Tidbits for Fellow Scholars

5 Ingredients to Get Your Scholarly Book Published

It’s no secret that venues for scholarly publication, especially in the humanities, have constricted in the last twenty years. When I published a 375-page collection of essays in 1985, I found it relatively easy, based upon a detailed prospectus, to secure a contract with a university press. Since then, however, fiscal pressures have compelled many academic institutions to retrench. The upshot has been a reduction of operating subsidies for journals, a mandated narrowing of monograph publishers’ editorial missions, and a concomitant increase of responsibility for prospective authors to document the marketability of their projects.

Many, perhaps most, scholars will find the last development an alien expectation, particularly when the average print run for a book is fewer than 1,000 copies. By dint of their vocational immersion in the world of ideas, academicians are unaccustomed to gauging the extrinsic worth of their work in terms of consumer demand. Now more than ever, however, those seeking publication are being called upon to validate why their manuscripts warrant the investment of institutionally limited capital. A new pragmatism has overtaken an earlier culture of scholarship for its own sake.

Given this shift in today’s publishing environment, I offer below some tips based upon my recent experience of negotiating a contract for an 85,000-word monograph on British espionage fiction. After I contacted a dozen carefully chosen university presses in the U.S. and abroad about the project, only two were receptive to considering it for refereed review. Rather than throw the dice and risk the lag of a delayed editorial commitment, I decided to approach a commercial firm that on its website profiles itself as “a leading independent publisher of academic and nonfiction books.” Because its extensive backlist of authors includes several prominent scholars, some of whom I knew personally, I decided to pursue this outlet.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my decision would entail more extensive book editing and ongoing negotiation related to my work’s marketability. After securing a contract, I went back and forth many times with the publisher’s staff about the issue of what would “sell” my book. Their first concern was my proposed title. I had assumed that Covert Operations: British Espionage Fiction was fairly clever and elegantly simple, but it was pointed out to me that research libraries, which comprise the largest group of those purchasing academic releases, require greater specificity as well as precision in titles. After prolonged debate over various alternatives, mine eventually morphed into The Art of Indirection in British Espionage Fiction: A Critical Study of Six Novelists. (Although I still find the compromise somewhat clunky, I can live with it.) The publisher and I also danced the same jig about what constitutes “fair-use” copyright law concerning quotations from primary texts, which despite fifteen years as the editor of a scholarly journal I since have learned is an incalculably slippery slope. Finally, I will be expected to play an active role in marketing my monograph by suggesting the names/addresses of contact persons for reviews and others with specialized interests (e.g., cohorts within the Modern Language Association of America) to whom it might be promoted.

How, then, can I sum up what I have discovered in these times of shrunken horizons for scholarly publication? Some bulleted points to consider as you investigate prospects in this field may prove helpful.

• Why should the publisher be interested in your submission? Tailor your cover letter tightly to the journal’s or press’s formal mission statement. Demonstrate, in other words, that it is the right “fit” for your piece.

• How will my submission complement or enhance the venue’s extant line of releases? This too is part of the marketing game. As in the preceding entry, show that you are thoroughly familiar with the targeted publisher’s past coverage.

• Given your response to the preceding point, how will your manuscript, if accepted, attract new readers to the venue’s backlist while also expanding its current clientele? (I use the last word intentionally.) Avoid generalities and bromides that carry little persuasive weight.

• What can you contribute to the successful marketing of your text? If it is appropriate for classroom adoption, say so. Otherwise demarcate, again in concrete terms, the reading demographic for which your work is intended.

• How, lastly, can you assist the prospective press in other ways of attracting attention to your monograph? Recommend, for example, review contacts in local/regional newspapers and journals with no-cost reciprocal arrangements for full-page advertisements.

All these considerations are secondary, of course, to your main channels of investigation and scholarly interest, but to one degree or another you will have to address them in today’s world of highly competitive publishing. The trick, if you will, is not to believe that your job is done once you have completed the artifact itself. Like it or not, we are all enlisted in promoting our individual efforts within a market-driven economy.

The #1 Prerequisite of Good Writing: Exhaustive Research

If you are not good at researching and making use of your researched information in writing an essay, then now is the time to get up to speed in this vitally important area.

Why Should You Research Before Writing?

  • To know your subject.
  • To be informed.
  • To become educated.
  • To formulate a fresh thesis statement.
  • And to write a well-supported essay.

You need to ask yourself: Why would your professors want to spend their valuable time reading an essay that’s clearly not professional or publishable? They wouldn’t…and they shouldn’t have to. Good essays are well-researched essays. In fact, very few professional writers and scholars write anything off the top of their heads. Almost all of them spend at least a little time doing more research into their subjects before writing an essay for publication, even if they are already considered experts in their fields. And that should be your goal: every essay you write should be written for possible publication.

Aim High: Aim To Publish

I’m aware that’s a lofty and probably unattainable goal for many people. However, that’s the standard to which you need to aspire. If you play baseball and you think you’re pretty good at it, you don’t aspire to a career in the minor leagues, do you? Not likely. Your goal is to be a major league baseball player. Whether or not you make it remains to be seen. But that’s what you aim for. The same thing should apply with academic endeavors. Aim high. Aim to be an expert, a professional, a scholar. When you pick a subject, research it, and write your essay—aim for publication. Find a good editing service to polish it for you. But first, always aim to write an essay that could be published in a scholarly journal.

Be a Professional Writer or Don’t Write at All

What’s the point of writing garbage? There’s enough of that already. Furthermore,  you’re far more likely to get an article published when you sound like you really know what you’re talking about. Your essay or article has to positively overflow with knowledge, authority, and credibility—both in the strength and originality of your thesis and the depth and detail of your supporting evidence. Thus, without rigorous, extensive research into the topic, you cannot possibly hope to know enough to formulate and convincingly support a fresh thesis statement on the subject.

The #1 Key to Successful Self-Publishing

In grad school, I studied the publication and history of texts. The prevailing assumption was that the author’s original version, warts and all, was inherently more interesting than what had been conformed by editors to printers’ “house style,” corrected by proofreaders, and silently changed in subsequent reprints (e.g., to modernize spelling). Only late in my doctoral program did the premium on original authorial versions begin to be challenged, as critics pointed out that publishing itself was what gave us access to most authors’ work. Nevertheless, the preference for the naked authorial document, stripped of all the wardrobe provided by the publishing process, still held the upper hand at the time of my exit from academia.

I exited academia to become a publishing professional. I became part of the manufacturing process that massages and tweaks a text to the point that it is considered publishable. I made this career move originally to pay my bills, but as I progressed from proofreader to production editor to editor to writer, increasingly I appreciated the need for this assembly line to ensure a good final product. Someone’s cherished final draft clearly had to pass under many eyes–be queried, conformed, and corrected–so that no one who had a stake in the final product, including the author, would have occasion for embarrassment or regret. I accepted readily this quality control process even when I myself was the author, and my own draft under someone else’s scrutiny.

The notion that the traditional publishing process gets between authors and their readers is not a dead idea. It still lives and is experiencing renewed vigor with the current gold rush to self-publish, inspired and enabled by the World Wide Web and its parvenu publishers such as Amazon and Apple. Casual reading about the exploding e-book phenomenon easily gives the impression that many authors now think that they can leave behind editors and other publishing production (and distribution) personnel as expendable “hidden costs.” They are so wrong.

Precisely because editors and other publishing personnel are not expendable, the production of e-books costs about as much as that of paper books. For a clear and simple explanation, see this blog post by the chairman of one major publishing company, “Why Do eBooks Cost So Much? (A Publisher’s Perspective).” If publishers must continue to invest so much into the making of e-books, then can self-publishers afford to neglect these functions? Self-publishers often fail to hire professionals with the needed skills, and the results speak for themselves to the reading public. Note the first reason given in this article for readers’ low expectations about self-published texts: “The Big Reasons Indie Authors Aren’t Taken Seriously.” The cost of not hiring editors and other publishing professionals extends way beyond dollars.

Becoming your own publisher means that you need to take on the responsibilities of a publisher. You need to be sure a text is ready for its public. Securing the services of editors and professionals with other necessary skills is as essential to publishing your own work as securing copyright. To be professional, you must use professionals. No one can do it alone. So come on: be a player.


Self-Marketing Guide for Authors

You’ve spent months, maybe even years, crafting your manuscript. You’ve run it by friends, colleagues, and acquaintances for what may have seemed like never-ending rounds of feedback. You’ve worked with your editor to revise your manuscript and make it the best it can possibly be. Congratulations! All your hard work has paid off: You now have, or are on the way to having, a complete manuscript that represents your unique vision and distinctive message to the world.

Now what?

Depending on your publishing package, you may have certain marketing tools at your disposal, including a customized media kit and press release, a search-engine-optimized website and blog, and set up of important retailing tools like Amazon Search Inside!, Google Books Preview, and Barnes & Noble See Inside.

But how can you use these tools to reach your readers? What other tools and services should you be considering? And if you haven’t purchased any marketing services, what can you do on your own to reach your readers?

In our eBook you will find a comprehensive list of methods for promoting your book. We’ve included a wide array of initiatives so that, if you encounter one of these methods in your own research, you will have insight into how effective we believe it to be.

You’ll also notice a heavy focus on online initiatives. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, as many newspapers are shrinking and TV and radio are heavily focused on celebrity and political news, it is becoming increasingly difficult for a new author to gain exposure through traditional outlets. But many websites and blogs are looking to review or feature books and authors—including new and self-published ones.

Click to download eBook: Self-Marketing Guide for Self-Published Authors (PDF)

Transforming Writing Trials Into Success

In seminary, I took a course that focused on the great devotional writings of Christian history. Some were from giants of Christian theology, such as Augustine. Others were written by people that I had never heard of before, nonetheless had never read. Having been raised in a Protestant tradition in the southern USA, Saint John of the Cross’ The Dark Night of the Soul was one such work. So I was surprised to see this helpful metaphor of transformation through the midst of trial. Here are some thoughts that can help you get through writers block and other dark times of your writing.

View tough times as a blessing.

Are you experiencing writers’ block? Are you just not motivated? Are you running up against a deadline? Sometimes those tough moments mean a breakthrough is just around the corner. But the point of going through difficulty may mean that you find a new thought, process, or discipline that you will develop in your writing or personal life. This change in perspective can help you embrace the hard times and look expectantly to how it will change you for the better.

Tough times take you back to the basics.

St. John of the Cross wrote of the basics of Christian disciplines, such as sacraments, daily Bible study, and prayer. For a writer, this is putting in the time to write daily. Make time on the calendar. Put it in your daily schedule. Write something, even if painful, until the words flow again. And perhaps you will find a brand new discipline that will inspire you. Start reading again. Read in your field but in other fields too. Allow yourself to read something purely fun and see if that inspires you toward writing again in your areas of study.

Trials bring purification.

Hopefully coming out the other side of a dark night means that your writing is more focused, more real, and more relevant to your reader. Especially if you are writing to inspire or encourage through sharing your personal story, the trials of your writing process will help your readers identify with you and learn from your experience.

Live with hope and expectancy in difficult times.

Christians live with the ultimate promise of being brought through the trial because of one’s remembering the person and work of Christ. For the writer, there is hope in the experience of having pulled through a time of writers block or low point in the writing process before. There is knowledge that the season of difficulty will pass and the newness of creativity will return. Living with that expectancy that better days are ahead will help you reach those better days faster.

Seek a relationship with those who are willing to mentor and guide you.

Jesus is the ultimate example for the Christian. Because of Jesus’ pain and suffering, he is called brother, a companion in life’s journey. There is no greater help for the writer perhaps than to find the companionship of another writer for brotherhood, insight, and encouragement during a dark time. Someone who has been there before can help in ways that no well meaning other could help. Plus, remember to help others in their time of need when you are on the other side!