Academic Book Proposal, Preparation #3: Assessing University Press Fit

This post is the third in a four-part series that helps you identify academic publishers for whom your book would be a good fit.

(Looking for a comprehensive guide where I answer all your questions about academic book proposals? Read Academic Book Proposals: All Your Questions, Answered).

The first post walked you through seeing your book through the more “traditional” disciplinary lenses university presses will use to assess whether your project is a good fit for their existing strengths, and the second guided you through making the longest possible list of university presses that could potentially be interested in your project. In this post, you will do more extensive research on the press by analyzing both what it tells prospective authors about its areas of expertise and the types of projects it seeks and its recent lists in your subject area(s). You will then use this information to narrow your list of presses for which your book would be a good fit, and to begin making the strongest possible case for your book at that press. Later, you will use this information to prepare a compelling proposal tailored to each of your top tiered presses.

As you have now seen, academic presses specialize in particular subject areas and disciplines. After completing Activity 2, you now have a good idea of the broadest possible list of publishers in your book’s disciplines; however, presses tend to specialize further, publishing works in only certain time periods, geographical foci, or even methodological approaches. Some, for instance, rarely publish monographs on only one literary author or work. So, for this activity, you will scour the websites of the university presses you identified in Activity 2, and use your answers to Activity 1, #3-8 to ensure that the press currently publishes books like yours.

How to Assess Whether Your Book is a Good Fit for a Publisher

For each of the presses you identified in Activity 2, complete the following steps.

  1. Visit the press’s webpage. Find its recent publications page, whether or not it’s discipline specific. Write down the URL in your press information sheet.
  2. Read the titles, and consult the table of contents (if available) for a few books that fit in your discipline. Is your book comparable in discipline, subdiscipline, geographic context, time period, scope, theoretical approach, and methodology (Activity 1, #5-10)? Do you know the authors from conferences, or citing their work? If you answered no, continue to #3. If you answered yes, you are likely in the right realm. Fill in any “recent important books” and “authors I know personally,” as appropriate. If the books are part of a series, note the series name and editor, as appropriate.
  3. Visit the press’s “acquisitions editors” page. Usually, acquisitions editors specialize in particular areas, so identify which acquisitions editor you would contact regarding your book. Note that presses do NOT want authors to submit proposals to more than one editor; doing so indicates that you do not truly understand your own project and how it fits into the scholarly landscape. So, you will need to identify only one acquisitions editor. Copy his/her name into “Acquisitions editor for my discipline.” Read any information s/he has published regarding his/her scholarly interests and types of books s/he usually looks for. Does your project seem like a good fit for this editor? If so, write “yes” next to “Good fit” and use your answer to 2B and this question to complete the “justification” field. Continue to #4. If not, write “no” next to “Good fit,” and use your answer to 2A and this question to fill in the “justification” field. Congratulations! You have eliminated a press from consideration, and have saved time you would have otherwise spent tailoring your proposal to a press that is not a good fit for your project. Set the “Press Information Sheet” for that particular university press aside, and return to Step 1 for the next press.
  4. Congratulations! You’ve identified a press for which your project is likely a good fit. Before moving on to evaluating the next press, you can save yourself some time by quickly taking notes on that press’s proposal guidelines while you’re already on their website. As you’ll see when you get to the proposal stage, though most proposals contain similar information, each press has its own submission style (email vs. mail), length, formatting, and other considerations. It will be useful to have all this information in one spot. Visit the “For Authors” or “Potential Authors” or “Proposal Guidelines” page, and complete the fields for “Proposal type” “URL,” and “Proposal Notes.”
  5. If you have not already completed the “Recent important books” or “Authors I know personally” fields or have done so superficially, return to the press’s recent publications page and fill in these fields.
  6. Return to Step 1 for the next press.

Congratulations! You have now narrowed your list of presses to only those that publish books like yours, and, in so doing, you have made the process of tailoring your future book proposal easier. Additionally, you have, without knowing it, begun generating bits of what will become your book proposal’s “competing works” (or “market competition”) section and the strong case for why the press would be interested in your book.

In the first activity, I mentioned that finding the best publisher for your academic book requires approaching presses through two lenses: their areas of focus, and their prestige. Up until now, you’ve been focusing primarily on the first lens; now, we’ll turn to the second: ranking your narrow list in terms of their prestige and reputation in your fields by interviewing your colleagues and mentors. So, if you’re ready, head over to Activity 4.

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