October 6, 2022

Two college press editors offer advice to aspiring book authors (review)

About 18 months ago, I defended my thesis in the humanities and accepted a tenure-track position. Since then, I’ve done a lot of soul-searching about my first book project, and I’ve also spent a lot of time chatting with other beginning teachers about publishing.

For almost all of us, the formula for successfully writing and editing a book and then getting a contract is a mystery. This may be due to a variety of factors, including the general irrelevance of the advice of our well-established advisers in graduate schools – who already seem to have many connections in the publishing arena – and the general lack of attention to this concern until one gets a job.

So I tried to find out if there is a formula to publish his first academic book in the humanities. The simple answer seems to be no. Yet two editors of the university press – Elizabeth Ault, editor-in-chief at Duke University Press, and Jim Burr, editor-in-chief at University of Texas Press – whom I interviewed about their experiences working with book authors for the first time helped me develop a longer, more complete and insightful answer that I would like to share.

In fact, this essay is for you if you are an aspiring first-time author of books or are unsure whether or not you want your research to appear in book form. This is the first part of a three-part series that I am writing to answer the question, “What do college press editors have to say about the mystery surrounding fatherhood?” from a first book? “

In this first article, I will pass on some of the general suggestions that Elizabeth and Jim gave me on how to turn your thesis into a book. I will also provide their views on the relationship between your book project and your other research and the degree of completion of a book before you start looking for a publisher. Then, in the next two articles, we’ll explore other aspects of publishing your first book.

Mandatory readings

One can often get the impression that the sheer number of resources on authorship of books is overwhelming. Many of these resources are domain specific or relate to writing habits and resilience strategies. For all the first-time writers, including myself, I asked both editors, “What’s the one resource I should read as I consider making my thesis publishable for a college academic press?” “

They both made the same recommendation: that of William Germano From thesis to book, originally published in 2005 by the University of Chicago Press. “It’s the classic in this area for a reason,” Elizabeth said. “It’s always full of some of the best advice I’ve ever seen on how to reorient your sense of hearing, evidence, voice and more as you ponder how to access authority you claimed with the doctorate. ” If you prefer the newsletter format, they both also mentioned the work Laura Portwood Stacer did in handwritten works.

She and Jim also stressed the importance of reading good first books in your specific field, and Jim added, “Don’t just read other people’s first books, but also those of seasoned academics who have a knack for communicating their skills. intelligently. ”I understood that to mean I had to read to determine my own writing values, in order to establish the kind of writer I want to be.

As for other resources, Elizabeth recommended following various college news editors on Twitter and watch a video from a talk by his colleague at Duke, Editorial Director Ken Wissoker. Jim then suggested that first-time book authors consult a second video and mentioned Rachel Toorthe work of on the subject. I have since watched both videos and they are very helpful.

Previous publications

I asked Elizabeth and Jim for publications on my CV other than a book. This question may seem somewhat off topic, but as I’ve spoken with other newbie teachers I’ve found that no one has any idea how much post you should or shouldn’t do before tackling you. to a book. Is a long list of peer-reviewed articles on one’s resume part of the “soft” review criteria that publishers use when reviewing a book? Should past publications demonstrate the same research interests as a book? What part of the book is it safe to publish as an article? No one I knew had a clue.

My exact question to Elizabeth and Jim was, “What role does a potential author’s prior publication record play in determining suitability?” “

Elizabeth was quick to say that records of past publications are rarely considered in her proposal-level decision making, although they often inform her decision to contact an author. Her advice was to find the right place where you establish a platform for your work but, at the same time, don’t overdo it. “Past publications are essential in helping academics make their work visible. And I understand the need to make the thesis work for you,” she told me. “Ideally, you’ll be able to figure out how to turn pieces that don’t fit in the book into articles rather than publishing all four chapters as separate articles first – definitely don’t do that! What you really want to avoid it is to unveil the main idea or key concept of your book in a journal article, so that people don’t feel like they need to read your book. ”

Jim echoed this advice, but he also stressed the importance of presenting his work in contexts that mimic peer review, like conferences, to benefit from early feedback. “This kind of early review can help you refine your project before you even submit it to an editor,” he noted.


I have a working understanding of how to contact an editor: you start with a detailed pitch, then submit a book proposal and writing sample, then work with an editor to finalize the manuscript for peer review . When I have a track record like this, my ideal scenario is to work backwards. In other words, I think, “Okay, if I want to submit the manuscript for peer review on date A, I have to send in my proposal and writing sample by date B, so I should contact you on date C ”.

But I had no idea how to divide these dates. Do I have to make initial contact with a potential publisher before having my idea completely sorted? Or would it be better to wait until I think it’s done? I knew the best time was probably somewhere in between, but where? Perhaps the answer to this question is obvious to more experienced teachers, but as a first-time book author I felt crippled by it.

So I asked my two experts, “As soon as I make the first contact, when should my book proposal and writing sample be ready?” I was surprised to learn from them that a book proposal might not be as valuable or crucial as I might have guessed – and that what I really need to do is hone my skills. elevator pitch.

Elizabeth advised me, “I find it helpful to get a feel for someone’s work before having a first conversation. Even just a paragraph or two can be a useful way to set the scene. conference, I don’t necessarily expect that, but if someone contacts me, I expect them to have something ready. “She continued,” At Duke, we prefer to send the full manuscripts. first book to peer reviewers rather than book proposals, so I don’t always find the book proposal the most useful document on which to base my judgment – I was disappointed with the promising proposals that led to dull manuscripts too often. “

Jim pointed out that each editor will have their own preference, but he wants the option of arriving at a meeting prepared. “Each editor has their own inclinations as to whether a paragraph will do or want to see a more complete prospectus – and sometimes that can vary depending on the time available,” he said. “I like to at least do some cursory research ahead of time to see what else there is, how it might fit on my list, and how broad or narrow the topic can be.”

This prompted me to ask the editors a follow-up question regarding when to finalize the full manuscript. Hearing both of their responses, it became clear to me that context and circumstances play a role in setting the timeline for considering something. I have also learned that sometimes the answer to this question is linked to the author’s experience.

Jim told me in response to my question, “Personally, I am flexible about how long it will take you to produce the full manuscript after the proposal stage. I’m trying to plan my future lists, but I also understand that sometimes life gets in the way of writing. “But he added,” If the manuscript is too far away or too late, you risk getting ‘bailed’. or the scholarship is beyond your work, so I don’t want to wait too long. “

Further, he said, “I definitely trust experienced writers more. With first-time writers, I like the ability to evaluate the project early and even send it out for peer review so that I can give the author explicit recommendations while they’re still writing. “

Elizabeth agreed that the timing may depend on her relationship with the author in question. “If I get an ‘over the board’ proposal – without having had a conversation with the author first – it can be frustrating to get excited about a promising project only to see that the author has nine left. months to a year (or more!) of having the complete manuscript that I would like to send to the reviewers. “

She said she would prefer to receive the proposal about three months before the author imagines it is finished: “This is enough time to feel like I can still offer some constructive substantive suggestions, but not so long as the project falls off my radar. If I am in conversation with someone, however, I understand much better the ways in which various career and life events can intervene. In this case, it is rare that the press deadlines are more pressing than those of the author. “

Now that I had an idea of ​​what to do before contacting a publisher, I decided it was time to order William Germano’s book and get down to business. In the second post in this series, I’ll talk about what I learned from my interview on how to contact an editor, set up a meeting, and start the collaboration.