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Academic Guest Post: ‘On Pitching’

This is a great guest post from artist and academic Nathaniel Stern on his approach to pitching his thesis as a book.

Nearly 2 years after I submit my dissertation, I finally sat down this Summer to work on my book proposal. I cut my longest chapter entirely, reworked the thesis to be more in line with where the current interests are for my field, and did some overall structural editing that followed suit. I then read several new books from publishers I had been interested in, even penned a few book reviews, before deciding on whom I would approach first, and the “angle” I’d go with.

Like with the original dissertation, this research and new writing helped me to rediscover my passion for the text, as well as to figure the new directions necessary. Here are a few tidbits I think may have helped me:

  1. WAIT before you try to publish. Even if you believe your dissertation is ready to be edited into a book “as-is” (which is frowned upon in theory, but not all that uncommon in practice), a bit of distance from it is essential in order to work with an editor and make it ready for the shelves.
  2. Go with a publisher that has recent publications that match your interests/text, not for what they’ve done historically, or because they are a big name. You want a partner for your manuscript, not a line for your CV.
  3. Figure out your top 3 publishers before you start drafting the prospectus. Follow not only the format they ask for, but the argumentative and aesthetic styles they seem to like in their books.
  4. Also, write your prospectus before you do big edits. You may find a better thesis or through-line for your chapters as you are doing your “sales pitch,” and your edits to the manuscript should follow suit.
  5. Don’t edit too much. You will be required to make major changes anyhow, and  these will be different depending on your readers, publisher and editor. No point doing that work several times.
  6. Publish, but not too much. Networking via public talks is great, as are a few accredited/refereed  publications. But you don’t want your topic to seem like it’s passé by the time your book comes out. Publish the occasional bit or piece from your introduction and/or one other chapter, but don’t get it out there chapter by chapter unless that’s the only way you want your book in print.
  7. Show it around before you send it out. Ask for feedback from people both in and out of your field.
  8. Go through someone you know. Find out if you have a friend or colleague who has published with your top choices, and see if they mind your dropping their name. Or contact a series editor directly first, instead of going to the top. These are real people who care about the topics they write about.
  9. Do one other “special” thing that speaks to the publisher. Are you writing on visual art? Include an image at the top of your manuscript summary. About new media? Buy a domain name related to your thesis, and host the prospectus online. (I did both of these things.)

See my manuscript summary (the first page of my prospectus) at implicitbody.net
More on me at nathanielstern.com

And I’ll of course let you and Dr Frost know how this all worked out for me…

  1. Thanks for the shout out, Dr Frost! Background for your readers: I sent this to Charlotte a while back and funnily enough, since then, I’ve decided to break up my potential book and publish it as separate articles – I feel it’s too timely to wait, and I also want to spend more time on my own art works. But I still feel it’s relevant advice, and hope you find it useful!

  2. Follow-up number two: I am now publishing this book with Charlotte and Arts Future Book, some time in late 2012 or early 2013!

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