When you write your first academic book, one stage looms large in your mind: the academic book contract.
But when reading advice and speaking to colleagues, confusion might begin to emerge around what, specifically a “book contract” means.
While most people seem to use “book contract” to refer to the stage after their full manuscript has undergone successful peer review, some use the term “contract” at a much earlier stage, usually after the proposal and before they have submitted their full manuscript.
What’s going on?
What is an academic book proposal and when do presses issue them to authors? After proposals or after the manuscript has been peer reviewed?
Both. But these two “contracts” are not created equal.
In this post, I outline the differences between “advance academic book contracts”–typically offered based on a proposal and sample chapters alone–and regular “academic book contracts,” before then answering questions authors of first books have about advance contracts.
What is an advance book contract for academic books?
Typically, an advance academic book contract (or a pre-publication book contract) is a contract that a press issues to an author based on a proposal alone (with or without two sample chapters). An advance contract commits the press to reviewing the full manuscript. Usually, it also commits the author to submitting the full manuscript to that press (and, therefore not any others) when it is ready. An advance contract does not commit the press to publish the book.
Is an advance contract the same as a normal book contract for academic books?
No. What people typically refer to as an “book contract” differs from an “advance book contract.” Issuing an “book contract” usually means the press commits to publishing the book. An “advance book contract” commits the press to send the full manuscript out to peer review.
Do all presses offer advance academic book contracts, especially for authors of first books?
No. Here are three common positions presses take:
- A press does offer advance academic book contracts. In this case, senior scholars are often more likely to receive an advance contract than an author of a first book. Sometimes, presses allow editors to make these decisions individually. For instance, Rob Tiempo of Princeton says that while Princeton UP typically only offers full contracts based on a complete, peer-reviewed manuscript, they “do often sign up something to an advance contract particularly if we are very keen on a project and want to secure an exclusive commitment to review and publish the final manuscript.”
- A press will not offer an advance contract but will write a letter of support for/interest in the project. This can be useful in probationary (pre-tenure) dossiers or fellowship applications.
- A press will not offer advance contracts. Rather, they only offer full contracts based on peer-reviewed manuscripts.
How would I know if a press is open to offering advance contracts to authors of first books?
Few press websites indicate whether they offer advance contracts, whether to any authors or authors of first books specifically. I would recommend you get this information in one of two ways. First, you can query colleagues who have recently published with your target press about their publication process. Second, if and when you meet with editors about your project at conferences, you can naturally obtain this type of information when you ask about that press’s typical publication process.
What would a press offer an advance book contract based on?
Typically, presses offer an advance book contract based on a peer-reviewed proposal (not a full manuscript), whether or not that proposal includes sample chapters. A full advance academic book contract, by contrast, is usually only ever issued after a full manuscript has received two or more favorable peer reviews.
What are the benefits and disadvantages of an advance book contract for academic books?
You can think of an advance contract as committing you, the author, to send your full manuscript to the press and committing the press to review your manuscript. Because it does not commit the press to publish your book, an advance contract typically means little to tenure and promotion committees at research-focused institutions. Rather, in those committees’ eyes, a full academic book contract (based on peer reviews of the full manuscript) carries much more weight. An advance academic book contract, which signals a press’s interest in a project, can carry some weight for fellowship applications to research and write said book.
Keep in mind, though, that signing an advance contract typically commits you to submitting your full manuscript to the publisher once it is complete. Because you cannot submit your full manuscript to more than one press at a time, signing an advance contract effectively means that you are committing to allowing that press to have the first shot at publishing your book. So, only sign an advance contract if that press is truly one of your top choices (ideally the top choice).
Finally, as Karen Kelsky of The Professor Is In suggests, an advance academic book contract might make you a more attractive candidate for tenure-track jobs while still allowing your book to “count” for promotion and tenure at that institution. If this is your case, I would highly recommend that you get a commitment from your new institution in writing that your book will still count for tenure as you are navigating the hiring process. Additionally, you should likely check with a senior scholar or mentor in your field that this advice applies to your field specifically.
Will an advance contract come with compensation?
Typically, no. The only instance I have ever heard of is Kelsky’s, who did receive a book advance. She, too, acknowledges that this is far from the norm.
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