Questions for Academic Publishers (updated)


Oxford University Press philosophy editors Peter Momtchiloff, Peter Ohlin, and Lucy Randall have offered to answer Daily Nous readers’ questions about academic publishing. Here’s how it’ll work. You send in the questions to me at [email protected], or post them in the comment section below, and in a subsequent post during the last week of May, they will post the answers as well as keep an eye on the thread to handle any follow-ups. So what would you like to know? These can be questions on anything related to publishing—no question too small, too big, or too outlandish.

Here’s one question, just to get the ball rolling: what questions should an author be sure to ask prospective editors when trying to decide which publisher to work with?

UPDATE (5/15/15): A reader had asked about the possibility of including other publishers in this Q&A. Good idea. I am happy to report that Andrew Beck and Tony Bruce of Routledge,  Philip Laughlin of MIT Press, and Rob Tempio of Princeton University Press will be joining the aforementioned editors from OUP to provide answers to the submitted questions. I have a few more inquiries out to some other publishers and will keep you posted if there are additions to the list. In the meanwhile, please send in your questions.

UPDATE 2 (5/15/15): Hilary Gaskin of Cambridge University Press will also be taking part, as will Andrew Kenyon of SUNY Press and Stephen Latta of Broadview Press (which focuses largely on textbooks).

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Shieva
Shieva
5 years ago

This is timely! What’s one thing you wish authors would do differently, to make your lives easier?Report

Johnny X
Johnny X
5 years ago

Not to drag things off-topic first post, but…
I quite fancy a job (copy-) editing philosophy books, or academic books more generally. I’m much better at improving other people’s work than writing my own. What’s the route into that kind of work? An is it all freelance, or are there staff positions?Report

Johnny X
Johnny X
5 years ago

Mind, with typos like that, I’m not doing my chances much good. Good thing it’s anonymous.Report

Jeremy
Jeremy
5 years ago

The process of getting ‘book deals’ is completely mysterious to me. Are authors that write OUP philosophy books typically approached first by OUP, or do the authors seek out the deals themselves? If the latter, what sorts of things does one do to persuade the OUP team to accept a book?Report

John
John
5 years ago

What benefit (if any) is there to having someone who is known to the editor write them a note on your behalf before you submit a proposal? How much does the benefit depend on the seniority of this person, or how well she knows the editor, or how much of substance they have to say about you, etc.? In general are there reasons to favor this practice, or reasons to avoid it?Report

ProfX
ProfX
5 years ago

Why did you publish Colin McGinn’s book, The Meaning of Disgust? Did it go through ordinary peer review process?Report

Tom
Tom
5 years ago

Does OUP publish books by adjuncts or underemployed academics?Report

Linda
Linda
5 years ago

A couple of questions:

a) Regarding book series, is it customary to first approach the series editor with an idea/book plan, or should one go through the ‘regular’ editor for the subject area and indicate that one thinks one’s book project is a good fit with the series?

b) Does OUP prefer full manuscripts or is it possible to get a book ‘under contract’ on the basis of a book plan (and, if so, how many sample chapters does a book plan have to include)? Is there a difference between Oxford UP and OUP USA on this point (or any other procedural points)?Report

real_email_fake_name
real_email_fake_name
5 years ago

Tom: it may interest you to know that Eric Olson’s “The Human Animal” (published by OUP in 1997) was written and published when Olson was not permanently employed. It is, appropriately enough, dedicated “To the unemployed philosophers”.Report

anonymous
anonymous
5 years ago

1) Who decides (or what process is used to determine) whether a volume appears under the “Clarendon Press” imprint of OUP?

2) Why there are two editorial offices (NY and Oxford) for the press? It seems that some USA authors work with the Oxford office, and others with the NY office, so the nationality of authors seems irrelevant. Also, it seems that books coming out of the NY office sometimes look a bit different than those of the Oxford office (font, cover art style, etc).

3) Could you give a list of the top five or top ten features that will lead the press to reject a manuscript proposal from a prospective author who is not a “big name” in the field?

4) Why are some OUP books not on Oxford Scholarship Online?

5) It seems that CUP is more generous with “previews” on amazon.com and GoogleBooks than OUP, and many OUP books have no preview at all. Why not be more generous?Report

Plankton
5 years ago

How much do authors typically make on philosophy books? I realize that this might vary dramatically, but what is the range and anything like the typical amounts? Thanks.Report

Tim O'Keefe
5 years ago

What role does projected volume of sales play in publication decisions?Report

ejrd
ejrd
5 years ago

Are you willing to offer statistical information about acceptance rates of manuscripts, average time for peer review, length of time from submission of the proposal to acceptance of the proposal (and to the publication of the book itself)?Report

anonymous
anonymous
5 years ago

For all editors:

1) What percentage of book proposals do you personally solicit from potential authors, and what percentage of book proposals just show up unexpectedly?

2) If we see you at a conference, do you want us to talk with you about our book projects, or do you prefer we just send to you a completed prospectus later?

3) If you have rejected a book proposal from us in the past, will this count against us for a new, unrelated proposal?

4) For accepted book manuscripts, how do you make decisions about materials quality: bond of printed paper, glued vs. Smyth sewn, dustjacket or not, cloth vs. non-cloth hardcover, etc.? I take it authors have no say on these matters, but any clarification would be appreciated.

5) What percentage of a volume can consist of previously published articles (assuming the author is not a big-name star in the field, for whom I assume the percentage approaches 100%) ?Report

anonymous
anonymous
5 years ago

Do you have a target range for length?Report

anonymous
anonymous
5 years ago

What are some qualities of a successful proposal for an accessible philosophy book that aims to reach a wide audience via OUP’s popular publication arm, as opposed to a proposal for a standard research monograph?Report

anon
anon
5 years ago

What strategies do you have in place to prevent prestigious book publishing from becoming an echo-chamber of the famous and privileged and their proteges?Report

Phd Student
Phd Student
5 years ago

I am a ph.d. student who has some expertise in a certain subfield of philosophy and I also have publishing experience. I would like to propose an anthology on the subject to an editor, send out a call for abstracts, and see it published. Where should I begin with a project like this? Is this even possible, given that I’m a student and not a big name?Report

on and on and on and on anon
on and on and on and on anon
5 years ago

A specific aspect of question 15: does your press publish “mini-monographs”, on the model of Palgrave Pivot and Stanford Briefs, or does your press have plans to start doing so?Report

Zac
Zac
5 years ago

Can you give us a sense for what a press likes to see an author do on the path to producing a full manuscript? That is, should an author be working on progressively more detailed prospectuses to send? Or would it make more sense to rough out chapters to try to get a draft of the first 1/3 or 1/2 of the book together? Or something else? In other words, I suppose, is there a more or less standard way a book project evolves?Report

Anonymous assistant prof
Anonymous assistant prof
5 years ago

I’ve recently published a monograph with one of the presses edited by one of the editors mentioned in the original post – it was a good experience, very professional, I’m very pleased with the end product and with how they’ve marketed (Also, after being on sale for 6 months, my royalties have bought me a new iPad – not huge in terms of revenue but better than I expected).
What do I do for my second book project? Supposing I want to go with the same publisher, would they be willing this time to offer me a contract on the basis of a few chapters and proposal? First time around, I had a full manuscript ready. I’m not a famous person in a top department. So to put my question specifically: How do you (all editors) take into account working relationships with authors who have already published with you in your evaluation of new proposals by these authors?Report

T
T
5 years ago

What advice do you have to someone who recently received a book contract draft and is wondering what things might be changed? For instance, are royalty rates things people can get increased? Are there other things the author might request that are not out of question, or are common requests? The same wonder from a different angle: what are three things that an author with a contract in hand might request that would help the author, but not be ridiculous to ask for?
Thanks.Report

AnotherGradstudent
AnotherGradstudent
5 years ago

How does you press justify the unreasonably high prices of your volumes? Does a 60/70 dollars pricetag for a 250 pages volume seem reasonable to you considering the ridiculously small royalties authors receive, as well as the — theoretical — purpose of academic publishing i.e. disseminating the knowledge resulting from one’s research?Report

Anonymous assistant prof
Anonymous assistant prof
5 years ago

Also, out of pure curiosity:
– what is the average number of books an academic monograph (by which I mean, for a specialist audience and no course adoption potential) in philosophy sells?
– how much does it cost on average to produce a monograph?
– in fiction publishing, it is the case that a relatively small % of titles generates the bulk of the revenue. Is this also true for academic publishing?Report

Alo
Alo
5 years ago

1. I am not currently specialized in the field of philosophy, but some other field. Is possible for me to publish philosophical works? Would that undermine credibility?Report

Alo
Alo
5 years ago

Yup. Even though someone like that might have knowledge of the field etc. Whether it is worth to submit even a proposal.Report

MarriedToTheStruggle
MarriedToTheStruggle
5 years ago

Once a book proposal is accepted, how closely is the author expected to hew to the accepted proposal? For instance, if the author wanted to add a chapter, or the book is longer (or shorter) than expected…Report

Anono
Anono
5 years ago

How do you view proposals in which key chapters have already been published as freestanding journal articles?Report

Peter Momtchiloff, OUP
Peter Momtchiloff, OUP
5 years ago

lots of good questions, thanksReport

W2
W2
5 years ago

I’m curious to know what the editors are looking for when they’re publishing a collection of new papers on a single topic or theme. I’m sure it’s a variety of factors, of course, but some idea of what their priorities are would be helpful.Report

Philip Laughlin
5 years ago

My favorite question on this list! (“How can we make your lives easier?) How about keeping your emails short? We live in the Twitter-verse now, so concise is always better. (Write like Wittgenstein, not Hegel!) The most productive authors I’ve worked with don’t waste time writing long-winded emails. They keep their correspondence short and on point and save their words for their manuscripts. When approaching a publisher, you really only need three magic sentences: “I’m professor so-and-so at such-and-such university. I’ve just completed a draft manuscript on topic X. Would you be interested in seeing it?” That’s it. That’s all I need. No CV, no book proposal, no sample chapters, no journal articles, no letters of recommendation from your dissertation adviser. As a matter of fact, don’t send any attachments unless I request them. The likelihood of me responding to such an email is much, much higher than, say, a 5,000 word email on the history of philosophy, and your place in it. (With supporting documentation.) Hope that helps!Report

Annie (today)
Annie (today)
5 years ago

I’d like to know if the other editors agree with Philip Laughlin’s advice, because I was under the impression a proposal was expected, or at least accepted. For example, the OUP website asks for a proposal with this structure: https://global.oup.com/academic/authors/submissions/?cc=us&lang=enReport

Philip Laughlin
5 years ago

Hi Annie, just speaking for myself here. You have to remember that all publishing is local. What’s acceptable to one publisher might not be acceptable to another publisher. Even within the same publisher, editors working in fields as diverse as philosophy, computer science, economics, literary theory, etc. might all have different ways of handling their business. So you should take any generic guidelines you read on a website with a grain of salt. For me, personally, I strongly prefer to deal with potential authors who already have draft manuscripts prepared.Report

Stephen Latta
5 years ago

Hi Annie,
I see what Philip is saying regarding unnecessarily detailed or lengthy emails. And I agree that it’s often best to keep initial correspondence relatively short and direct.
However, as Philip mention in his reply, the preferences and expectations for queries and proposal submissions vary from one publisher to another. At Broadview Press, for example, we suggest that authors submit an initial query to the relevant subject editor (me, in the case of philosophy) in advance of a proposal, to informally check whether a project is a good fit before either the author or the editor invests significant time in the proposal process. We don’t require or expect a complete manuscript in advance, and we often sign projects on the basis of a strong proposal (and in some cases, a sample chapter or two). Our guidelines are provided here: http://www.broadviewpress.com/pages.php?pageid=9Report