Identifying a Publisher For Your Academic Book: Activity 2–Mining your Bookshelf and Bibliography

This is the second post in a four-part series, geared at first-time authors of academic books in the humanities and social sciences–mostly those revising their dissertation into a book–that will help you identify the best and most prestigious university presses for your book.

The first post walked you through identifying a “long list” of the top university presses in your field. This post should help you do two things: 1) narrow your “long list” of possible academic publishers; 2) begin articulating how your book builds on and engages other books those academic presses have published. When you write your proposal, this material will form the basis of your “competing works” section. (See more on how to write the competing works section of your academic book proposal here).

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 Determine Which University Presses might be Best

You should do this activity before you begin revising your dissertation, but after you have let it “rest,” if you are going to do so. Doing it before you are ready to seriously think about your project concretely as a “book” will overwhelm you. If you have already started the revisions, do this activity as early as possible. Thinking about presses that will be good outlets for your project will not only give you a good sense of “where you’re headed,” but it can also productively shape your revisions.

Resources to Consult before Narrowing your List of University Presses

  • Chapter 4, section “Your Own Research” of William Germano’s Getting it Published:

  • Activity 1 in this series:

How Much Time it will Take to Identify the Top Presses in your Field

You need not do this activity (which is really one activity applied to 10 books) all at once. I expect that you will spend 20-30 minutes on each book for the first handful you do, but that as you practice “reading” books in this way, you will spend less time on each book. You will likely also find that spending 15 minutes to do this activity on any new, seminal book you discover in the coming years, will be time well spent.

Why Narrow your List of Academic Book Publishers

In doing this activity, you will produce:

  • A list of presses that have published recent monographs with which your project engages
  • A narrower list of possible university presses/series in which your book would be a good fit
  • Rough prose about how your book engages with others in its fields
  • Preliminary prose outlining why, specifically, your project would be a good fit for each press

You will use this information to:

  • Craft more targeted “competing works” sections of your book proposal (I will discuss this in depth in a future post)
  • Close read press websites in greater detail (future Activity 3)
  • Glean more helpful information from your mentors and colleagues when you interview them about presses (future Activity 4)

How to Mine your Bookshelf and Bibliography to Identify Presses Interested in Your Book

As the required Germano reading asserts, the best place to find presses that might be interested in your project is on your own bookshelf or in your own bibliography. Publishing with a press that published a work your book is in close dialog with also has a built-in justification: that press would make an ideal outlet because it has published works essential to your own argument.


  1. Make a list of at least 10 monographs that are profoundly influential to yours, with which yours is in close dialog, or works that you would hold up as models for your own in terms of scope, topic, or methodology. Try, whenever possible, to select books that were published in the past 5 years or so.
  2. Write down the publishers for those books.
  3. For the moment, eliminate books published with trade presses (Routledge, Sage, Lexington) unless you know for a fact that these presses have prestigious series in your field. (See Karen Kelsky on why university press prestige matters).
  4. Open a document and type the University Press names. Arrange the list in terms of most books to least books of the 10+ it has published. Arrange all of the books (give publication year) under their respective press.
  5. Under each book’s title, answer the following questions: Why, specifically (methodology, content, etc.) is this book influential in your field(s)? How has this book been a model for, or impacted your book? How does your book depart from, build on, or question that earlier book? (This last question is extremely important–it will help you write a clearer “competing works” section of your proposal).
  6. After you have done #5 for each book under a particular press, answer the following questions about the press: What types of projects does this press publish in your field? Why would they be interested in your book? Is there any particular angle you should use in pitching the editor the project?

Your list of presses should be shorter than the “long list” you compiled in Activity 1, and, more importantly, you have a crude ranking system. This list will be the basis for all of your other activities going forward.

Review: Compare the list of presses with the one you compiled in Activity 1. You might wish to note any that appear in both in some fashion.

Reflect: Did you find that your project would be interesting to these 3-5 presses for the same reasons? If no, try to articulate why, specifically, your project will be of interest to these presses. How will this knowledge shape your book revisions or proposal?

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