Advice for First Time Book Authors: Tailoring Your Approach


Photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash.

The following is a guest post from Aaron Javsicas, Temple University Press Editor-in-Chief.

“It depends.” That’s my advice for first time book authors. Maybe it doesn’t sound terribly helpful, but it’s true (and I do try not to leave it there). It depends who the author is and what her goals are. It depends who the press is and what its strengths are. It depends who the intended reader is.

Roughly speaking, book publishing is divided in two main categories: academic and trade. There are many shades in between these two poles, and also other categories — professional books, for example — that tend to fall outside this binary. But these are the main ones. Academic books include research monographs written for a relatively small audience of specialists, textbooks for course adoption, and books by academics that advance scholarship but are also written in an accessible, expansive way which can make them useful for upper level undergraduate courses and some general readers. “Trade books” means general interest books; these could be fiction or nonfiction, but they are aimed squarely at the general public.

Keeping the likely audience for the “Scholarly Communication @ Temple” blog in mind (see “audience,” below), my comments here apply mainly to academic book authors seeking an academic publisher.

Audience: Speaking of audience (see above), it’s important to decide who you think will really read your book. It’s not uncommon for scholars to believe their books will attract a wide readership beyond the academy, and to pitch their projects to editors in these terms. It’s certainly possible! And I would never discourage authors from seeking wider audiences — writing to be read is a good thing. But at the same time, targeting your core audience is crucial, and being realistic about this audience tends to build your credibility with editors considering your project. In your proposal, I recommend you identify your book’s primary audience and explain why you see it that way, and then describe and argue (with evidence) for any secondary audiences.

Main point: What is your main point? What questions are you asking? What arguments are you making? This probably all sounds painfully obvious. But I promise you, it is often painfully missing. Or buried on page 9 of the proposal. Try to wave a flag, right at the top of your proposal, making crystal clear what the purpose of your book is. This will go a long way toward smoothing your path with editors, peer reviewers, editorial boards, and even, when the time comes, marketing and publicity staff.

Short and long description: Related to this, editors and other press staff will very much appreciate it if you’re able to provide a brief, one paragraph capsule description right at the top of your proposal, before you get into your more in-depth project overview. Especially at this early stage, it’s helpful for press staff to have a short description easily at hand as they pass the project around within the office for initial feedback.

Method: What kind of evidence will you marshal to support your claims? Again, this is an obvious one, but it’s also an opportunity to shine. Academic editors tend to be fairly knowledgeable, and if you have used an interesting experimental design, or if you have generated a creative data set, or if you have managed to land an impressive batch of interviews or gain access to an important but under-used archive, make sure to highlight these and describe what’s special about them.

Approaching an editor: Just as it’s important to know your likely readership, it’s also important to approach presses that are most likely to be interested in your work. Not all presses publish in all disciplines. Ask colleagues in your field about their experiences with different presses. Look at your bookshelf and see which presses appear there most. Consult the AU Presses Subject Grid. Check out presses’ websites and look for the page that describes each editor’s list areas. Then, once you’ve identified the right editors, it’s ok to send a short initial inquiry via email to confirm whether your topic is of interest. Or, you can just go ahead and email your proposal. Hopefully you’ll hear back shortly.

Marketing: Will you be an active author on the sales and marketing front? What can you do to help sell the book? What mailing lists can you access or help the press access? Are you prepared to appear at book signings, to deliver lectures, and to promote the book at conferences as opportunities arise? Are you open to appearing on TV and podcasts, writing op-eds, and sitting for radio interviews, and do you have connections that can help make this happen? If the book is appropriate for classroom adoption, which specific course titles should sales and marketing staff target? Do you know specific instructors who you believe will adopt the book? An active author can make an enormous difference to book sales, so publishers will be interested to see what you can offer along these lines. I strongly suggest highlighting this in your proposal.

Best foot forward: You don’t have to be finished when you approach an editor. Editors expect see drafts, not a finished product. That said, it’s important to put effort into making your proposal and draft chapters as appealing and easy to read as possible. If you’re converting a published article into a book chapter, go ahead and convert it before you submit your project — don’t, for example, leave the article abstract at the top of the chapter. Get rid of typos from your proposal. More broadly, try to put yourself in the editor’s shoes, be respectful of his or her time, and make reading the proposal the smoothest and most enjoyable experience possible (see “short description” above).

Multiple submissions: If you’re going to submit to multiple presses, be transparent about it. Some presses require an exclusive first look, some don’t. But all will want you to be transparent about your plans.

Physical details: Have a sense of the physical properties of your book – what is the word count (including everything — main text, notes, bibliography, etc. — except for the index, which comes later and can’t be counted yet). Generally speaking, publishers think in terms of word counts, not manuscript page counts. How many illustrations will you include? Is black and white ok? Will your project need any special treatment from the production department – an unusual trim size, text set in a specific way, colors or symbols to avoid on the cover? All of these details can affect how much the book costs to make and for readers to buy, and are therefore important for the publisher to know.

Book publishers are busy people. So are authors. But the more effort you put into these initial stages of the project, the easier and more enjoyable the publishing process should be for all involved, including you. And always keep in mind that publishers want to publish books. We like books, we need books, and we don’t enjoy saying no to books. But we do need a clear reason to go forward with your book.

What Do Acquisitions Editors Do?

Photograph courtesy of Nikki Miller.

The following is a guest post from Sara Cohen, Editor at Temple University Press.

Confession: when I interviewed for my first job as an acquisitions assistant six years ago, I had no idea what acquisitions editors do—I just knew I wanted to work in scholarly publishing and that a job as an editorial assistant would be my entrée into that world. I was fortunate enough to get a job offer despite my ignorance, likely based on my chops as a reader, writer, and researcher, honed in an English PhD program.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot about what acquisitions editors do and who they are.

Acquisitions editors are your first point of contact at a press. We’re the folks who read book proposals and decide whether to accept or reject them.

Acquisitions editors are the bespectacled people hanging around the book exhibit areas of conferences. We have specific list areas for which we’re responsible, and we attend conferences that are related to those areas. Having specific list areas allows us to focus our energies on certain kinds of projects (reading particular journals and attending particular conferences). We’re not experts in our acquisitions areas, but we have a strong sense of who’s who in them and what kinds of work is being done.

In terms of comparisons to other jobs, I think of our job as part talent scout, part project manager, part midwife.

We search for exciting new projects—we read journal articles and conference programs, we attend conferences, visit campuses, make lots of phone calls and send lots of email—and court the authors working on them.

We manage the peer review process—looking for readers and sending manuscripts out to them—and work with authors to develop revision plans based on the readers’ reports. We also make sure that projects arrive [relatively] on time, and then we help move them through our production and marketing processes.

Perhaps the most satisfying part of our job is supporting authors while their books are being written, helping them bring a good book into the world. This part of the job requires a fair amount of emotional labor, particularly in the maintenance of strong author/editor relationships.

As with any relationship, the author/editor relationship works best when it’s based on mutual trust and open communication. I expect my authors to be open with me about any questions they have or any challenges they’re facing; my authors expect me to be open with them about where their manuscript is in the review and production processes. My authors also expect me to give honest, constructive criticism—and I expect them to take it gracefully. My favorite authors are those who take their work seriously, but who don’t take themselves too seriously.

Basically, as I recently told my two-year-old son, my job is to help people write their books, and I feel incredibly lucky to have such a fun and intellectually challenging job.

A Few Cues About Peer Review

The following is a guest post from Ryan Mulligan, Editor at Temple University Press.

One way a scholar might come into contact with a university press is through being asked by an editor to serve as a peer reviewer for a book manuscript the press is considering publishing. Peer review is essential to checking the scholarly credentials of the books university presses publish and helps ensure that they will find an appreciative audience and have the bona fides to be assets to the academic community. Here are some considerations you might wonder about if you are asked to serve as a peer reviewer.

Good peer reviewers know that they are writing for two audiences: the press (including its editorial board) and the author. They balance their suggestions for the author with evaluation, and even some summary, for the press’s benefit. It is sometimes useful to clarify, for the editor and the editorial board’s benefit, the background into which the manuscript enters and what is at stake in whatever intervention it seeks to make. Good peer reviews note what is new and impactful about the project and point out any weaknesses in the scholarship. They might consider the manuscript’s suitability for course use, the level of the writing, or what set of scholars and fields constitute the manuscript’s likely audience. Beyond who could theoretically find this book relevant, realistically, if the press published this book, is there an appreciable set of scholars who will consider it their job to read it? Reviewers’ comments should also be useful to the author as they revise the book. Have they considered the relevant counter arguments? Are there relevant sources or alternative explanations they haven’t considered? Have they defined their terms sufficiently? Are they inventing terms that aren’t useful? And then the reviewer might need to play editor. Does the argument flow? Does the organization of the manuscript make sense? As a reader, do you feel confident at a given moment in the text, where the author is going and how the section you’re reading contributes to the overall argument?

You don’t need to be a copyeditor – most university presses will take care of the spelling and grammar in a later stage of the publishing process. But especially in fields that are heavy on technical language and jargon, the press may be dependent on you to make some editorial interventions. I see many reports that offer a main section of broad discussion of the manuscript and then a separate section of more detailed comments that tackles individual errors or points of weakness one by one. Some reviewers like to open up the “Comments” section of their word processor and mark up the manuscript as they go. There’s no way for me as an editor to present those comments to my board, but many authors find this generative, so go for it if you like, but be cautioned that it’s much harder for me to keep your identity as a reviewer anonymous from the author when I pass on these comments.

I’ve seen some effective concise reviews of only a page, but most good reviews tend to be two to five pages, more if they catalogue errors or offer detailed commentary. Some reviews are framed as letters to the editor, press, or editorial board, but most are just reports not addressed to anyone in particular. Some presses, including Temple, have a list of questions they will include when they send along the manuscript for review. Reviewers can consider these questions one at a time in turn or just keep them all in mind as they write a more free-form review. Presses, editorial assistants especially, appreciate when the reviewer remembers to turn in any supporting forms completed with their review. They also appreciate reviewers sticking to their deadlines, but being forthcoming and communicative when they can’t make a deadline.

Let’s talk for just a moment about bad peer reviews! The worst reviews I’ve seen are a couple paragraphs thrown together before deadline that just say “you should publish this book.” That’s not going to help the book get past the editorial board; the press is just going to have to turn right around and ask someone else to write a whole new review. But that doesn’t happen very often. Most commonly, a peer review will disappoint me in that its criticisms boil down to, “this isn’t the book I would have written if I’d tackled this topic myself.” I understand the instinct to write that report. But it’s not useful to the press. You will naturally have certain interests that you would have brought to the study to nudge it in a different direction that would be more exciting to you. Your focus and emphasis might have been different. And your writerly voice would of course have been different. But try to put yourself in the press’s shoes and evaluate what the book does for the discipline, what it brings to the table, and how it could be framed to better accomplish its own goals, which may be different from yours.

I’ve seen peer reviews from scholars of all levels of experience; seniority is no predictor of the quality of a review. The quality of the review comes from the reviewer’s ability to speak to both author and press, consider the book’s realistic impact and audience, evaluate its success in reaching its goals, and offer helpful suggestions for improvement. I hope my own suggestions here are helpful for anyone asked to review a book project for a scholarly press.

For more perspectives on peer review for academic presses, including some of the ways that procedures might vary for different presses, take a look at the Association of American University Presses handbook of Best Practices for Peer Review.

Fair Use from a Scholarly Publisher’s Perspective

This week we’re celebrating Fair Use Week at the Libraries. To find out more about the role of fair use in scholarly book publishing, we interviewed Nikki Miller, Rights and Contracts Coordinator at Temple University Press.

Why is fair use important to the Press?
Fair use is important to the Press for a few reasons. From a practical standpoint, obtaining permissions tends to be costly and time-consuming, so fair use allows authors to build upon others’ ideas without the added cost and time expense of gaining permission. Our mission at the Press is to participate in the dissemination of academic discourse, and without fair use, it would make this a lot harder to accomplish.

Authors are generally required to tell their publisher what third party materials they want to use in their book. They are also usually responsible for obtaining permissions. Is this how it works at the Press?
Yes, we have a clause in our standard contracts that states it is the author’s responsibility to gain permission for any copyrighted materials. Though I am always happy to discuss with our authors what material needs permission and offer to help him/her to find the appropriate rights’ holder. It is not always easy to find the rights’ holder so having more than one person searching can make the process quicker and easier.

Do you double-check every single article/image/table authors use to make sure they really have gotten permission?
I do. As soon as an image or text is deemed to be not fair use, I flag it and discuss options with the author. The Press has a standard permission form that we send to authors to send to the rights’ holders; this form grants us all the rights we need to move forward including others that we like to have, such as promotional use. If the rights’ holder has its own permission form, I read it to make sure it gives us all of the rights we need to include it in the author’s publication.

Would you accept a fair use argument from an author? Under what circumstances?
I would only accept a fair use argument for the inclusion of text, never for an image or table. Unless the author uses data from an original figure to create his/her own table, as that qualifies as transformative use. However, I have had authors argue that their usage of copyrighted material is fair use when I think it is not. When this happens, I listen to the author’s argument, and we usually reach a compromise with what to do next. Most of the time this occurs when the ratio of quoted material to analysis is too low, so I ask the author to both cut some of the quote and to add additional analysis to his/her argument.

When analyzing if borrowed material is fair use, I tend to be stricter on the analysis of poetry and song lyrics. This is because a lot of the times poetry and songs are carefully kept under copyright and are usually shorter as works. However, there are times that I deem poetry lines as fair use. In those instances, a very short piece of the poem is included and has a lot of analysis to accompany it. Additional factors I consider with poetry include whether the author is using it as ornamental text in the body of the work and if the author needs the exact language for his/her argument. If it is used for ornamental purposes in the body of the work then I ask the author to remove the poetry.

How do you evaluate whether use of Press content constitutes fair use?
When we receive permission requests from authors to include material from Temple University Press titles in their works, I consider the same four fair use factors as when I evaluate our own authors’ manuscripts and whether the borrowed material they include is fair use or not (purpose and character of the use, nature of the copyrighted work, amount and substantiality of the portion used, and the effect of the use on the market). If the requested material does not fall under fair use, I grant permission (if TUP has permission to do so) to the requestor. I have received permission requests before for material that will qualify as fair use, and in those situations, I let the requestor know and ask that a proper citation is included in the work.

What do you wish more authors knew about fair use?
I get a lot of notes from authors who think that because they cited borrowed material appropriately that the citation automatically deems material fair use and makes gaining permission unnecessary. Citing has no role in deciding whether the inclusion of borrowed material qualifies as fair use or not. Plagiarism and copyright infringement are not the same thing. Citing protects an author form plagiarizing, and only granted permission or fair use protects an author from infringing on copyright.

Thank you Nikki!

Towards an Open Future for Books

unlatched

“Unlocked” by samstockton is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Knowledge Unlatched is a not-for-profit organization that makes scholarly books in the social sciences and the humanities free for anyone to read. By doing so, it helps excellent peer-reviewed scholarship reach new audiences. It works like this: publishers submit several titles to Knowledge Unlatched. Then, the organization’s Library Selection Task Force chooses the best books submitted. Once the titles are chosen, Knowledge Unlatched coordinates with publishers to come up with the basic cost of publishing the book. Libraries around the world pledge a certain amount of money to help reach that amount. The more libraries that contribute, the lower the cost for each library. When the total amount is reached, a Creative Commons licensed PDF of the book is made available open access through OAPEN and HathiTrust. This version does not carry any DRM restrictions, like many ebooks. Although the digital version is free, a print version can still be sold by the publisher.

Knowledge Unlatched launched in 2014 with twenty-eight books. Temple University Press was one of thirteen publishers who participated in the first round of the project, with the book, Constructing Muslims in France by Jennifer Fredett (2014). You can read the book here. This week, Knowledge Unlatched announced that they had received enough pledges from libraries to make seventy-eight new scholarly monographs open access. The list includes three titles from Temple University Press:

Peter O’Brian, The Muslim Question in Europe (2016)

Jennifer Riggan, The Struggling State: Nationalism, Militarism, and the Education of Eritrea (2016)

David Spener, We Shall Not Be Moved/No nos moverán (2016)

Although the benefits of Knowledge Unlatched to readers are clear, you may wonder why publishers are willing to participate in such a project. According to the Director of Temple University Press, Mary Rose Muccie, “The program is a win for us and for our authors.” She continues, “The Knowledge Unlatched model takes into account the current realities of our business and allows us to recoup many costs as well as to continue to sell print and electronic editions. Being chosen for inclusion in the program reflects the quality of the title, and because of broad access and use, we have the opportunity to get our name in front of a large group of people interested in what we publish. It’s been a great experience for the Press and we’re looking forward to continuing to partner with Knowledge Unlatched and to expanding our participation as the program grows.”