Approaching a publisher

So, you’ve decided to develop your thesis for publication. What’s the next step? In this guide Georgina Collins provides advice for early career researchers writing a publication proposal to publish their thesis as a monograph.GD27

Choosing a publisher

When approaching a press, make sure your project fits with the disciplines and markets in which that publisher operates. Sales, distribution networks and marketing will all be set up to serve particular audiences, and if your book does not match that profile they will not take it on.

Analyse publisher websites to see if they seem appropriate. Are there related books on one of their lists? Have they expressed an interest in your field? Is there are series appropriate to your book? Use your own previous knowledge, too: who published the books you read? Whom have your colleagues published with? Which publishers have attended the same conferences as you?

Making the initial approach

You can make approaches in a number of ways. Meeting a publisher at a conference is a good opportunity to gauge whether that publisher will be interested in your monograph.

Another option is to contact the commissioning editor by letter, phone or email. You can give a brief outline of your project and ask whether they are interested in learning more, have any suggestions or require further information. This may save time if the publisher requires very specific information from a proposal. Do not start a lengthy dialogue at this point; they will give you more feedback following submission of a full proposal.

Writing and submitting a proposal

Submission requirements can usually be found on a publisher’s website, often along with sample proposals. The proposal should show the significance of the project, with a list of contents, a summary of material and how it will be arranged, and details of all those involved in the research. You must also describe the monograph’s current state of completion, the amount of time it will take to finish, and the manuscript length, which must comply with the publisher’s criteria.

State how your monograph will sit alongside existing literature. Do not suggest that your work is entirely unique as this is unlikely. It is better to acknowledge other works and explain how your monograph will differ from or build upon these. If your monograph is entirely unique this may be a disincentive for a publisher as it means that there is no pre-established readership for your monograph.

Other things to include

Alongside the proposal, provide a brief CV and either some sample material (such as a chapter or two) or a full manuscript. It is important to demonstrate here that you understand that a PhD and monograph are very different things, and that you have the ability to adapt your work accordingly. Reviewers will pick up on sample chapters that have been taken directly from the thesis without revision.

A short covering letter should pull out the main points of interest in your work, where it sits within the publisher’s list, and if you would like to be considered for a particular series. Finally, make sure you submit your proposal to the person who deals with your area of research.

Rules for a great proposal

  • Address your proposal carefully – spelling someone’s name or the company title incorrectly does not reflect well on you.
  • Do not use the phrase: “To Whom It May Concern:” this indicates that you have not done your research properly.
  • Define your audience, including the size of the readership and how it can be reached. For example, include names of societies or academic institutions that focus on your field.
  • Beware of stating that your work is interdisciplinary or appeals to loads of different groups – publishers may decide that none of the disciplines will have sufficient interest in the publication. On the other hand, if your work is genuinely interdisciplinary then this could be an advantage.
  • Send your proposal to just one publisher at a time. It is considered bad form to send it simultaneously to multiple presses. Publishers do not want to complete the lengthy and costly review process, only for you to sign with another publisher.
  • Be patient. After submitting your proposal, finding out whether it has been accepted can take several months!

Responding to criticism or rejection

When you get a response, you will normally get comments and criticism from the reviewer. Your attitude at this stage is crucial to whether you will advance to the next step and to a contract. You must give a constructive and thorough response to any criticism, including details of how you propose to remedy any perceived shortcomings. The more willing you are to engage in this procedure, the more likely you are to succeed. Don’t claim that the reviewer has misunderstood you.

If you receive a rejection, pay attention to the reasons and try to address them. Some of the typical reasons for rejection include:

  • Lack of information or a disparity between the aims in the proposal and evidence in the sample material.
  • Lots of typos – this will undermine a reviewer’s confidence.
  • Gaps in research, or where your writing does not reference a full range of appropriate works.
  • Unclear objectives or justification for the research.
  • The scope of the research is too narrow or too wide.

Consider carefully why your work was rejected. You are most likely to be successful the next time if you revise your work before submitting it to another publisher.

This article is based on a paper given by Mark Pollard, Publishing Director at Pickering and Chatto Publishers. Listen to his paper in full here(podcast of event: Publishing Your Thesis in the Humanities and Social Sciences)

Click here for a guide to writing a book proposal.

Click here for the Routledge guide for authors  (Including information on submitting a book proposal).

Image: Chris Hammond, United States, Wikicommons

7 thoughts on “Approaching a publisher

  1. For responding to criticism or rejection, everyone should be strong and positive enough to accept it. That’s how we grow as professionals.

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