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publishing

The day has come: your book has arrived at the stores and you have received your free copies. Now, there are three things for you to do:

First, enjoy and celebrate! You just published a book!

Second, start to promote your book. You want libraries to stock, (local) bookstores to sell, your colleagues to review and everybody else interested to read your book. Don’t despair if it sells slowly or not as much as you were expecting. Whenever you have the chance, tell people about your book – at conferences, in department meetings, in seminars – and ask readers to review it for journals and online bookstores.

Third, don’t get caught by post-publication-depression. It’s normal to feel a void inside, after your book has come out. If you were smart, however, you have already started new projects weeks or months before the void had a chance to open up. This way, you are distracted enough not to notice how sad it feels to let your brainchild go its own way. Sure, you will get plenty of opportunities to talk about your book, but it’s not the same as fretting about and sweating over it. If the depression hits you anyway, it will be gone soon, making space for new ideas that you might want to publish. Have fun starting the process anew!

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Between the time you submit the final manuscript and the time that it’s published, some months may pass. My publisher, for example, needs half a year to organize and produce the book. But why does is take so long, you might ask, and what role do you play in the process?

The final manuscript might go through further editing or evaluation (possibly multiple times). Then at some point, the typesetting needs to be done. Here you come into play again: you will receive the proofs, which you will need to correct. Look out for wrong typesetting or layout, typos and other things that need to be changed. However, don’t edit the text again in a more thorough way. If you do, the typesetter has to work more than necessary. The publisher will likely charge you an extra fee if you make to many changes (e.g. editing entire paragraphs or chapters, changing the structure). In order to correct the proofs, the publisher will probably give you specific instructions for how to do it.

Afterwards, the publisher will create all the more formal things such as the front matter at the beginning of the book, including the copyright page, the cover, and so on. If not yet defined, you might be contacted in order to discuss the book’s title and subtitle (the book title used so far has been the ‘working title’). The publisher will start to fill in databases with the sales information and prepares marketing material such as flyers and websites. Whatever else needs to be done, there’s will be a lot going on behind the scenes that you might not be aware of. Finally, the book is usually printed by a printing company somewhere else and subsequently distributed. And that takes time, because your book is not the only one being produced at that time. But you know the publication date, so relax and think about and work on your next projects.

Has your book project been accepted? Congratulations! Now the real work starts.

You should receive a book contract, which will tell you in detail (and maybe unreadable legalese) what rights and obligations you have as an author. Having only seen one German publisher’s contract thus far, I can only speculate about what you might encounter in your document.

The contract will tell you what you agreed to with the publisher: topic and length of the book, the deadline for handing in the final manuscript, the publication date and other things. The publisher will tell you which rights you will transfer to the publisher by signing the contract (copyrights etc.). You will also learn about which fees you will receive and when, how much discount you get on your own book and how many copies you will get for free after publication. The contract may also tell you what the publisher expects you to do in terms of marketing as soon as the book is out. All in all, the contract may encompass several pages. Anything else would surprise me.

Having signed the contract and celebrated the first crucial step in the publication process, it’s time to sit down (again) and write. You’re supposed to hand in your manuscript on time – no excuses. In the process, it may happen that your book’s focus will change or that some aspects, as agreed with your editor, no longer work. Tell your editor as soon as possible. I don’t think that the publisher will see this as a breach of contract or as disrespectful. However, if you only tell them when you submit your manuscript on the day you’re supposed to, you might face consequences. So don’t ruin the experience and do what it is that you signed up to do.

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.

You may think that the „unique selling point“ is just so much marketing rhetoric and doesn’t do justice to your academic goals? Maybe that’s true, but certainly not for most publishers: marketing is their main goal; hence they need you to tell them why they should publish your manuscript. Because if it’s important to them, it needs to be important to you too. The question is, how do you show them that your manuscript is worthy of publication. Or put differently, why should they take the financial risk to produce and market your book?

Before you contact any publishers or invest hours searching the best one, you should think about at least two questions. Who is your audience? And how does your book differ from others on the market? These are the two main questions a publisher or editor will ask you. If you can’t answer these questions yet, you need to find out. Sure, your answers might change during the course of writing the manuscript. But in order to have a conversation, before even negotiating a book contract, you need to figure these out.

Who is your audience?
It sounds like a simple question, but it’s one of the toughest ones you will get. The more you know about your audience the better. A publisher doesn’t want to hear that there’s this small group of experts who works on the same problem as you do. A publisher wants to hear that there is a bigger group of people interested in your topic – that right there would be the market for your book.

If you have a finished manuscript already, you need to define your audience and adapt your text accordingly (that’s why, at least in the Anglo-American market, a PhD thesis is not a book yet). If you only have a book idea, the audience will be crucial in defining the content, its structure, the length of the book, etc.

How does your book differ from other books on the market?
For publishers, it seems, several books on the same topic is not a problem. I’ve seen that with guidebooks on academic writing. However, whenever I propose a new book idea to my publisher, they want to know how saturated the market already is in this particular area, in order to estimate how your book will do. If there are already two-dozen books on the topic that you’re writing about, it looks different than when your book is only the second one appearing. So, usually a publisher will ask you, among other things, which books already exist on the topic and how yours will distinguish itself from those. Is it the methodological approach? Is it the theory? Is it the empirical material? Is it your new results or insights?

Having an audience that your book will target and the information about how your book differs from others, you’ll have the important parts needed for your unique selling point.

In a time when it is possible to produce, publish and distribute books yourself, why should you make the effort to find a publisher? Why not do it the easier way, knowing that your book will definitely see the light of day? There are some reasons you should consider before embarking on a solo publishing trip.

The main reason for you as an academic (or nonfiction author) is simple: serious publishers function as institutions of quality control for your written thoughts. Your friends and colleagues might find your research credible and well written, but that’s not enough in academia. By going through the publishing process with an accepted and known publisher, your book will be more legitimate than any one you do on your own. Especially when you strive for an academic career, you should go to the best and most suitable publisher for your book. It makes a difference, whether it says in your publication list „self-published e-book“ or, for example, „XY University Press“. With good publishers comes a certain quality (or at least the appearance of quality).True, not every well-known publisher also works hard to ensure good quality books (I won’t mention names).

The second reason lies in the experience publishers have in publishing books – it’s their business, right? So they have the network and know-how to promote your book to specific audiences. If you choose self-publishing, you have to do all the promotion, distributing your book into online bookshops, producing websites, social media, etc. yourself. That’s a lot of work. While it might seem easier and less work to produce and publish your own book, the entire promotion machine will suck the life out of you, if you want it done properly. Of course, there are also websites that will do some of this work for you – for a fee. In the end, I think, it will cost you more time, effort and money to publish your own book than publishing with a publisher. (I produced an e-book, which you can find here on this blog site, but I didn’t do anything else with it, because I didn’t want to invest all the time, money and effort.)

These might be the two most crucial reasons why you, as an academic writer, should make the effort and find a publisher for your book project. In this Publishing Your Book series, I want to give you some advice on how to do so. The things I say will apply, if you write academic/non-fiction books, whether you have a finished manuscript, such as a dissertation, or a book idea in your head. My advice is based on my own experiences with publishing non-fiction books and on what I’ve read in the literature from (former) academics, editors and publishers.

If you have any questions concerning or exceeding my advice, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact me directly via e-mail.

Are you one of those writers who fear writing because they imagine it as a solitary job? There’s no doubt that at times writers might feel lonely. However, if you read the acknowledgments in books, you will see that the bigger picture looks different.

I was reminded of the social nature of writing once again, when I read the acknowledgments in César Hidalgo’s Why Information Grows (2016, Penguin Books). It’s a challenging and, to my mind, eye-opening book about the role and scope of information. Having thought throughout the book that Mr. Hidalgo must be one of the most intelligent people on this planet, I’ve been surprised by his acknowledgment pages at the end of the book (called „Bleeding Words“). Sure, he must have depended on other people for writing and producing the book. But, as I learned, writing was a big challenge for him. Intelligent though he may be, writing is hard for him too. What a relief (no offense intended)!

Whatever book you look into, if there are acknowledgments, the social nature of writing will pop right out. Authors rely on friends, colleagues, families (who mostly suffer more due to the author’s mental or physical absence), literary agents, editors and publishers. They rely on them for logistical support (Hidalgo thanks the baristas working in the coffee shops where he wrote his manuscript), help finding focus or reshaping initial ideas, mental support, giving feedback on various drafts and so on. So far, I’ve not seen any books, in which the authors didn’t thank anybody and did everything themselves. All authors need a social network. And it’s only fair that they thank most of the people in the acknowledgments (at least those they remember as having been supportive).

Before you despair, because you need to sit down again all on your own to write, remind yourself of your supportive writing network. And if you’re stuck with your thesis, PhD or book, start drafting the acknowledgments. Then, at least, you’re writing something you have to write anyway.

Mast 31 | Fabian Leuthold

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