Publishing Your Book #3: Find a Publisher

Recently, I began looking for publishers for three different book projects myself (two book ideas and a finished manuscript). Nowadays, it’s both easier and harder to find a publisher: the Internet makes it easier, because every publisher has their own website; the Internet makes it harder, because there is so much, sometimes confusing information to filter through. Here are some strategies in order to find suitable publishers.

  1. Go to the library or book store
    If you want to know where topics like yours get published, have a look at books in a library or a book store. You will see how the book is presented in terms of layout, size, colors etc. In some cases, this might make a difference. If there are many different publishers producing books about your topic, you might even ask the store clerk which of the books have sold better.

  1. Visit the publishers’ websites
    If you know some potential publishers, go to their websites and look up the information for future authors. Most publishers will tell you which information they need about a book project and how you can contact them. Make sure to read this information carefully and check whether your book project will fit into the publisher’s program. If you write about history and the publisher you are looking at doesn’t have any history books, you’re in the wrong place. Whatever the publisher tells you to do or provide, stick to it and don’t send more or less than they ask for. You would only produce more work for them, which they normally won’t take on, which again will end in them not looking at your project at all. (One publisher I looked at, for example, notes on the website that authors had best check the spelling and grammar, if they want their manuscript to be considered.)

  1. Ask your colleagues for advice
    If you have colleagues who already have published books, ask them about how they found the right publisher, about their publishing process and any other information that will help you make the right choice. In my case, I though that a certain publisher would be suitable for one of my projects, but after having a chat with a colleague about her experience with this publisher, I will now be looking for another one.

Whichever strategy you choose, make sure that you try to know everything that you can and should know. If necessary, write an e-mail for further information or documents or call them.

When looking for a publisher, you also need to know how they operate. There are basically two different approaches to publishing a book (as far as I know): On the one hand, a publisher does most of the work itself and pays you a fee for each sold book (sometimes, authors get an advance payment). On the other hand, a publisher only publishes your book if you pay for the production yourself and, sometimes even, if you do most of the work (typesetting, layout, editing). The latter happens mostly with PhD theses in Europe – the author takes the financial risk, because the books are too specialized and will mostly end up on library shelves. Major English language publishers don’t usually ask for money; they also don’t publish PhD theses without major changes (as stated on their websites). (For a publisher’s point of view see this blog post).

Let’s assume that you have found a suitable publisher for your book. You know what they are looking for in terms of audience, topic and length. They also tell you what kind of information they need and in which form (proposal, filled-in questionnaire, text sample or else). Your job now is to provide exactly the information they need in order to evaluate your book project. I can’t emphasize enough: stick to what they want, no more no less. If they have a form to fill in, fill in the form. If they want a proposal including a summary, statements about the targeted audience, the market situation and other information, write the proposal (there are several books written by editors and publishers who tell you how you do that; see the literature below). If they only need a brief description in an e-mail for the time being, that’s fine as well. Don’t forget, the information you provide is the basis for their evaluation. So try to sell your book as best as possible. And – one of the mistakes amateurs tend to make – never send in your entire manuscript if it is not requested. No editor of a serious publisher has the time to read it. Rather, if they see entire manuscripts, they just might throw it into the trash or delete from their e-mail account. (You should avoid publishers who tell you to send in your manuscript right away and promise you a fast publication process).

Having sent in the required information and documents – whether by snail or e-mail -, do anything other than clicking „refresh“ in your mail-program or sitting next to your phone. It takes editors several days or weeks, until they have read your documents and/or discussed your project with other editors or their boss – they take publishing seriously.

If you think that it would be smart to send your book idea to several publishers at the same time, think again. You don’t want to offend publishers by having to reject a publication offer, because you received another, better offer at the same time. You show respect if you contact one publisher at a time. After getting rejected, you simply adapt your material to another publisher’s requests and send it in again – until you refined your project enough or find the best publisher for your project. But don’t despair: being rejected is part of the publishing game.

Recommended books

  • Budrich, Barbara (2009): Erfolgreich Publizieren in den Sozial- und Erziehungswissenschaften. Verlag Barbara Budrich.

  • Germano, William (2001): Getting It Published. A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious about Serious Books. University of Chicago Press.

  • Germano, William (2005): From Dissertation to Book. The University of Chicago Press.

  • Luey, Beth (ed.) (2004): Revising Your Dissertation. Advice from Leading Editors. University of California Press.

  • Rabiner, Susan/Fortunato, Alfred (2003): Thinking Like Your Editor. How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction– and Get it Published. W.W. Norton.


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