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Kevin Ward – Writing an Academic book – Some Thoughts

Following on from my appearence on the panel at RGS Postgraduate ForumAnnual Conference Training Symposium (PGF-ACTS) last week I present the first of three posts from the speakers on publishing. Todays post looks at writing and academic book and is brought to you by Professor Kevin Ward. Kevin is Professor of Human Geography at Manchester University and has been the Editor of Area a journal published on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) since 2010.

So, you’ve decided that you are going to write an academic book.  Well, here are five tips:

1. It is worth considering the sort of book you want to write.  Look at publishers’ websites and consider the following: 

– Does the publisher produce the type of book that you want to write in your field?

– Are hardback and paperback versions of the book published simultaneously?  If not, how many hardbacks does your book have to sell before the publisher will commission a paperback run?

– What marketing and distribution system does the publisher have?

– Does the publisher send out copies to academic journals for review?

– Does the publisher attend large academic conferences and participate in book exhibitions?

2. Find out what do you need to do to get a book contract.  In the majority of cases you have first to write a book proposal.  This is a sales document – it is your attempt to sell yourself and the book you want to write to a publisher.  Before writing your proposal, and as part of identifying a potential publisher for your book, you need to consult the publisher’s website.

3. Think about what happens to your proposal once it is submitted to the publishers.  It will usually be reviewed by at least two academics in the field.  These will be chosen by the series or commissioning editor, although you may have the chance to suggest possible names.  The publishers will be looking for the academic reviewer to comment on the following types of questions: 

– What are the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed book?

– Who is going to read it and who is going to buy it?

– Is the author/editor the best person to produce this book?  For edited books, are the intended contributing authors the best/most appropriate?

Once the editor receives the reviews they will then act.  Hopefully your book will be commissioned.  If not, then try and use the reviewers’ comments to produce a revised proposal that might then be accepted elsewhere.

4. Submitting the manuscript does not mark the end of your work.  When you sign a contract with the publisher it will detail your responsibilities, including specifying the expected word length and delivery date.  The contract will indicate the number of presentation copies you can expect and will set out a royalty percentage.  This is always low! If you want to write a book to retire on don’t write an academic book!  The publisher will also provide guidelines detailing how the manuscript should be formatted.  It is your responsibility to secure the rights to reproduce any copyright images or other material and to pay any necessary permission fees. Sometimes publishers will agree to pay you an advance on future royalties towards these expenses.

5. Think about what happens to your manuscript once it submitted to the publisher.  It is likely that it will be reviewed by at least one academic referee.  This should take a couple of months and you will then be expected to respond to these comments, which normally will consist of matters of substance rather than style.  Once you submit the final version of the manuscript it will be passed on to another section of the publishers, or increasingly, to a freelance employee.  Typically the manuscript will go through the following stages:

–          Copyediting: the publisher commissions someone to read the manuscript.  They check the grammar, the spelling of the text and the references.  The copy-editor will contact you with a list of queries which you will need to address before the manuscript is typeset.

– Typesetting: the manuscript is typeset according to the publisher’s house style.

– Proofs: you will be sent a copy of the proofs, which you will be required to check promptly for errors.  A professional proof-reader may also be appointed by the publisher.  At this point in the publication process an index has also to be compiled, either by you or by a professional indexer.  Where ‘professionals’ are employed it is likely that you will have to pay for this against your future royalties.

– Printing: the manuscript is finalized and the book is printed

– Publication: the advance copies are sent to you a week or so before publication, with the rest to follow once the book is published.

Finally, books don’t sell themselves.  The publisher will market the book but it is also your responsibility to do your bit.  So, use social media to disseminate its core arguments and findings.

Tomorrow’s post comes from Klaus Dodds and looks at publishing in academic journals

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