Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016
Selecting a Publisher
From Consumer to Producer of the Literature
Writing as Professional Development
An editor and author were enjoying dinner together to celebrate the successful launch of an edited book series. The author said, “You don’t have to answer this question if it would divulge trade secrets, but I have a question for you. When you receive a proposal for a book, what happens next in your offices?” The editor smiled and replied, “There is a meeting of all of the editors for the various divisions within the company. We sit around a table in a board room and each editor is given just a few minutes to describe any project for which he or she is seeking support. After the presentation, the group decides if the project merits the investment. Obviously, resources are limited, so we need to make wise business decisions. If I fail to persuade my colleagues, then the contract will not be offered.” The author replies, “That process is very interesting—it is similar in some ways to how we propose new courses or curriculum at the university. May I ask how you prepare for these meetings?” “Ideally, the author’s proposal and the reviews do much of that for me. I go through these documents, highlight the most persuasive information, and write notes in the margins that will help to answer colleagues’ questions. I also use my best judgment about which projects to pursue. If I sign too many contracts for books that do not make a profit, I would be fired from my job.” As this candid conversation reveals, publishing is a business. What this means for authors is that they too need to be professional, practical, and business-like in their dealings with publishers. There is a wide range of possible publishing outlets for books, as summarized in Table 10.5.
Categories of book publishers
Professional organizations. Most leading professional associations publish not only journals but also monographs, edited books, and books for their members. These publishing programs frequently have the goal of providing resources for professional development at affordable prices. In the interest of supporting their members, authors rarely receive payment or royalties; however, the authors often are given more editorial support, the works are widely disseminated (thereby establishing the author’s reputation), and a publication for an association often leads to invitations to speak at conferences
Commercial publishers. These publishers are business-driven and will seek to be successful by securing some of the larger markets for books. The most common category here is the college-level textbook. Any book that survives will need to “hit its numbers”; for a college textbook, that may be only about 5,000 copies for the first edition. If the book is successful and more copies are sold, more will be printed and the possibility of a subsequent edition will be explored. Most textbook publishers in the U.S. are dealing with hard decisions about converting the traditional hardbound textbooks into e-books and keeping their market shares. Another category of commercial publisher consists of those who publish books to be marketed directly to professionals for the purpose of professional development. For example, Sage—noted for its books on research—has an affiliate called Corwin that publishes resources for practitioners
Scholarly publishers. These publishers need to make a profit in order to survive; however, they still will publish books that have a comparatively small audience in the interest of advancing the field. University presses are a good example; they are affiliated with a university and, even though they need to sell books, they tend to be less profit-driven than commercial publishers. Usually, university presses are subsidized to some extent by the universities that bear their names. The institution allocates funding for the privilege of having a respected publisher affiliated with them
Given these different types of publishing houses, how should you go about identifying suitable publishers for a book that you have in mind? Some recommended ways are described in Activity 10.4.
Activity 10.4: Identifying a Suitable Publisher
There are a number of different strategies to identify suitable outlets for a monograph or book. As a first step, look on your own bookshelf. Who publishes the type of book you have in mind for the audience you’ve identified? Next, chat with authors and talk with colleagues. What experiences have they had with specific publishing companies, both good and bad? Each publisher has certain areas of focus. Scan through their catalogs in print or online. If you go to all the time and trouble of writing a book, you’ll surely want people to know about it and read it. Ask yourself these questions: Is the publisher prominent in my field? Does the publishing house have a good reputation for service, quality, innovation, tradition? Does it market books effectively to the intended audience through effective advertising and a sales force? Are their editors known to be ethical, knowledgeable, helpful, and professional?
After you have identified a potential publisher for the work, make sure that you understand their audience, market, and purposes. Many publishers, for instance, have series of books that focus on an area of interest. Here is Olivia Saracho’s statement of purpose for an edited book series:
The purpose of the series is to present current knowledge related to various aspects of the field. Each volume is devoted to a single broad topic. Individual chapters in each volume are designed to present reviews and analysis of the literature in relation to recent theory, research, and analysis of practice concerning some facet of that topic. Each contribution should present a clear and significant presentation that should have implications for researchers, scholars, policy makers, and practitioners.
Each edited book provides a forum for ideas. Scholars from diverse areas are invited to contribute their unique perspective to the field that should be enriched by discourse relating to a variety of viewpoints. To this end, we encourage scholars to address questions concerning the field in a scholarly manner within the series and to submit work that integrates, analyzes, and critiques elements of the literature such as research and theories. This should be done in a way that is accessible to a broad range of readers in the field. Each chapter included in a volume must be written in a style and format that will be accessible to researchers, theoreticians, administrators, practitioners, and policy makers.
Before you approach a publisher with a book prospectus, be certain to read the purpose for their publishing program.