How to get published – Interface 2011 conference notes

These are my notes from the 'how to get published' session at InterFace 2011 – I've summarised some of the advice here in case it may help others, with the usual caveat that any mistakes are mine, etc.

Charlotte Frost spoke (slides) about 'PhD2Published', a site with advice, support and discussion about getting academic work published. As the site says, "Don’t underestimate how much of getting published comes down to knowing: A) How publishing works and what’s expected of you as a writer. B) Being professional, adaptable and easy to work with".  She made the excellent point that if the jobs aren't out there, you could pour your energies into getting your book pitched and written.  You also need to work out whether a book, journal articles or a mixture would work best for you (especially, I'd imagine, as publishers are taking on fewer books in this financial environment).  Thinking of academic publishing as part of the incremental progression of your career is useful – you don't need to cram everything into one book.

Specific tips included:

  • make the book what you wish your thesis had been 
  • thinking about the book you wish you'd had available as an undergraduate also helps make your book marketable 
  • collect a list of courses that would put your book on their reading list (and why) 
  • consider the way that your book contributes to the identity of the publishing house and could make it a covetable feature 
  • bear the current financial situation in mind and include as much solid sales evidence as you can 
  • look at how publishing is changing and think about appropriate formats for your work 
  • think about where audiences for your work might be 
  • find out how publishers would like you to pitch and stick to their guidelines 
  • the tone of your pitch should be about why your book is a must-read (not a must-write) 
  • look for series or lists with publishers and tell them how your book would fit in that strand 
  • nail the very short text-only description right from the start 
  • find out if there are grants or awards that could support the publication of your book and let the publisher know 
  • line up a well-known and relevant academic to write a foreword for your book 
  • build and promote an expertise that's tangential and helps bring other people to your work.
The next speaker was Ashgate's Dymphna Evans with lots of useful and realistic advice on 'Publishing your Monograph' (slides).  She started with the importance of choosing the right publisher – find someone who peer reviews, talk to colleagues about their experiences, and find publishers with lists or series in your field. Interestingly, she said it's ok to choose more than one publisher (it will speed up the process, and you'll get more feedback on your proposals), unless of course a publisher contacted you first.

Following the guidelines on a publisher's website is vital – and check your proposal once you've completed it. You can send sample chapters but she doesn't recommend you write the whole thing upfront in this current financial environment. Don't send stuff you feel will need more work – publishers don't have time to deal with it. Be aware of commercial considerations (most publishers require a minimum sale (maybe 300 books) but it doesn't have to be a best seller). Be prepared to re-write your thesis. It helps to have published journal articles based on parts of your thesis if they can be re-written for the book. Ashgate have a guide on 'transforming your thesis into a book' (PDF) on their website, and they also have general Proposal Guidelines for Humanities and Social Science authors.

Tips for your book proposal – choose a good title and prepare a thorough synopsis of each chapter. Be realistic about the deliery date. Think about illustrations (e.g. copyright). Don't undersell yourself as an author. Consider the audience for your book (e.g. in Digital Humanities, don't underestimate the professional audience for your book… draw out the practical applications of your research for professionals.). Ensure the proposal covers everything.

When making decisions, publishers consider factors including whether your book may fit in a series and whether it will meet sales expectations, and your proposal is peer-reviewed.  Peer reviews are subjective, so don't be discouraged if they're negative.  
If you get a publishing contract – read through it, check clauses with publisher if you're not happy or don't understand them. Check delivery date and conditions of delivery. Check which rights you are transferring (don't need copyright, just publication rights). Is an e-book planned?
Read the publishers guidelines before preparing your final manuscript; clear all your copyright permissions and think about illustrations. [Which is useful advice even if you're just writing a book chapter].  The editorial process includes a peer review of the final text (allow 8-10 weeks); marketing; editorial work; then finally the book is published (5-6 months after submitting)!

The final presentation in this session was Julianne Nyhan on 'Book reviewing and the post-graduate' (slides).  Despite the title, she included websites, exhibitions, emerging technologies as well as books in her tips. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews publishes traditional reviews of about 2,500 words, and 'review articles' of about 7,000 words. Review articles are a a synthesis of existing works with the aim of reaching new conclusion or interpretations.

At the simplest level, reviewing books is a way to expand your library. Reviews aren't peer reviewed in the strictest sense (though there is a quality bar), but review articles consistently appear among most cited papers in a given field, and it's a way for post-graduate students to use stuff they can't include in their thesis while getting their name and expertise known out there. It also gives you experience working with editors and publishers.

How to go about publishing book reviews:

  • Identify appropriate journals, establish their scope and mission, and review their reviews. 
  • Write a short email to Book Reviews Editor including: research area; details of previous reviews or publications; books requested/suggested (or types if nothing currently listed). Make a reasonable impression in your cover note. 
  • Agree on a realistic date for submission and keep to it. Iterate with editor about corrections and finally proof copies of work. 

There's lots of information online on the hallmarks of a good review – it's not simply a summary but a contextualisation of research – how does it relate to others in the field? Does it advance knowledge in some way? Discussion of the work in the wider intellectual context is an opportunity for you to make interesting connections and bring your personal viewpoint to the review. Be fair and balanced with well-justified and accurate criticisms/points of approval. Never use a big word where a small word will do; never use two words when one will do. Be careful of jargon – ask a colleague in another field to read.

You should look at journal ranking when identifying journals, but maybe rank is less important than whether the journal is open access (and is therefore likely to have higher impact).

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