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The trouble begins after your manuscript is ready:
Thoughts on how to choose and deal with a publisher.
Based on the discussion on the Easianth, fall 2002
Compiled by Katarzyna Cwiertka and Wim Lunsing
Contributions to the list discussion by Ted Bestor, Cyril Belshaw, Gordon Mathews, Brian Moeran,
Joshua Roth and Brian McVeigh have been particularly helpful for this compilation.
The publishing world in 2002
In general, university presses may be less efficient than presses that are not attached to universities
but in recent years the publishing world has been in a state of flux. What is a reliable publisher
today may be unreliable tomorrow and vice versa. Even within one publishing house the manner
one is dealt with can highly vary depending on the particular members of staff assigned to a book.
Academic publishing has some characteristics regular publishing does not, such as the signing over
of copyrights and translation rights. It appears that due to the need to publish in order to get an
appointment or tenure, academic authors have paid relatively little attention to the conditions under
which their work is published, weakening their negotiating position towards publishers.
Publishers may take very long to publish contracted books – they may even lose the entire
manuscript – and their distribution and advertising may be shoddy. To protect one’s work as much
as possible, it may be helpful to consider the following points.
How to choose a publisher for your book: a checklist
a) Talk to people who have published a book recently with the press of your interest. Presses
change quickly, so the opinion of someone who published there 15 years ago is probably
not especially useful.
b) Look realistically at the current publications catalogues and see if your own idea for a book
fits into what the press is emphasizing. Pay attention to the prices that the press is charging
for hardbacks and paperbacks. Are they publishing recent books as paperbacks, or do they
come out only in hardback?
c) Check the review sections of journals in which you want to see reviews of your book.
Have other books by the press you are considering been reviewed in that journal in the last
few years? (Journals and publishers establish ties over time, and so some journals
automatically get and expect to get everything from Press X, Press Y, and Press Z, but
almost never get anything from Press Q. If a book suddenly pops up from Press Q, it won't
necessarily be ignored, but it may end up on the second or third pile of things to send out
for review.)
d) Look for ads from the presses you are considering in journals, literary supplements, and the
programs of scholarly meetings like the AAA or the AAS. Does the press advertise its book
in a way that you would like to see your book advertised?
e) Take the ads or book catalogues to a library and see if you can find their books in a good
comprehensive library catalogue. If not, maybe this press is not for you.
f) If you are interested in a particular press, try to arrange for an introduction to an editor, if
possible by an author who already has published with that press. An introduction, even if
only very brief, may help get you past the clutter of unsolicited proposals that any publisher
is flooded by. If you need introductions to presses, ask colleagues, friends, former

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professors, etc. about who they have contacts with. Many people have “invisible” contacts
with presses — perhaps as reviewers of manuscripts, members of editorial boards, or
through old graduate school connections with people who work in presses.
g) Be prepared, when you are introduced, to follow up with a jargon-free, clear statement
concerning the nature of the book with an attached table of contents (the proposed book,
not the dissertation). The length may vary from 1.5-2 to 7-8 pages. The statement should
explain clearly what the book is about, what the main argument is, who the audience would
be, and what the status of your manuscript is (i.e., when do you expect to have a
completed ms ready for review). Try your statement out on friends and advisors before
giving it to a publisher. Get several careful readings. Proofread carefully.
h) Do not limit yourself to discussions with one publisher. That is what publishers want, as it
is in their interests, but it is not in yours. At some point, you may have to agree that only
one publisher is looking at the complete manuscript at any given time, but certainly until
that point you can explore all the possibilities.
i) Be enthusiastic and confident about your book when discussing it with publishers
(excessive deference or modesty will kill you) and make sure that your ideas for a book
stands on its own merits, not just in comparison with something else.
j) If you have a solid academic contribution to make but do not necessarily want to sell a lot
of books, go with a university press. If you have a manuscript that you think might have
reasonable sales potential, go with a commercial publisher with better distribution than most
academic publishers. If you seek good communication with your publisher, and do not have
grand ambitions for your book, go with a smaller, local academic press; the human
communication may be far superior to that at larger, more bureaucratic presses.
k) Pay careful attention to the content of your contract.
l) If possible, make agreements regarding the minimal number of the review copies to be sent
m) Insist on a clause permitting termination of the contract if the book is not published by a
certain date.
n) Consider a code of behavior holding the publisher and the author to respond to each others’
queries promptly.
o) Don’t forget to discuss a date when the first royalties should be paid.
p) Be vocal and persistent in raising issues and objections, not just with the particular copy-
editor or staff member (who may be sub-contracted out) in charge of a given phase or
dimension of production/advertising but also with the chief editor, who perhaps feels
greater responsibility for the final product and for the authors.
q) Finally, keep your nose to the ground and go for places that are dynamic. Once the
dynamism fizzles out and “maturity” sets in, then shifting publishers quickly might be a
good idea.
Considering the above, we are wondering whether it may be useful to design a contract example
which protects us as authors against all sorts of problems that may occur after signing it. Ideally, it
would be great if we as authors could draw one line vis-à-vis publishers so that they would have to
comply with our wishes, however unlikely this may come about given the competition among each
other academics find themselves in. Anyone?