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Someone Is Wrong on the Internet
Hello Manuscript Workers,
I was fortunate to have an advice essay published in the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this week. It’s called “The High Anxiety of Submitting a Book Proposal,” and in it I try to offer some reassurance that some of the things you might be afraid of in this process may be less scary than you think. I hope you find it comforting if you get a chance to read it!
I actually pitched a different version of this essay back in August. That version was more of a personal narrative about my experience writing and submitting a proposal for my book. It was something my editor and publicist encouraged me to write up, and I figured it might be interesting as a description of a unique experience. How many people can say they’ve written a book proposal for a book about book proposals called The Book Proposal Book??
With my publicist at Princeton UP, we pitched the piece to several publications. The editor at the Chronicle thought the idea was good but that there wasn’t enough generalizable advice in it. An editor at a publishing trade magazine liked the essay but needed it to be half as long. Several other places didn’t respond to our pitch at all.
I didn’t have the bandwidth last fall to revise the piece and try again, so I let it sit for a while. Then suddenly a couple weeks ago I was struck by inspiration and figured out how I could easily transform it into more of an advice column. I made the revisions, shared it with my publicist, then sent another pitch off to the Chronicle. This time it worked and the piece was published (with a couple of edits and a new headline) just a few days later. I will get paid for this piece too.
I’m sharing this backstory so you can see how book promotion isn’t always a linear process. Yes, this essay is a form of promotion for The Book Proposal Book. The piece contains what I hope is useful advice for any scholarly author, while also making them aware in passing that the book exists if they’d like more where that came from.
I also hope it’s helpful to see that some flexibility can pay off. If I had been wedded to the idea of a personal essay about my own experience, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to reach as many readers. And perhaps it was a good thing that I wasn’t able to revise the piece until January. This time of year might be the perfect moment to connect with new readers who are setting their publishing goals for 2022.
Of course, the downside of publishing on one’s expertise in a widely read publication is that some people don’t like reading information that contradicts what they believe to be true and they’re ready to let you know about it.
After my column went live, I received an email asking me why I think that scholarly publishers regularly have book proposals peer reviewed, along with some thoughts about why that would be a misguided practice. The person also demanded to know whether Princeton University Press had had my proposal peer reviewed and threw in a couple other micro-aggressions for good measure.
My personal stance is that life is too short to respond to bad-faith emails from hostile men I don’t know, but just in case anyone has genuine questions about proposal peer review, I’ll clear them up here.
The fact is, I don’t “think” that scholarly publishers routinely put proposals through peer review. I know it. I have observed it happen countless times over the past decade. Both of my books’ proposals were peer reviewed and offered advance contracts. And my author clients have been through a proposal peer review process at many presses, including Oxford, Princeton, Chicago, California, Yale, MIT, UNC, Illinois, Rutgers… the list goes on.
Perhaps it’s true that this hasn’t always been standard practice in scholarly publishing. And there are some presses that don’t typically do peer review until a full or mostly completed manuscript is submitted, though there are always exceptions for specific authors and projects. Resources—time, labor, and a small amount of money—must be invested to conduct two rounds of peer review, but publishers are often willing to make that investment if it means they can secure promising projects at an early stage.
If you’d prefer to wait to reach out to a publisher until you have a full manuscript written and ready for peer review, that’s a perfectly legitimate decision to make. It’s also the best decision for some authors, projects, and presses. If you’re wondering when in the process might be the best time for you, personally, to start reaching out to publishers with your proposal, I’ve written more about that here.
I do wish people would do a little research (maybe even read my book!) before firing off snotty emails to me about why I’m wrong. But I suppose that’s the cost of putting my advice out there. It’s hardly the worst thing that’s happened to a woman on the internet, so we’ll just keep it moving over here.
Next week’s newsletter will have an announcement about a publishing workshop I’m giving this spring. It’s the only public event I’m planning for the next few months, so mark your calendars for March 25th and I’ll have more info for you in a week!