Finding the Right Academic Publisher #4: Ranking University Presses

How can you publish your academic book with a top press in your field?

In this post—the final in the four part “Finding an academic Publisher” series—I show you how to do just that.

By now, you’ve already done the hard work. You’ve gotten to know your book again, and you put together your long list of publishers in your field. Then, you researched presses that publish in your fields. You now know which presses actually publish books like yours. And you have a strong case for why your book would be a great fit for the others.

But making the case for your book to a press is only half the equation.

Not all publishers are equally prestigious. In fact, press prestige is field- and topic-dependent. The top university press in Latin American Cultural Studies might only be mid-tier in French Cultural Studies or Latin American History.

Even if it’s not the sole reason for publishing your book, you probably hope it will count toward tenure and/or promotion. Press prestige will likely play a role in your dossier, to varying degrees. And, as Karen Kelsky points out, “The prestige of the press still matters!

So, in this exercise, you will rank the presses into 2-3 tiers by interviewing the two groups who will evaluate your dossier: colleagues at your current institution and mentors in your field(s). You will also contact

Ready to start?

What to Ask Your Current Colleagues & Why

Your colleagues will be the ones to vote on your tenure/promotion case. But they might not necessarily be familiar with your specific field’s publishing landscape. So, you will want to make sure that they see the university presses you are considering as “reputable” in a general sense.

Here, I recommend a combination of formal and informal interviews. If possible, start with your department chair or the chair of your department’s promotion and tenure committee.

Here’s a sample script for what you might say:

I’m close to starting to put together book proposals. I have a tentative target list of publishers for which I think my book would be a good fit. So, I wanted to meet with you to make sure the departmental tenure and promotion committee would look favorably on books published with these presses. Right now, I’m considering… Do you have any concerns?

These meetings are also a great opportunity to get any additional publishing advice from senior departmental colleagues. Questions you might ask include:

  • Do you have any tips or advice for me as I begin the proposal process?
  • Is there anything you routinely see junior colleagues do wrong at this stage?
  • (If the person has published a book him/herself): Is there anything you wish you’d have known before preparing and submitting book proposals?

Finally, these meetings can also be a useful way to make second-hand connections to editors. I recommend only asking these questions if your colleague is relatively research productive herself and if her field is relatively close to yours:

  • Do you happen to know other scholars who have recently published with these presses?
  • Do you happen to know the acquisitions editor(s) at any of these presses?

What to Ask Mentors and Senior Colleagues in Your Field & Why

Conversations with senior mentors in your field will serve three main purposes. First, they will help confirm that you have identified publishers for which your book will be a good fit. Second, because they are much more likely to be in your subfield(s) than colleagues at your current institution, they will be able to more accurately help you rank your presses into tiers. Finally, they might have personal connections to editors or be willing to introduce you in person or via email.

I’m close to starting to put together book proposals. I have a tentative target list of publishers for which I think my book would be a good fit. So, I wanted to meet with you to make sure I’ve chosen presses for which my book would be a good fit and that my tiers are relatively accurate. Right now, I’m considering… as my top tier, and … as my second tier. Do you have any concerns? Are there any presses I should add to my list? Any presses I should eliminate?

If you must ask by email, be sure to include a current brief (3-4 sentence) summary of your book, especially if it’s changed majorly since the last time she’s seen it.

At the end of an in-person conversation or in a follow-up email, ask your mentor if she knows the acquisitions editor and/or series editor for your subject area and, if so, she might be willing to introduce you via email (when the time is right) or allow you to use her name in your proposal cover letter.

What to Ask Authors Who Have Recently Published with Your Top Presses

Formal and informal interviews with authors that have recently published with your top presses serve two purposes: making sure working with the press is a pleasant experience, and potentially establishing second-hand connections to editors.

Here, I recommend reading the section titled “Getting Advice” of chapter 4 of William Germano’s Getting it Published (ebook). As he notes there, you should ensure that the process was clear and prompt, and that the author would publish there again. Seek out multiple sources of advice.

If she responds favorably, ask whether she would be willing to introduce you to the acquisitions and/or series editor(s) when the time comes or if she would allow you to use her name in your cover letter.

Final Step: Finalize Your Tiers and Turn toward the Proposal

Now that you’ve interviewed mentors and colleagues for a variety of purposes, you should have reasonably set top and second (if not third) tiers. You might also have second-hand connections to the press’s editors.

So, you are now ready to begin formally preparing your book proposal.

The good news?

The hard work you’ve done in this “Finding a Publisher” series will serve as the basis for parts of your book proposal. For instance, the book summary and “mini competing works” you produced back in activity 1 will find their way into the summary/overview and competing works sections, respectively. And the information about each press’s proposal procedure you gathered in filling out the Press Information Worksheet will help you tailor your proposal to each of your top presses.

Ready to move on to actually writing your book proposal?

Check out my top proposal posts:

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