Identifying a Publisher for your Academic Book: Activity 1–Figuring out Which University Presses Publish in Your Fields

This is the first post in a four-part series, geared at first-time authors of academic books in the humanities and social sciences, that will help you identify the best university presses for your book. Before you can target presses, though, you first need to know which university presses publish books in your fields.


This post, walks you through identifying the broadest list of university presses that might be interested in your project; subsequent activities will help you narrow this list so that you can make the strongest possible pitch for your book.

You can do this activity by following the steps below, and by creating your own tracking documents as you go along. Or, click on the button below to purchase the Companion Worksheet I designed to accompany the first 3 activities.

When to Start Identifying Academic Book Publishers in Your Field

Do this exercise when you are beginning to revise your dissertation into the book it will become. Doing so will give you a clearer sense of the existing scholarship and how your project will fit into university presses catalogs.

How Long it will Take to Figure out Which University Presses Publish in Your Fields

You need not do the activity all at once. Do not spend more than 3 hours. It is designed to give you a high-level view of which presses publish what in your field. You will likely have many presses on your “long list” that you find out later are not a good fit for your project. So, you do not want to spend too much time researching presses that will not ultimately be a good fit.

Resources to Consult to Identify University Presses that Publish in Your Field

Why Make a Long List of Possible University Presses for Your Book

By the end of this activity you will be able to…

  • Identify the “areas” in which your project falls. University presses only publish in specific areas, and how you propose your book depends on what “areas” it will be marketed in.
  • Identify the broadest possible list of university presses that might be interested in your project
  • articulate how your project fits into the academic publishing landscape of your field(s)

So that you can…

  • Narrow this list in Activities 2-4
  • Undertake your revisions with an eye to how it will ultimately fit into press catalogs
  • Learn to evaluate press foci, strengths, and prestige

How to Make your Long List of University Presses that Publish in Your Fields

Do: Consult the AAUP Subject area grid (the PDF under the heading “The AAUP Subject Area Grid”) and try to place your project on the map. This is an imperfect list and the subject matters are impossibly broad, but presses like categories–for better or worse. For instance, I triangulated my project between “African Studies,” “African Literature,” “Ethnic Studies” and “Language” because there is no “Cultural Studies, “African Diasporic Studies,” or “French/Francophone Studies Areas.” Write down all of the “areas” that your book could fall under. Which do you imagine being the “primary” area? Which are secondary or tertiary areas? Then, take a minute to answer this question: How will/would your book be different if you published it with a press that specializes in your secondary or tertiary area? If you have more than one “primary” area, how will you explain this twin focus to editors?

Write down the names of the potential presses who actually publish in these areas. Then, visit the press website to see what types of projects they have published in these areas. Do not spend more than 15 minutes on each potential press’s website at this point (you will do a deeper dive in Activity 3). Do these titles sound related to your book? Does the press have a series in your area(s)? If so, note the name of the series and its editors. Eliminate any presses that outwardly seem a good fit in subject area, but which don’t actually publish your type of project in that area. For instance, a press might be listed in “African Studies” but it publishes African ethnographies, while your project is literary or cultural analysis.

Review: What is the exhaustive list of university presses that might reasonably be interested in your project? Rank them in relative order of relevance, if possible, and circle those with series in which your book would fit.

Reflect: What did doing this activity reveal to you about the way academic (university press) publishing works that you did not understand before? How will you use this information to package and present your project to these presses later? Here, I am trying to get you to think about the fact that university presses are quite traditional in the way they think of projects. How your project will be classified (in terms of areas), and how will you use knowing about this classification to revise your dissertation into a book?

Ready for more? Check out Activity 2 in this series. Or, purchase the downloadable worksheet designed to accompany activities 1-3.

How to Choose a University Press: Activity 2 mining your bookshelf and bibliography katelyn Knox Emdash blog

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