Identifying a Publisher for Your Academic Book: Activity 3–Close Reading University Press Websites

This is the third of four posts in a series, geared at first-time authors of academic books in the humanities and social sciences, that will help you identify the most suitable and reputable university presses for your book. This activity helps you narrow your list of the most prestigious university presses in your field who have published research related to yours.

The first post walked you through identifying a “long list” of the best university presses in your field, and the second helped you narrow your list to figure out which university presses are publishing top books in your field. This post helps you deepen your understanding of the types of books your target presses publish in your areas, and of the good university presses for your discipline.

You can do this activity by following the steps below, and making your own Press information ranking sheets as you go along. It is designed to work best with the companion worksheet, which accompanies Activities 1-3.

When to Visit University Press Websites to Identify if They’re a Good Target for your Academic Book

You should do a quick version of this activity before you begin revising your dissertation, but after you have let it rest (if you are going to do so). This will give you a good understanding of what your potential target presses have published recently–information you will use to solicit advice in your field.

You should do a more thorough version of this activity about 3 months before you intend to submit your proposal or any time you plan to meet with an acquisitions editor at a conference. (More on the potential utility of doing so in a later post).

How Long it will Take to Determine the Best University Presses in Your Field

You need not do this activity all at once; however, I think you will get more out of it if you do. Spend about 30 minutes per press (divided between gleaning information and reflecting) when you do the quick version and about 45-60 minutes when you do the longer version.

Resources to Consult before Visiting University Press Websites

Why You Should Analyze University Press Websites

By the end of this activity you will have

  • Information for each of your target presses that includes notes about its recent publications in your fields, how your project will fit into its catalog, and practical information for proposals such as submission requirements and editor contact information
  • Draft writing that places your book in dialog with other recent publications in each catalog (and, therefore, also in the field)

You will use this knowledge when you

How to Narrow your list of Possible Publishers by Close Reading Press Websites

Do: Open the document you created in Activity 2, which listed recent and seminal books with which yours is in dialog, according to press/series. Add the headings below (A-E) under each press’s name. Then, visit the website of each press or series, and add the associated information you glean from the press/series websites.

A) Recent and forthcoming books with which my book is in dialog–You already have a list of recent seminal books with which your book is in dialog from Activity 2. Now, you should be looking for books that might be similar in topic, scope, or methodology to yours. Here, you are confirming that the target press still publishes works like yours.

B) Authors I know personally or whose previous scholarship is foundational to my work who have published with this press recently–Here, you are beginning to compile a list of potential interview subjects for Activity 4, and names to keep in mind as you attend conferences in the coming months and years. Additionally, as you likely know, academic fields are small communities. Editors will know the authors whose books you list in your proposal’s “competing works” section, and will look at those authors’ names–among other factors–to judge whether your book is in the right scholarly “orbit,” as my editor put it.

C) Why I think my book will be a good fit for this press/series (write a paragraph; draw from series or press descriptions when possible)–Here, you are drafting material that you can draw on for the tailored proposal. Your proposal–like your job documents–will be most effective if you tailor it to fit your audience. Two different presses might both publish in the same subject area, but different methodologies. You will need to know which aspects of your project will make it attractive to different presses in order to be able to highlight them in the proposal.

D) The name of the acquisitions or series editor for your book’s area–This is practical information for the proposal, which is always addressed to one acquisitions editor (even though s/he might be the acquisitions editor for multiple areas).

E) Practical information about that press’s proposal guidelines–Though there is a relatively universal set of documents that make up a standard academic “book proposal,” each press nevertheless has its own particularities in terms of documents (type, number, length, formatting), and submission style (email v. mailed copy). Some presses (such as LUP, my publisher), want authors to fill out their own in-house proposal form, rather than submitting a standard proposal. You can save yourself time down the road by noting what presses want now, rather than after drafting the proposal. Visit the “information for authors” or “submissions guidelines” page. Take notes on what the press wants to receive for a proposal. Take note of how they want to receive the proposal. Finally, take note of any supplemental information they encourage authors to consult as they are preparing the proposal.

Review: Continue ranking your list of presses. Are there any that now seem to be better fits than the others? Are there any presses that, upon further review, seem to be bad fits for your project? If so, consider writing a paragraph to your future self about why you think you should not propose your book to that press. I suggest still keeping the presses in your document, though, so that you can add any information you glean about them through interviews in Activity 4. Ultimately, your goal is to propose your project in a focused, tailored way to fewer presses. Doing so will save you time in the long run.

Reflect: What did you learn about your field’s publishing landscape from this exercise? What did you learn about your project and how it fits into your subfields through this activity? Do you have any ideas for how you might revise your book and/or market it to publishers in light of these discoveries? Which university presses seem the highest ranked in your field? Which ones seem the most prestigious?

Ready for more? Head over to Activity 4 in this series.

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