How to turn your PhD into a book: part 2, find a publisher

By Juliana Adelman

booksThis post assumes you have read part 1 on writing a book proposal.  There are lots of things to consider when looking for a publisher, but probably the most important is whether your book is a match to their list.  First and foremost do your research on who publishes in your particular area, and base your information on RECENT books (not ye olde classics from the 1970s).  In truth, there are probably many publishers which cover your area so once you have a short list you will need to prioritise.  Although I think you can work from the same book proposal, you now need to tailor it to the list of publishers you plan to send it to.  The proposal should look like you are graciously handing them a book which is an ideal match to their list.

1.  Choosing a publisher

One of the simplest and perhaps most obvious ways to pick a publisher is by looking at who published the books that you read and used throughout your research.  Chances are if a publisher published your supervisor then they publish in an area related to your research.   Look at their recent catalogues and see how your book fits in.  Consider other factors as well, such as does it appear to compete with a book they have already published (this is probably not a bonus)?  If you care about how the book looks, or you have lots of images, then be sure to consider how well they reproduce images, whether the books have pictures on the cover, is the paper of reasonable quality, etc.

There is no problem with aiming high, but also be realistic.  Some publishing houses have their pick and will prefer established academics or particularly sexy and broad topics.  You need to have more than one publisher in mind and you need to tailor each approach to each publisher.

Here is where I did not take my own advice.  I had my heart set on publisher A, cursed be their name.   They make very very pretty books, with lovely paper and carefully reproduced illustrations and attractive covers.  They also have no interest in Irish history and thus found my book ‘too Irish’.  More fool me.  Anyway, publisher B had a series into which my book fit very neatly and they were positively inclined from the start.  In fact, if there is a series relevant to your book this is probably the easiest way to find a match.  A series, by definition, needs to keep recruiting books and series editors are often willing to give more consideration to junior scholars.

2. Write a covering letter

Find out who the editor is in your subject area and write directly to him or her.  Be sure you know exactly what they want you to send and in what format.  Some will prefer you to send actual paper rather than electronic files.  Write a covering letter which does not repeat material in your book propsal but instead emphasises a. your book is exciting and interesting and unique and b. it fits perfectly with the books they already publish.  Now send it all off and wait four weeks.  Yes, four weeks.   If you’ve sent it by post it is a good idea to send an email in about a week to confirm they have received it, but don’t expect to hear much else right away.  If you don’t hear anything within four weeks, however, I think it’s fine to contact them and see what is going on.  Remember to be nice.

3. Deal with rejection and move on

Well, let’s hope my advice is so good that you are successful the first time!  However, if you are not, then join the club.  Just be glad you are not writing novels as it would be much much more difficult to get published.  If the editor has offered feedback then take it on the chin and try to address it in your next proposal.  If they haven’t offered any, you can always ask.  That’s how I learned that my book on science in Ireland was ‘too Irish’.  I’m writing with tongue-in-cheek, but in fact I hadn’t really done my homework.  Publisher A, cursed be their name, had no books on their list which related to Ireland.  I was trying to argue that my theme (nineteenth-century science) was relevant to their list, which it was, but they were worried that my book looked too specific and parochial.  I should have been able to dispel this in my book proposal, but perhaps it would not have been possible.  Anyway, I took this on board and my new proposal emphasised how my book’s themes were applicable beyond Ireland.  If you are rejected the first time, then think again about your proposal.  Think hard about why it really needs to be a book (I’m not saying it doesn’t) and how to convince a publisher of this fact.  And finally, think carefully about which publisher you try next.  If your first choice was a ‘reach’ either because of prestige or because your subject matter didn’t totally fit with their list, then make sure your second choice is a match.

4. Hurrah!

Once a publisher expresses interest in your book, all you have to do is write the book!  If the editor has seen only a proposal and maybe a sample chapter he or she will probably want to see the whole book and send it for review to two different readers before giving you a contract.  Some publishers might be happy to have a single chapter refereed and give you a contract on that basis.  Unless you are Simon Schama you are not going to get an advance, you will be lucky to get royalties and you can hope they don’t ask for a ‘grant in aid of publication’.  The next post on this topic will deal with revising your PhD for publication.

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4 Responses to “How to turn your PhD into a book: part 2, find a publisher”

  1. How to turn your PhD into a book: part 4, revise, revise, revise « Pue’s Occurrences Says:

    […] already read them, this post follows three others on a similar theme: part 1 (book proposals), part 2 (finding a publisher), part 3 (first revision […]

  2. amigos Says:

    i love the blog

  3. Edmond Spyrakos Says:

    Hi I found your site when i was searching yahoo for this

  4. puesoccurrences Says:

    Hi Edmond,

    Glad to know that cyberspace works! Hope you enjoy the blog and please do let us know if you have anything to add on the PhD to book process.


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