How to overcome the main obstacles to publishing academic works (opinions)


“I’m still suffering,” my colleague said. She frowned at the space.

“It’s not you-it’s them,” I said, aware of the cliché of this sentence, but 100% of the meaning. “You are excellent. You are great. I If I were in their place, I would choose you. “

“I will have to put myself there again…who knows if the next one will succeed?”

“The right person will appreciate you the way you deserve it,” I said.

The eavesdroppers on the bus (before the pandemic) might think that I was comforting friends after a controversial breakup. In fact, we are discussing the publisher’s rejection of the manuscript of her first book. She had passed the initial gatekeeper, but was told throughout the process that the board thought her topic was too narrow to attract readers. When I was also looking for a way to publish my first book, I was shocked and frustrated by the board’s ruling: Of all the assistant professors I knew, I expected her to be sold out by the publisher.

We certainly know the possibility of rejection by the board, but in the process of publishing the first academic book, we have not received formal training to manage these obstacles. Recalling our conversation after getting off the car, I wonder what else she can do to convince the decision makers? Why is this mysterious process-so important to our career destiny-not included in the graduate program?

Nowadays, guidance for the entire process is available, but it can be expensive: a seminar charges thousands of dollars, provides several hours of academic book proposal suggestions, and a consortium guides early career researchers to “make demands” for their universities Pay thousands of dollars for members, and other writers and writing groups sponsored by companies will automatically deduct more than $100 from your account every month. Of course, the expertise of scholars should be compared with the expertise of other expert advisors, but many people who need this advice most-graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, part-time scholars, and non-affiliated scholars are eager to publish papers to stand on the academic ladder. Heels-at least can’t afford it. An instructor recounted her experience of selling a pint of blood to buy food.

In some of the most well-known and more affordable sources—books on the process—the advice is well-intentioned, but often outdated or vague: a well-known guide limits its advice to the most important inquiry letters ( The -be author sent this letter to arouse the interest of the acquisition editor) to six pages, and three times the number of pages was used to edit the chapters of the collection. For emerging scholars aiming to get a job or tenure, these are good, but not success or failure. Other guides will take a few pages or chapters to provide advice on outdated technologies.

In order to help emerging scholars avoid bankruptcy, spend precious research time on reading without getting the information you need or being overwhelmed by suggestions, I provide you with specific, actionable, and non-obvious suggestions. I hope I will go there. I received my first book before the winding road: Defending Privileges: Rights, Status and Legal Risks in British Novels (Johns Hopkins University, 2020). If you review carefully, there are more good suggestions. If you haven’t readAsk the editor,” This Inside higher education The series is made by a pseudonym junior professor, please click to view. Below, I will focus on the obstacles you have to overcome to get the golden ticket for publication, or the four pain points of publication that I mentioned. When I introduced them to a group of graduate students, early-career researchers, part-time scholars, independent researchers, as well as associate professors and full professors, they seemed to resonate, so I share these suggestions here to benefit more potential authors .

Pain point 1: The transition from paper to book. When moving from a paper to a book, you have to make many big and small decisions. Here are some places to start.

  • During the postgraduate period (the sooner the better), start tearing papers and screenshots of two files: 1) books that you think are inspirations for formatting, ideas, etc., and 2) eye-catching cover designs. Widecasting: Check the publisher’s catalog, social media, event announcements, and other sources.
  • Ask yourself: Why did you publish a book in the first place? If your goal is to increase your chances of obtaining faculty positions, or to clear the threshold for tenure positions, then it is best to choose an academic press. In contrast, if your goal is to reach more non-academic audiences, or you plan to apply for non-academic positions, trade publishers are better. If you want to respect your intellectual investment without getting yourself into trouble, you can publish it yourself through an on-demand service and distribute it to family and friends.
  • Talk about and view your paper as a book. Use the cover and back cover, the copyright page, the dream profile of the scholar you admire, the last page describing the font you chose, the barcode and ISBN-13 number, and anything else that makes it real to simulate a physical copy of your book for you.
  • Some humanities, such as English literature, often have a limited budget. Seek and sign up for prospectus and chapter-reading seminars in your institution or other university’s well-funded department or department to get feedback from faculty and staff beyond your committee. You can also participate in their activities to gather their opinions and consider how to present your material to attract multiple constituencies. I participated in the history and legal team.
  • Email faculty and staff outside the committee and schedule a meeting to discuss your book. You can still do this after graduation, as long as the faculty wishes. If they can use Zoom during working hours instead of meeting in person, then some people may be more receptive. The other night, I just met with an alumnus remotely to discuss her publishing plan.

Pain point 2: Establish contact with publishers. Many scholars consider themselves introverted and would rather research than talk to strangers. Even people I know who call themselves extroverts can become slurred and embarrassed in the presence of editors who are able to guide their book publication and thus help their careers take off. Establishing a relationship with a publisher is like dating: without official guidelines, charisma and gorgeous presentations can create an unfair advantage. Here are some ways to make yourself easier.

  • Go early! Arrive at the meeting early. Browse the publisher’s booth in the Book Lobby during non-working hours. Sometimes the acquisition editor will talk to you-if you are the only other person nearby, your chances are great.
  • Practice different versions of elevator speech: one minute, three minutes, six minutes. Don’t be like that eager graduate student who kept talking to me when I tried to leave, or even blocked the door many times.
  • Follow academic publishers and editors on Twitter (e.g., @JHUPress).
  • Readers often skip acknowledgments in published books, but they are a gold mine of information. Read these sections in the most recent version of your subfield, and then look for the editors thank you.
  • Clarify any time constraints-for example, if you need to publish a book within a few years, the editor should know this in advance.

Pain point 3: Meet the standards approved by the Publishers Committee. Once the editor invites you to submit your manuscript and you have passed the preliminary review stage, the next step is to conduct a board review. Knowing that someone you have never met will decide your fate in a closed-door meeting, which can be numb. If establishing contact with a publisher is similar to dating, then board approval is similar to a jury trial. Except in this case, instead of facing a jury of peers, it is judged by people of higher rank: senior scholars are selected for their expertise and critical taste.

No pressure, right? I will not whitewash: it is stressful. Focus on the things you can control. Here are ways to increase your chances of passing this level:

  • In your material, clarify the wider appeal of your book, preferably to multiple audiences. In this era of ever-increasing budget constraints, publishers are more selective, and they prefer less narrow topics. Having said that, I have seen some scholars on very niche subjects survive this ordeal, including an assistant professor whose thesis focuses on an obscure book. The editors told me that these days they generally disapprove of single-text and single-author research. However, she passed the censorship by changing her framework: she reshaped the book as a model for a larger trend in class consciousness.
  • Go back to your original reader report and mark comments in multiple rounds: read once to understand the structure, once to comment on the source you want to add, etc.
  • Recheck the latest version of the publisher: what do they have in common? Consider how to prove in your materials that your book matches other books in the publisher’s catalog. My publisher Johns Hopkins University Press’s 18th-century research and law and literature-my two main subfields-both provide a powerful catalog and publish some of my favorite must-reads books. If the publisher’s books are all Heather’s and yours is Veronica’s, ask yourself if this is right for you.

Pain point 4: Publication planning. This is not an independent stage, but a time for contemplation. You may often overlook this in the process of teaching, research, service, and finding a publisher. Here are some elements that some authors told me they regretted ignoring:

  • Read your contract! I once saw a professor tell a group of listeners who wanted to be writers that in this era of austerity, they should be happy to be accepted by publishers and should not even consider negotiations. I disagree.
  • If it is not included in your contract, please ask for suggestions and veto on the title and cover image. The cover of your book is a key advertisement for it-this is very important when even elite publishers tend to allocate zero funds for marketing the first monograph. If necessary, I negotiate to add images and increase the number of words. Another reason I chose Johns Hopkins University is that it has departments and staff responsible for cover design and promotion. They work with first-time authors to promote books, while some other elite publishers do not.
  • Make sure your title is SEO friendly-that is, check that it contains key terms that students, researchers, and other readers might search for when searching for a central topic in Google. Citations or phrases may sound great to you, but if your book does not appear in the search results, you will not be cited.
  • Search online to see if the title of your plan has been used in another book or article. Check every three months or so-don’t settle for a search at the beginning, because the process from thesis to the book may take several years, and new works are being published.
  • If possible, arrange for the publisher to send the book for review. You will not receive enough free copies to send them to all locations yourself.
  • Clarify your royalty percentage and register the royalty on your publisher’s online system. Once I was registered, there was one thing missing from my list, and I could focus on the idea instead of being confused by the inconvenience of registering after the inventory processing has started.

I hope these ideas will help you to develop your own writing and ideas. To apply the long-established L’Oreal slogan: Do this because you-and your brainchild-are worth it.


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