how to write a book 2: the publication process
The book publication process is very different than journal publishing. The journal process is fairly impersonal and bureaucratic. Yes, once in a while, an editor will help out his buddies, but journals receive hundreds of submissions and they have to be processed. Most are judged impersonally (though with the editors’ tastes). In contrast, book publication is a very soft, often personal process. Some book publication histories resemble the journal process. You send it in, the editor sends it out for review, and then the reviews determine if it gets published. In other cases, editors will suggest that someone write a book and then work personally with the author to guide it through the process.
Let’s start with nuts and bolts and then move to some Q&A:
- The author either starts with a proposal, a sample chapter, or the whole thing. They contact an editor who then decides to review.
- Editors come in a few flavors. There are “acquisition” editors whose job it is to sort submissions. The “list” editors are in charge of certain types of books. E.g., the health editor managers health books. There are also more senior editors who have a leadership role.
- Once something is submitted, you fill out a survey. Who are you? What is the book about? Who will buy it?
- Then, the book is sent to 1-3 peer reviewers. It is usually single blind. Reviewers see the authors, but not the other way. Usually, they are peers. Sometimes, non-academics or professors on the publisher’s board. Reviews range from “good job, move along” to very detailed responses.
- The proposal, the manuscript, the survey, and the reviews are then taken to the board for academic presses and to more senior editors for private presses. The whole package is evaluated. Sometimes you get a reject. Sometimes you get an “advance contract” (see below). Sometimes you get an “interesting, try again” – an “R&R.”
- If all you submitted is a proposal and sample chapter, “thumbs up” means you have permission to submit the entire packaged when ready. You can ask for the “advance contract.” If you submitted the whole thing, “thumbs up” means you get a publication contract – the final step before the book is “in the system” and moving toward publication. You might be done with it, or you need to do some revisions.
- Next week, I will talk about the nitty gritty of making the physical/ebook.
- Q: Should I submit a proposal or whole book? A: My opinion is that you should try to submit the entire book, unless you are pressed for time. The reason is that it is much easier to judge the quality of the book once you can see all the parts. Less micro-managing by reviewers. Also, it signals to an editor that you have your act together.
- Q: What is an “advance contract?” A: It is a contract with the press that says that they will consider the book for review upon completion. It is not a promise to publish. Some people find this useful because it shows hiring and promotion committees that the project is real. So yes, it is good, but it is a very modest step. That is why a lot of people won’t get hired just on the advance contract. There needs to be a “real” publication contract.
- Q: Can I submit to more than one press at a time? A: Yes. The norm seems to be that you can submit to a few at a time and of similar prestige. Too many submits, and it looks weird. If you get an offer from a low tier press, the high tier may not take it seriously.
- Q: How do I identify a good press and the editor? A: First, look at your bookshelf. Cambridge published a lot in protest movements, so movement scholars should try that first. Second, think about impact. Will the press help you reach the right audience. To learn about editors, use your networks and talk to them at professional meetings. Email sometimes works, but I have found it to be highly variable.
Next week: more on publication and writing it up.