special theme. Any guesses? You’ll find out next Wednesday!