Ranking University Presses for your Academic Book: Questions to ask your Colleagues and Mentors

This is the fourth and final post in a series, geared at first-time authors of academic books, that will help you identify the most suitable and reputable university presses for your field. In this post, I offer you specific questions to ask your colleagues and mentors to figure out which university presses are most prestigious in your field. You will use this information to tailor your academic book proposal to the press.


The first post walked you through identifying a “long list” of university presses, the second helped you discover university presses that would be the best fit for your book by looking at your own bibliography and bookshelf, and the third gave you a framework for close reading press websites to identify the best university presses for your field. This post gives you tools to get feedback from two different populations: mentors in your field(s) and colleagues at your university. Both have different lenses on press prestige, and both can help give you advice on how to publish your dissertation as a book with a reputable university press.

When to Interview Colleagues about University Press Prestige

You should begin this activity before undertaking your revisions, but after you have done Activities 1-3. You should plan to work on it all the way up to your proposal. If you are close to finishing your revisions and/or are about to submit your proposal to presses, you should do this activity immediately.

How Much Time it Will Take to Interview Colleagues about Your Target University Presses

This “activity” is really part of an ongoing process. Now that you have a relatively ranked list of potential outlets for your book, you want to actively solicit input in your field, and keep your ears open at professional networking events. You will get lots of useful information between now and when your book manuscript is done.

Resources to Consult Before Interviewing Colleagues about Academic Publishers

Why you Should Interview Colleagues about University Presses in your Field

Doing this activity will give you:

  • A better sense of how other people in your field and your department view the prestige of presses
  • Insight into what factors other people consider when targeting presses (speed, prestige, methodology, other authors published)
  • Concrete examples of what it is like to work with those presses
  • Opportunities to expand your professional network

So that you can

  • Propose your project to presses efficiently, targeting the most reputable/prestigious ones (for tenure and field)
  • Craft the strongest justification for your book for those particular presses (not all presses will find the same project interesting for the same reasons)
  • Develop a crucial component of actually “pitching” your project: a personal connection to the editor

How to Rank your Target Presses using Inteviews

As Karen Kelsky’s article makes clear, the status of the press matters a great deal in tenure and promotion decisions. After completing Activity 3, you already have a crudely list of presses and you have justifications for why they might be good outlets for your book. Now, it is time to see what two groups–experts in your field and those who will decide your tenure case–think about these presses.

Do, Part 1: Identify a list of 5+ experts in your field who have published a monograph in the past 5 years whom you know personally enough to email or chat with. This can be your dissertation committee members, senior scholars whom you have met at conferences, and the like. Draw, too, from your lists of scholars who have published with the presses you hope to publish with that you compiled in part C of the previous activity.

Here are some conversation starters and questions to guide you:

  • Tell them you’re beginning to think about presses that might be interested in your project (if you’re early on in the revising process), or have settled on a few potential UPs (if you’re at the T minus 3 months point), and are looking for some advice about book proposals and publishing.
  • Tell them the names of the top 3-5 presses you’re considering and series in which you think your book would fit.

Ask:

  • Do you think this press/series would be a good fit for my project? Why/ why not? (If this person has published with the press, ask them: What was your experience working with this press? Would you recommend them to other authors? Why or why not?)
  • Are there any presses on this list you think I should remove? Why/ why not?
  • Are there any presses that you think might be interested in my project that I have overlooked? Why do you think I should consider them?
  • Do you know of anyone I might be able to contact who has recently published with that press, or the series or acquisitions editors? (If so, they will hopefully offer to connect you to those people, either via an in-person or email introduction, or via the ability to use their name when contacting those people).
  • (If you are pressed for time–you are up against a dwindling tenure clock): What do you know about this press’s speed?
  • Do you have any advice about book publishing or the proposal process that you wished you had known before publishing your first book?
  • (If they are currently connected to a press and regularly review proposals and/or manuscripts, such as they are a series editor, etc.): What “mistakes” do you often see first-time monograph authors make in proposing their book projects? Are there any particularly strong proposals/manuscripts by first-time authors that stick out in your mind? If so, what made them particularly strong?

Do, Part 2: There is another group you must interview, too: your current senior colleagues. Even though they might not know your field well, they will still have their own ideas about what counts as a “prestigious” publisher, and their opinions might differ from your mentors’. Because they will be evaluating your tenure case, you need to get their input, too, and later figure out how to weigh all the advice.

First, consult any departmental documents you have about research requirements that specify which types of presses will count for tenure and promotion at your institution. Then, you should seek out formal and informal advice from senior colleagues. Here are some conversation starters and questions to guide you:

  • Tell the person you’re beginning to think about presses that might be interested in your project (if you’re early on in the revising process), or have settled on a few potential UPs (if you’re at the T minus 3 months point), and are looking for some advice about book proposals and publishing.
  • Tell them the names of the top 3-5 presses/series you’re considering.

Ask:

  • Will these presses be considered prestigious for the purposes of promotion and tenure in your department? (This is something only your current colleagues–and not your dissertation committee members, or other mentors in your subfields–are uniquely positioned to answer)
  • (If they happen to know a lot about your sub-field): Do you think my project is a good fit for this press/series? Why or why not?
  • Do you know of anyone connected with that press (recent author, series or acquisitions editor)?
  • (If they have published a monograph): Do you have any advice about book publishing or the proposal process that you wished you had known before publishing your first book?
  • (If they are currently connected to a press and regularly review proposals and/or manuscripts, such as they are a series editor, etc.): What “mistakes” do you often see first-time monograph authors make in proposing their book projects? Are there any particularly strong proposals/manuscripts by first-time authors that stick out in your mind? If so, what made them particularly strong?

Review: Now you are able to use all of the information you have gleaned in order to make informed choices about which presses to target. Considering the variables that are uniquely most important to you, decide on your top-tier presses (3-5). If your interviews have given you secondary connections to the presses (that is, to authors who have published with the presses, NOT to series or acquisitions editors), now is the time to contact them to see if you can ask them about their own experiences with those presses.

Reflect: What advice did you glean about proposing and publishing and mistakes that first-time authors make that will help you strengthen your own proposal? Are there any substantive or structural changes you should make to your book manuscript in the coming months?

Having completed these activities, you should now have a very focused list of presses that would be interested in your project. You will want to draft as strong and targeted a proposal as possible, focusing on your top tier first. If you need to, you can move down a tier later.

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