Academic Publishing Workshop for grad students and more
Below is the content from an academic publishing workshop that I recently ran for Macquarie’s Anthropology Department. I’ve compiled a set of useful, free resources, and some insights coming out of my own efforts to publish, as well as advice from colleagues. If you find this useful or if you have publishing insights that I haven’t covered here, post a comment!
Like all my teaching materials, it’s licensed for free non-commercial use and adaptation, as long as you (a) attribute your source, and (b) license derivative materials under the same conditions. (c) Creative Commons: attribution non-commercial share alike license
Publish or perish
There are all kinds of reasons that grad students, and even undergraduates, should be thinking about publishing their original research.
1. Publishing before you start your PhD almost guarantees you a scholarship (in the Macquarie ranking system, a publication automatically bumps you up one level in the 5-point scale).
2. If you are a PhD student and hope to get an academic teaching job, start publishing before you finish your PhD. A few bright stars might get jobs on the basis of their dissertation and strong letters of recommendation, but for the rest of us, publications are what count. This is especially true in the Australian system, where there isn’t the same tenure system as in North America. There’s not much a department can do to get rid of a new staff member if they don’t publish, so a department wants to see solid evidence of ability and ambition to publish before they offer you a job. Even in the U.S. system, few departments want to hire a junior candidate who won’t get tenured. That just makes for awkward moments in the hallway five years later.
When hiring committees are trying to narrow down a large pool into a short list, they’ve got to pick between a lot of bright young graduates with highly rated dissertations, enthusiastic referees, and clever ideas. So what distinguishes candidates? Often it comes down to bean-counting – grants, awards, publications. Publications really make you stand out, especially if you’re very junior.
Even if you don’t want a PhD or an academic teaching job, publications can help you get a non-academic job too. They are a measure of your ambition, your research success as judged by your peers, and they’re good for your company’s image.
This is an argument that I probably don’t need to make. Probably every PhD student knows that they need to publish, whether vaguely (early in the PhD) or acutely (when you’re starting to think about going on the job market). And yet the whole process can seem so daunting. At least for me it did. When I graduated with my PhD from Princeton, I really didn’t have a clue how to publish my work. I had a couple of small articles that an undergraduate adviser, Homa Hoodfar, had helped me get published, but that’s the only way I knew to get published: have some nice grown-up make it happen. How to get published without the help of Homa? It was a completely mysterious, opaque process to me.
Then I got a post-doc in a demography department, where all of the PhD students published work with their advisors. By the time they graduated, they had three or four journal articles. I couldn’t believe it. I was totally in awe. So I went to ask someone in the Anthropology Department how to get published in an anthropology journal. She didn’t really even know what to say. She was confused by the question, didn’t seem to understand what I was asking. I think she couldn’t imagine herself into my cluelessness.
Eventually I figured out how to do what they did. But I decided that I wasn’t going to let students in my department graduate as clueless as I was. So here are my tips for publishing, everything from blogs to books.
Publishing for a general audience
This is NOT my area of expertise, so I can’t tell you what I don’t know, but if you’re interested in writing your research for a general (non-academic) audience, check out Marlene Lage’s list of Australian places that sponsor writing competitions or grants for work that is not the traditional scholarly essay: https://culturematters.wordpress.com/2009/07/15/more-resources-for-non-fiction-writing/
Blogs are a chance to make a name for yourself online. But don’t write crazy shit that’s going to live on in cyberspace for years and get you in trouble when you’re applying for jobs.
Blogging is an art form. I admit I still haven’t mastered it, but I know the ideal! Be witty, concise, and brief. You could start your own, but if you don’t have the stamina to post something every few days, you’ll never get read, so consider trying to get a guest-blogging stint. Culture Matters welcomes guest bloggers, but don’t come to us if you want to write long boring stuff. Other places that I know of that welcome proposals from guest bloggers are Material World and Complex Terrain Lab. Take the initiative; write something clever and then send it out to a blog you like and ask if they’d be interested in posting it.
Blogs are great places to test out ideas and get feedback on work in progress, or outline a research project. But don’t let it take time away from getting peer-reviewed publications because most institutions don’t see blogging as a legitimate scholarly output. Combine blogging with other print publications and make them work together, rather than compete with each other, e.g. blog a longer version of a book review or a shorter version of a journal article and use it to generate traffic to / interest in your publication – especially if that publication is behind a pay-wall. Beware copyright violation, though.
Here’s your chance to get a free book and a small publication in a good journal. But beware making enemies by writing a nasty critique! Ask yourself: “Would I say this to the person’s face?” Don’t be mean just for the fun of it — it could come back and bite you on the backside. Imagine that after the book review is published, you’ll send it to the author as a courtesy. And then do that.
In the Australian system, book reviews are formally weighted at 1/10 the value of a peer-reviewed journal article, so do NOT spend too much time writing them. On the other hand, a mentor of mine once told me that when he is on a hiring committee, the publication he always reads from short-listed candidates are book reviews, because it gives a good sense of not only the candidate’s intellect, but also how collegial that person might be; he doesn’t hire people who write shallow, nasty critiques.
How to: watch H-net and other listservs for books available to review. If you hear a book is coming out that you’d like to review, you can write to the book review editor at a journal, introduce yourself and your expertise, and ask if you can review the book for them. If they haven’t already invited someone else to review it, then they’ll likely take you up on the offer. (Hint: this is less likely to work if it’s a new book by some bigwig.)
Usually invitations to write a book chapter are a result of networking and conference presentations. Book chapters often not seen to be at the same level of rigorous peer review publications as journal articles, but getting included in a key volume in your field can be a great opportunity to raise your profile and visibility.
How to: Subscribe to relevant H-net lists (http://www.h-net.org/) and other listservs to keep an ear out for appropriate calls for papers. Attend conferences and watch for calls to join relevant conference panels – these sometimes turn into edited volumes, and at the very least they are opportunities to network and gain name recognition for work in your field, not to mention opportunities to find out what exciting research others are doing.
Academic journal articles
If you knew how many academic specialist journals existed in the world (Journal of Geoethical Nanotechnology, anyone?), you might believe me when I say that anybody can get published, with enough determination and effort.
Here are some lists of journals to peruse: ‘
- Directory of Open Access Journals: – includes 55 open access anthropology journals
- Springer journals (2000+)
- Elsevier journals (2000+)
- Taylor and Francis / Routledge journals (a lot, including 20 anthropology journals)
- Wiley Blackwell (1900+): includes Anthrosource (AAA) journals
How to pick a journal
There are two ways to find a journal to submit to (that is, if you don’t already have one in mind):
- Peruse lists of journals by subject (see above for lists), and (much better),
- See where people you are citing have published.
Once you’ve identified a potential journal to submit to, do some research. Go and read at least 3 examples of articles they publish if you’re not familiar with the journal, to make sure it’s right for your approach (ask a colleague / mentor if you’re not sure). Also, find out who publishes it, because the title alone can’t always tell you the discipline or political orientation of the journal.
Most of you know how to find journal impact factors, and if you don’t, ask your librarian. That’s one way to decide who to approach. Another is journal rankings. The European Science Foundation ranks journals, and Australia is jumping on that bandwagon (though for social science journals, it’s still a work in progress. Click on the above links for their journal ranking lists.
Take these rankings with a grain of salt. Some classic, important articles have been published in low-ranked journals — think Laura Nader’s “Orientalism, Occidentalism and the Control of Women,” published in Cultural Dynamics, which is officially ranked as a “B” journal in the European ERIH list, and the Australian ERA list only ranks PoLAR as a C, but it’s an important place to publish legal and political anthropology.
How to submit to a journal
Find their submission guidelines – usually online, but may also be found in the print version of journal. Then follow those guidelines scrupulously, especially formatting and bibliographical style. And PROOFREAD!! Nothing makes an editor put your submission in the recycle folder faster than a submission full of misspelled words and grammatical errors.
Make sure the abstract and introduction are incredibly clear and compelling so that they keep reading, and write a short cover letter that SELLS your article: in it, you should make clear what is new and significant about your approach.
Dealing with rejection
Don’t let it get you down. People will always have different opinions about your approach. One person might love it and another might hate it.
Consider this anonymous review I got on my book manuscript when I first sent it out:
“No amount of revision could ever make this manuscript suitable for publication by an academic press. The author should submit to Lonely Planet or similar presses that publish on the manners and customs of exotic peoples.”
Now consider the citation the published (by an academic press!) book received when it was named Leeds Honor Book for 2008:
“Gracefully written and theoretically astute, Pyramids and Nightclubs is an extraordinary ethnography… Multi-layered and fabulously textured, the book weaves meticulous ethnographic accounts of cross-cultural encounters with history, images and the anthropologist’s own experiences.”
And now consider what this Amazon.co.uk review said about the book:
“In fact the book sometimes suffers from a rather academically constipated style…” (but he still gave me 4 stars!)
In short, don’t take one rejection (or even two) as the definitive word on your writing.
If you get a nasty review, mope for a couple of days if you must, but then move on and decide what to do with the feedback you’ve gotten. The best revenge is to prove the reviewer wrong by getting published.
One strategy that some people use: before submitting your article, get it in the proper submission format for 3 different journals. The minute you get rejected from one journal, instantly submit to the next. This keeps the process moving quickly and prevents you from wasting time getting over rejection.
But sometimes it can help a lot to incorporate the advice of reviewers before you submit to the next journal. Two bits of advice: Pay more attention to constructive criticism than nasty comments, and ALWAYS take seriously any critique made by 2 or more reviewers.
Also, don’t mistake a “revise and resubmit” response for a rejection! Revise and resubmit can look a lot like a rejection letter, because it always starts out with something like “The editors have decided that your manuscript cannot be published in X Journal in its current form…” Don’t get down about it before you read ahead to the part of the letter that suggests that you resubmit after revising according to the suggestions of the reviewers.
The open access movement and self-archiving
Last word on journal articles, before we move on to books. There are pros and cons of publishing in open access journals. More people will read your stuff, but you’ll pay for it (literally, and substantially — the author fees can be over $1000). And so far, only a few open access journals are seen as top journals in their fields – mostly in medicine, not so much in anthropology. But the trend is definitely heading in this direction.
Go to the Open Access Anthropology blog for more info about the movement. http://blog.openaccessanthropology.org/
Even if you don’t publish in an open access journal, you can still self archive! (see http://savageminds.org/2008/02/06/self-archiving-made-easy-for-anthropologists/ — but note, Mana’o is offline, so check out Open Access Anthropology for more ideas about where to self archive: http://blog.openaccessanthropology.org/2009/07/24/in-search-of-anthropology-friendly-subject-repositories/) At the very least, you should make pre-print versions of your articles available on your website for those who might not have library access to the journals you publish in.
Converting a dissertation to a book
So you have a PhD dissertation or a master’s thesis. Next step is to revise it for book format. The tricky part is to revise enough that a press won’t dismiss it as “just a thesis,” but not to spend years futzing around with it until you’re completely and thoroughly sick of it (which you probably already are by the time you graduate).
I asked one university press editor why he avoids publishing dissertations. He gave me a thoughtful response and permission to post it online without his name or press attached.
“There’s a number of reasons that we avoid dissertations. Generally, they are written for one’s committee rather than a larger audience, and half the goal of it is to prove that you can do scholarship, whereas the book isn’t meant to prove yourself but rather your argument. Also, dissertations are often very narrow. Now all of this can be fixed with a good revision. But the author is still generally a near unknown, so we don’t have name recognition or previous books to use to promote this book. In the old days, dissertations were generally available only in the home library or maybe on microfilm, making books based on them more attractive. These days, dissertations are readily available on line and so people can access them more readily, making the book less attractive unless it really adds something new.
“So it’s a difficult bind to be in, wanting to support younger scholars, especially since we’re still bound into the whole tenure process requiring publication, and wanting to find books that will sell reasonably. I’m just working now on a book that was a diss but really works as a book by being something important for the field that hasn’t been done already. It got rave reviews by our readers, and I think it will sell well.
“I think students (and their advisors) need to be thinking about publication even before they choose their topics. If they want a small, manageable topic that can be handled in a reasonable amount of time to finish and defend, they should make sure it’s part of a larger topic that can form their book, maybe using the diss as the basis for just a chapter or two. They need to make sure that the book has plenty of new material to make it attractive to both publishers and, eventually, readers/buyers.”
Below is one press’s guidelines on revising dissertations for book publication. It’s no longer the press’s official policy, so the editor gave me permission to publish it without the press’s name attached.
Checklist for revising dissertations for book publication
- Eliminate the review of literature. A book manuscript is not for your dissertation readers; it’s for your colleagues, who have done their homework and will do you the courtesy of assuming that you have also.
- Outlining. You have probably divided each chapter into sections and each section into subsections. This shows that you know how to outline or write a brief, but for most books the outline should disappear into the fluidity of a context. The book should flow; it should not hop from stone to stone.
- Repetition. Does the beginning of each chapter and major section announce what you are going to say – and then, at the end, do you announce that you have said it? Remove repetition.
- Footnotes. Dissertation writers, afraid that their judgment carries to weight, are apt to footnote almost every statement. But the author of a book must accept responsibility. Delete half your footnotes.
- Bibliography. Having cited everybody who has written anything pertinent, the dissertation writer gathers them into a list and calls it a bibliography. But a useful bibliography must do more than alphabetize footnotes. A judicious bibliographical essay, grouping major references into sections according to their importance to your topic, can be part of what readers will pay for when they buy your book.
- Too much? When beginning writers don’t know quite how to make their points – when they are teaching themselves the techniques of writing as they compose their material – they are apt to fumble a great deal, and the result is wordage by the yard. They don’t know when to stop or how to move on. Re-examine your dissertation critically – others will. Ruthlessly cut out the flab. Don’t depend upon the editor to do this. A flabby manuscript may never survive to get into the editor’s hands. Read questionable passages aloud. If they sound stilted or obscure, they probably are.
- Too little? A thorough, definitive study or a superficial treatment? Has the treatment been stretched beyond the scope which the topic warrants?
- Up to date? “If accepted for publication, I plan to update.” Better do it now, before the material is submitted. The reviewer has no way of gauging the effectiveness of work yet to be done.
- Is it readable? The strictures surrounding dissertation writing seldom produce readable writing. Stuffy phrases, passive voice, attribution, and polysyllable jargon are roadblocks in the path of readership. Again, read it aloud. Does it sing or sag?
- Research. It is also essential that a scholarly publication include original research performed by the author. Moreover, this research should be consistently organized according to a sound theoretical perspective.
Also, William P. Germano’s Getting It Published, 2nd Edition: A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious about Serious Books comes highly recommended by several colleagues, though I haven’t used it myself.
Sex it up!
That’s the advice I got from one mentor when I started revising my dissertation to send to a press. For example, compare the chapter titles in my dissertation vs my book. In the dissertation, one chapter was called “Arab Tourism in Egypt: An Egyptian Perspective.” In the book, that chapter became “Sex Orgies, a Marauding Prince, and Other Rumors about Gulf Tourism.” Similarly, the dissertation chapter called “Arab Tourism in Egypt: A Saudi Perspective” became “Transnational Dating.”
All the content of the chapters in both dissertation and book is essentially the same (i.e. neither of them describes a sex orgy), but how boring is a chapter entitled “Arab Tourism: The Egyptian Perspective”?? Blah.
Maximize your publications
Consider publishing 1 or 2 or 3 chapters of your dissertation as articles first, before you publish your book. You can do this while you’re still working on your dissertation, so you’ll have some publications by the time you submit or defend. This maximizes publications and exposure. Once published in a book, few journals would consider publishing as an article, but a book will usually allow you to include a couple of chapters that are slightly modified versions of published journal articles. I wish I’d done this myself. Sigh.
The edited volume
Just as with book manuscripts that are revised dissertations, editors are also wary of edited volumes. (Check out the June 12th issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Section B, for three articles on publishing, and you’ll see that there seems to be a general consensus that most editors are cutting down on the edited volumes they publish.)
I asked my anonymous editor why he avoids edited volumes, and here’s what he had to say:
“As for edited collections, they tend not to sell as well as monographs, though it does vary by discipline. Collected volumes in film/media studies for example tend to do better, often because there are so many movies/shows out there that it’s sometimes hard for one person to do them all justice. They also tend to be more work from a publisher’s point of view. Ideally the volume editor(s) will have made sure that all the formatting, citation style, and illustration quality are consistent, but that’s frequently not the case. The volumes tend to be longer, and thus pricier. The quality is often uneven between the essays. And often people will just copy the one or two articles they want and not buy the whole volume.
“There’s often variable name recognition, too. If you’ve got at least some well-known scholars in there, it can balance out the younger scholars. I once turned down a volume sent to me by someone working on a monograph with me (yes, his revised diss). But he was a junior person, his co-editors were junior, and every contributor was either freshly PhDed or still in school. It was a decent subject, but the inexperience of everyone involved was the main factor in my turning it down.
“It’s frequently hard enough to wrangle just a single author into turning everything in on time, but with a collected volume you’ve got 8, 10, 15, 20 people you’re trying to wrangle. There’s inevitably going to be at least one person who’s late turning in their chapter, or checking their edited copy, or their proofs.
“Often too, collected volumes, especially if they’re based on symposia or conference panels, don’t truly cohere as a book. There needs to be some specific rationale for these papers to be gathered together, rather than just this was what was presented or what the editor(s) could get. So the introduction needs to be really strong, to present the volume’s raison d’etre coherently and make a case for the volume, the essays in it, and often the arrangement of the essays. When I send edited collections out for review, more often than not it’s the editor’s introduction that comes in for the most criticism from the readers.
“So all of these reasons are ones that editors see sometimes as a reason to shy away from collected editions. Not to say that we don’t do them, but just like with revised dissertations they need to be really stellar and really worth the trouble.”
It looks like the moral of the story is: you can sell an edited volume, but only if (a) it really coheres as a topic, (b) you can convincingly argue that it’s value-added, i.e. the edited volume does something that a single-authored volume can’t do, (c) you’re really disciplined and you don’t include mediocre work by friends, and (d) you’ve got big names on board.
Picking a press
The American Association of University Presses has an amazing matrix where they list just about every press that distributes in the U.S. (so that includes Canadian presses as well as some European presses) by the subject areas they publish in: http://aaupnet.org/resources/2009AAUPGrid.pdf
It’s incredibly time-saving when you’re thinking about where to submit. Instead of checking out every press’ website and perusing their lists of recent publications (which is still a good thing to do, but save your time and do it once you’ve narrowed things down a bit), you can just print this out, take a highlighter on the x-axis, and then see which presses are interested in the areas that your book covers. Then examine those presses more closely to come up with a list of presses to approach.
I haven’t found anything equivalent for non-North American university presses, but I’ve compiled a list, ordered by region, of a few of the better known ones. Click on this link for the Word document: University Presses in Australia, NZ, UK, Europe and Asia.
Do you need to network with editors at conferences?
Short answer: No. You can try chatting up editors at conferences to get them interested in your book, but you don’t need a personal introduction or an ‘in’ to get a publisher’s attention. A lot of people think you do, and they stress out trying to earnestly chat up an editor who is standing at their booth at the AAA book fair, but I’ve found sending a prospectus out of the blue gets results, and so have several of my colleagues. How you sell your idea is much more important than a personal connection to an editor.
The book proposal
Next, put together a book proposal. The contents usually are:
- A cover letter
- The prospectus (typically 4-8 pages)
- Table of Contents
- Sample Chapter or 2, and
- Your CV
Let’s break that down a bit.
- The cover letter should sell the concept in a quick paragraph or 2. This should be your best, most engaging writing!
- The prospectus is usually 3-8 pages (but some can be much longer depending on press and type of book), and you’d better get their attention in the FIRST page or they won’t keep reading. In the prospectus you should
- Describe the book
- Show how it is unique
- Compare it with related literature
- Summarize chapters (Don’t just summarise the theory – yawn. Include juicy examples to anchor the theory and make it memorable.)
- Do some market analysis (more on this below).
- Specify length (publishers rarely accept more than ~80-85K words)
- Will there be pictures? (this is good but only if they’re B&W)
- Time line for finishing draft manuscript
- Table of Contents (sex it up!)
- Sample Chapter (pick your most engaging and tantalizing, and if the intro isn’t it, then include 2 chapters)
This is a really critical part of your prospectus. It’s important to show your book is different and unique, but not TOO different – there should be an existing market of people buying books like yours. One good strategy is to list competing titles and show how your book is different and significant. Editors don’t want to duplicate something else that’s already on the market, so you’ll need to persuade them that your book on women in the Middle East is different from all the other books on this topic.
In this section of your prospectus, you should also tell the editor: Who will buy it? Who might put it on their course syllabus? I’ve seen one friend put together a really fantastic market analysis that included a huge list of actual classes in universities around the world where her book might get assigned. It was really convincing.
It’s especially good if you can plausibly claim it will get assigned in first-year undergraduate courses – but everyone claims this, so editors are skeptical of such claims! Getting assigned in undergraduate courses requires clear, accessible writing that’s low on jargon, and a topic that is broad enough (or sexy enough) to be of general interest.
Or show that your book fills a specialist niche (ideally a few niches).
Or show that it’s really theoretically sophisticated and challenging (but proving that you’re the next Homi Bhabha or Judith Butler is tough).
Or show that it’s going to be read outside of academia – but it can be hard to back up this claim. Think Fadiman, Ehrenreich, no footnotes or references, and U Cal’s Public Anthropology series – they have good guidelines on how to write for a wide audience: http://www.publicanthropology.org/. (But if you’re at work, turn down the volume on your computer before you click the above link, because the website immediately launches a slideshow with music and there’s no immediately obvious way to turn it down.)
Sending out the book proposal
Pick your presses well (check that AAUP matrix). Make a list of presses that interest you, and the order you’re going to approach them.
Then send prospectus to 1 or 2 presses at a time, and wait a reasonable amount of time for a response before sending to the next one on your list. Don’t wait months for someone to respond. If they don’t respond in 2 weeks, send the proposal to the next press. You’re not an exclusive item with your press at this point unless you’re asking for a contract on the basis of your prospectus and they’re contemplating sending out the prospectus and sample chapters for review.
If an editor bites, send them the manuscript. Do NOT send manuscript to more than one press at a time without getting their consent. Sending a manuscript for review is time-consuming and expensive, and presses usually insist on exclusivity at this point. It’s possible but rare to negotiate simultaneous reviews. (I have seen one friend do this when two presses wanted to review her book.)
Think about the psychology of generating desire for a rare / in-demand product. Don’t wait around for an editor who thinks s/he’s king or queen to get back to you. Also, if you’ve been rejected by one press, don’t tell the next press that. Nobody wants someone else’s reject.
Suggest names of friendly reviewers (but presses usually won’t consider your advisor(s) or people from your PhD-granting department as reviewers). Editors often use at least one of your suggestions. Presses even more than journals are likely to use your suggestions, because once they decide to send your manuscript out for review, they’ve invested money and effort and want to see your book succeed. Even if they don’t use one of your suggestions, they look at that list as an indicator of your network and your awareness of the field.
But one bad review can sink a project. Move on to the next press on your list. Don’t get hung up about it.
Reviews and revisions
If a press editor asks you to make major revisions, don’t do it unless you agree with the proposed revisions. Editors may know the field and the market better than you, so they might have some good ideas for revising. But some editors are known to jerk authors around for months and then they don’t even publish them in the end. It’s your book! If you and the editor can’t agree about what it should look like, find another editor who sees it your way.
If you get a review, you’ll write a rejoinder that only the press editor will read. Show that you take the reviewer’s criticism seriously. Tell the editor what revisions you will (and won’t) make in response to the reviewer. If your reviewer is critical and you disagree with him/her, keep your cool, respond with clear-headed logic, and show your mastery of the topic and the literature. Write as if your rejoinder would be read by the reviewer, not just the editor.
If you’re offered a contract, pat yourself on the back, and then consider it carefully before signing. There may be some room for negotiation, and this is the one time when you have the most bargaining power, so make the most of it. Some things to consider:
- Don’t quibble about royalties (you won’t make any profit on academic books).
- Do you want to ask for extra author copies? (10 is standard)
- Do you want to ask to retain any rights that standard contracts give to the press? (e.g. movie / television rights, translation rights, etc)
- Do you want final say on cover design / title? (you can’t use same title as your dissertation)
- Some sneaky clauses that some publishers put in their contracts is they demand a first option on your next book. This is probably not enforceable, but still annoying. Strike that out. If you’re both happy with the experience of working together, you’ll likely go to them with your next book anyway, but you don’t want to be bound by it if you find the press hard to work with.’
- Do worry about whether they’ll publish in paperback – this is a sign of how well they’ll promote your book, and how many people will read it.
- Price is another super important thing to consider. If they’re going to price your book at $120, nobody will buy it except (some) libraries.
- Distribution networks: where can they market your book? Do they attend annual conferences e.g. AAA?
- Do they partner with local presses in other countries? This can be important for reaching markets where your press might not have good distribution or prices. For example, Chris Houston’s book Kurdistan was first published in the U.K. by Berg and then in the U.S. by Indiana U Press; my book with U Texas Press was published in Cairo by AUC press, and if AUC hadn’t published it, I couldn’t have reached a local market because it’s hard to import books into Egypt.
Samples of successful prospectuses and cover letters
I’ve gotten permission from Chris Houston and Greg Downey to post their successful book proposals here. Chris’s book proposal got him a contract for a book he hasn’t even finished writing yet (that’s a lot easier to get when you’ve already published two highly regarded books). Greg’s proposal was instantly snatched up by Oxford University Press. I’ve also included my proposal and cover letter for Pyramids and Nightclubs. I thought it might be nice to see how people sell their book ideas, rather than just hearing about how to put together a book proposal in theory. Many thanks to my colleagues for generously sharing these materials publicly.
Chris Houston, City of Fear: Violence and Spatial Terror in Istanbul book proposal
Greg Downey, Learning Capoeira: Lessons in Cunning from an Afro-Brazilian Art book proposal
Downey, Learning Capoeira cover letter
L.L. Wynn, Pyramids and Nightclubs book proposal
Final word: get to work
The one thing that makes the biggest difference in whether you get published or not is how much effort you put into it. It’s not a magical process. It’s a step-by-step process that anyone can master, but it takes a lot of effort. So get to work!