Publish or Perish! How to Gain a Book Contract

In the arts and humanities we are informed that we need to get that first book out in order to progress our career and move closer to that first academic position. Read this blog post to find out more about the process, based on Dr Alice Eden’s recent success of gaining a book contract with Routledge…

After my viva, and while holding the post of Early Career Academic, I sought a book contract with publishers Routledge. In this three part series I describe the process and offer some tips from my experience.

Do your research:

The first step I took was to consider publishers in my field and what sort of work they published. I got my PhD thesis up on my laptop and worked through the bibliography, writing a list of publishers and especially looking recently published works in the field. I researched several major publishers in History of Art and Cultural History, which is where I wanted to situate my work.

Next, I read about the process on several websites and used the ‘find an editorial contact’ on the Routledge website to write the relevant editor a message. I explained that I was interested in exploring a book contract with them but also elaborated on how my proposed book fitted with Routledge series.

I was very excited to hear back within a few days but do not be disheartened if this takes much longer. I would gently chase your contact after a month. Generally this contact can take a long time due to the high-pressured roles of editors, the volume of proposals received and the time taken to read them.

Be prepared to make revisions:

Contacting me so soon I did not feel that I had the follow-on material ready! I was asked if I had any sample chapters available that I could send. Crucially however, these would need to be thoroughly revised from the thesis. If I didn’t have any ready, when could I send them? Though I wanted to say next week, I replied to the editor with a realistic estimate for writing the chapters.

I would recommend providing realistic writing estimates that you can work to. This is more professional and helpful for the publisher. I wanted to make sure I had looked at the material and advanced it on the path from thesis to book (more on this in later posts). I decided to provide two chapters on two different artists and, advised that it would be best to receive both chapters at the same time, I scheduled my time appropriately. I worked on the draft chapters in a number of ways before I sent them. This process included:

  • Shortening any obviously baggier sections.
  • Considering overall language, removing references such as ‘this thesis’ and any content more directly aimed at supervisors and PhD examiners rather than a new book readership Adding artist’s biographies so that the two chapters could stand alone more easily.
  • I provided one chapter of 15,000 words and a second of 20,000 but noted that the second, longer chapter may be revised again with material moved to the conclusion. These served as a good representation of the book content at that stage.

Do not under-estimate the time these additions will take, you are not just re-sending thesis chapters. A lot of re-thinking and editing may be involved to provide better material for the peer reviewers.

Do the work for your readers:

Make your communication with the publisher and your proposal easy to read. My first email contact was clear and straightforward – just a few sentences which showed that I was aware of the needs of the editor. I attached my thesis as it was submitted and I explained that I could prepare a chapter ‘worked up’ for the book audience if that would help the review process. I thanked the editor in advance for their time considering my proposal.

Ensure you work on your CV at the same time as the book proposal. You will probably find you are forever re-editing this at this stage in your career. This should list all your publications on the first page and should create a clear profile of who you are as an academic and historian, your scholarly funding and awards, educational achievements, research interests and activities. Make sure this is up to date, error free, neat and succinct when you send it to the editor.

Ask questions, seek clarification:

Check any small queries with the editor. I was concerned about the formatting of my draft chapters (double spacing, references, pictures to include, chapter lengths). However such issues can absorb more time than they need to. Check what submission format/length would best suit the peer reviewers so that you use your time wisely.

Part two of this series details the contents of the proposal which you should allow enough time to develop. This proposal is the first impression the publisher will have of you so take your time to make it the best one you can! Keep an eye out for the post next month!


This is part one of a three part series by Dr Alice Eden. Read parts two and three.


What was your experience of gaining a book contract? What was the most challenging aspect of this? Tweet us @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.


Alice Eden is an Early Career academic and Associate Tutor in the History of Art department, University of Warwick. Her primary interests are modern British cultural history, spiritualties and feminisms, with expertise in Victorian and Edwardian art history. She currently works in educational administration and is writing a book based on her PhD thesis (see future posts!) Alice can be contacted via email and followed on twitter at @Alice_Eden4.


Image: books-library-read-shelves-shelf-1617327 / Marisa_Sias / CC0 1.0

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