Why do you need to think about a publisher? Isn’t it enough to get a book out there? Well – yes and no. There is no point spending a year of your life writing a book if it is not going to reach the people you want to read it.
Publishers do not all publish the same kinds of academic books. It can save a lot of to-ing and fro-ing to if you do your best at the outset to pick the right publisher who will help you develop your ideas, produce the book itself and then make sure it gets to the right readers. And because promotion and tenure panels usually know the quality publishers in their field it may be important for early career researchers not just to think about getting published, but also getting the best publisher possible.
There are basically three kinds of publishers out there to choose from.
(1) There are some small companies who publish highly specific local texts. They know their local market and they know how to sell their particular list. They have good contacts with people and organisations in their field and these readers often actively seek out their books looking for what’s new. These small publishers will give your book a great deal of care and attention because it means a lot to them.
(2) There are large international companies which publish very varied lists. If you check their catalogues you will see however that some of them have particular emphases – they might have a lot of text books, or handbooks, or they don’t do a lot of edited books – or they might specialise in particular areas like research methods.
Big international companies offer marketing reach, timely production (generally about six months after they get the text, although they can do quicker if they want to) and a range of publishing formats ( hardback, paperback and ebook). Because of the size of their lists they produce some academic blockbusters but also some books which will sell less to more specialised readerships. Like specialist publishers, they too care about sales, but they have more flexibility in relation to what counts as the bottom line. Manuscripts are sent to professional production companies for copy editing and formatting, whereas many small specialist publishers do this work themselves. These international companies have global marketing reach and will put your book under the noses of all the major online, campus and high street bookshops. They will also give away inspection and book review copies in order to promote sales and they will have stands at all the major international conferences.
Both small specialist and large global companies are uniformly interested in sales, the scholarly integrity of the book and the originality of the text. Both want a relationship with the author.
(3) There are also lesser publishers some of whom ask for camera-ready copy which they print-on-demand . By and large these companies are not able to market their books as effectively as smaller specialist or global companies. They are also often less discriminating in the choice of books that they publish and so some of their lists are very patchy in quality. (In the book trade the least choosy of these publishers are known as ‘bottom feeders’.) Because they have not invested a lot in your book and they do not produce a lot of advance copies, they do not have as much to lose if the book doesn’t sell. They may not have particularly strong relationships with individual authors but work through series editors. There is nothing wrong with publishing with such companies but it is as well to know that they cannot offer a lot of marketing support and you will have to do a lot of the marketing yourself.
It is prudent to ask around to find out from well-published colleagues and mentors what they know about the publishers in your field, who does what and how well. It can be helpful to look at your own reference lists to see if there is an obvious publisher that has produced a lot of the books that you have used. It is very useful to critically read publishers’ catalogues to see what kind of publishing they do and what kind of publisher they are. You can also see from catalogues what is current and what is out of fashion, what there is already a lot of and what there isn’t a great deal of. This is crucial – as I’ll explain in a future post – as a means of establishing what is unique and special about the book you want to write.
Questions to consider when thinking about choosing a publisher:
(1) Who are the readers for my book? Are they local? International? Is it a specialist readership? If it is a local and/or specialist audience that you are after, then look for the publisher who is working in this space and who can reach the readers that you want.
(2) What kind of book is this? Is it a text book? A monograph? Supplementary reading? A handbook? A professional book? Are there any publishers who particularly specialise in the kind of book I want to write? Which are those who clearly wouldn’t be interested? Pick a publisher who will entertain the kind of book you want to write.
Acknowledgement: This is the first of a set of posts about book publication. These are based on workshops I have been conducting with Philip Mudd from Routledge and much ( some? half?) of the information I use comes from him. Responsibility for the way information is presented in this blog and for any inaccuracies is entirely mine.