Patrick H. Alexander (Director of Pennsylvania State University Press) has written a really useful article for the Chronicle entitled: The Less-Obvious Elements of an Effective Book Proposal. He points out all the important things about getting your pitch right, making a thesis-based manuscript less thesis-y and, of course, not making any silly spelling mistakes.
Perhaps particularly interesting, however, is that he mentions the need for scholars to understand publishing and ‘get involved’. Regular readers of PhD2Published will know that this is one of the main reasons I set up this website. It seemed crazy for me to pitch a book to a publisher without knowing more about what publishing entails. How could I hope to be a part of a publishing engine if I didn’t understand what all the other parts did and how we’d work together? So I was really pleased to see Alexander point out that ‘editors love authors who understand publishing’.
He offers the two main ways in which this relationship with publishers begins:
1. You may directly approach an editor about your work. Caveat lector: That can get a little dicey. Unless the first words out of your mouth are, “Former President Bill Clinton suggested that I call you about my manuscript on … ,” never phone. Editors usually loathe an out-of-the-blue phone call about a manuscript. Even less do they like being saddled at a conference with a 450-page draft or even an electronic copy on a flash drive. For very practical reasons such handoffs can be a problem. They disrupt routine, and in the frenzy of a conference an editor may simply forget that flash drive.
So if editors don’t like the frontal assault, what do they like? Correspondence (e-mail or snail mail) is best for starters, but only if you’ve done your homework and your letter doesn’t appear to be a fishing expedition. Most critically, it helps to have an “in”—someone from that network you’ve developed who has a relationship with the press or with the editor who controls the list where your project fits.
Your connection might be a mentor, a colleague, or a former classmate. In the small world of discipline-specific research, those degrees of separation are fewer than six. So if you have that “in,” use it to contact an editor. Ideally, obtain an introduction from someone and perhaps ask them to alert the editor that you are going to be in touch. When you write, drop that name early in your letter. Awash with manuscripts, proposals, inquiries, and correspondence, editors need reminding of conversations or commitments. They probably even require a follow-up e-mail.
2. Alternately, an editor may reach out to you. Maybe a colleague or the director of your dissertation recommended your work. Perhaps the editor heard you read a paper at a conference. While the latter may afford some chest-puffing initially, remember that editors say yes until they say no. Proximity brings no guarantees, only possibilities.
While Alexander is right, the above does form the more traditional narrative of scholar meets publisher, there are a growing range of other methods too. And you’re looking at one of them!
It’s nerve-wracking to approach a publisher outright. What if you don’t already have an ‘in’ from well-known academic? Can you really afford to wait to be approached? So let me add another point to Alexanders list:
3. By reading and writing for PhD2Published you can learn all about academic publishing and build a valuable network that will support your publishing aspirations (don’t forget that I met my own publisher through PhD2Published and via Twitter!). It is a great pro-active way to get onto a publisher’s radar while learning how to write the perfect book pitch. And guess what? It’ll make you a whole lot easier to work with, and you’re new editor is going to love that!
If you’d like to get involved, just drop us a line!