Two weeks ago I put up a post soliciting questions for academic publishers. If you submitted a question, thanks. Editors at various presses—Peter Momtchiloff, Peter Ohlin, and Lucy Randall at Oxford University Press, Stephen Latta of Broadview Press, Hilary Gaskin of Cambridge University Press, Philip Laughlin of MIT Press, Rob Tempio of Princeton University Press, Andrew Beck and Tony Bruce of Routledge, and Andrew Kenyon of SUNY Press—very generously took the time to answer a lot of these questions. Let’s give a really big thanks to the editors for doing this! Also, I’d like to thank Joy Mizan of OUP for initiating this project.
I’ve compiled the editors’ answers, below. Feel free to comment on or ask follow-up questions about their answers.
“What’s one thing you wish authors would do differently, to make your lives easier?” – Shieva
Andrew Beck (Routledge): This is a nice first question (are you tossing out the softballs first, Justin?). I’m not entirely sure it’s authors’ or potential authors’ responsibility to make our jobs easier, but since Shieva asked: I guess I would say don’t be shy about talking up and promoting your own work. Philosophers, and academics in general, seem very reluctant to do this, especially when one looks at what goes on in other professions. I recently read Dear Committee Members, a novel made up mostly of letters of recommendation from an English prof, and underlined this: “I understand that Troy has applied for the position of sales associate. This is a foreign concept to me: here in the academy we are unaccustomed to salesmanship of any kind, even to the faintest of efforts to make ourselves presentable or attractive to others.” I guess this is the accepted posture of the scholar. It also should be emphasized that it is first and foremost the publishers’ job to be aggressive in marketing, promoting, selling, and distributing a book. But I think many academics would do their arguments and ideas a favor by pushing their books a bit more. At Routledge, we have several ways of helping with that, whether it’s through book flyers or email banners or making copies available for bookstore events or APA author-meets-critics sessions. At the very least, an author should make sure there’s a link to her book on the various online pages they control. Talking about yourself and your work is no longer garish in 2015.
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): There’s no one thing!
Stephen Latta (Broadview): I don’t know that there’s any one general thing applicable to all or even most authors; when problems arise during the development and production process, they’re often unique and difficult to predict. One issue that comes up from time to time is improper formatting of Word manuscript files – endnotes that are manually entered using superscript numbers, low-resolution pictures awkwardly embedded within the text, etc. These kinds of issues can cause delays and headache for all involved. If, as an author, you have any uncertainty about formatting, I advise asking questions or submitting a sample in advance of the complete manuscript, to ensure the text is in good order.
Philip Laughlin (MIT): My favorite question on this list! 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! [and in response to a follow-up:] 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.
Peter Ohlin (Oxford): This is a broad question, probably answered differently by every editor. I think generally authors and prospective authors might do well to look at projects from the perspective of an editor — to think more about why a project should be published by that press. Who is the core readership? Does it fit well with the publisher’s other volumes? We often get projects that simply don’t fit with OUP and where there was clearly very little thought or research done before approaching a publisher. Showing the editor you have thought about this creates a positive impression. I’ll also take this opportunity to plug an excellent volume on the academic publishing process, called Getting It Published by William Germano, written by an ex-editorial director of Routledge, which is a very helpful and informed overview.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): Deliver their manuscripts on time. That and understand as much as we love all of our children equally sometimes we’re tending to others when you’re ready for attention.
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? – Johnny X
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): Our copy-editors are all freelance, and we have a roster which is flexible in that people are regularly joining it and leaving it. In order to be considered, you would need to contact our production department.
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): At SUNY, copyediting is done on a freelance basis and our production editors have a group of regular copyeditors they work with. One could send a letter and cv to the production manager requesting consideration for freelance work, though I’m not sure how often new copyeditors are needed—and I should acknowledge that this kind of “cold calling” is not typically among the most effective ways to get work.
Stephen Latta (Broadview): In the case of Broadview, it wouldn’t hurt to send a query to the relevant subject editor, describing your academic background and copyediting experience. Normally, we look for professional training or experience as a copyeditor (as opposed to strictly informal experience helping one’s friends and colleagues). And it wouldn’t hurt to send a sample – perhaps an excerpt from a piece that you’ve edited, with tracked changes and comments in the markup (with the permission of the author, of course). All Broadview copyeditors work on a freelance basis.
Peter Ohlin (Oxford): Most if not all professional copyediting is done freelance these days – there are relatively few staff copyediting positions at OUP.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): Nearly all copyediting is freelance these days I think. Very few publishers have on staff copyeditors. Also, when you say you’re good at improving other people’s work, copyeditors do a very limited amount of structural or development editing that alters the prose. Rather they mainly check grammar, consistency of usage, spelling, etc. That said, a good copyeditor can greatly improve how a text reads. The best way to get into is to start building a resume, but offering your services to as many places as you can. At Princeton, we only take on freelancers who have previously worked on academic books or journals.
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? – Jeremy
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): Most of the books I publish arise from the author’s own research agenda: they are ‘research monographs’. So my job involves finding out what book projects authors have planned, and expressing interest where I think they might work well for OUP. The main factor which is likely to make me want to pursue a research monograph is existing interest in the author’s work among her fellow philosophers. To over-simplify: if there is already interest in her research, there is likely to be a readership for a book of her research; if not, not. But other kinds of philosophy book are pro-actively commissioned by publishers, because they know they want a book of a particular kind (maybe to fill a gap in a series) and they need to find someone suitable to write or edit it.
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? – John
Andrew Beck (Routledge): If you’re cashing in chits with a colleague or former advisor in asking for a letter of recommendation, they probably could be better spent elsewhere. The reason is because most commissioning editors know that chits are being cashed in. The book project will be evaluated on its own merits, not by who owes whom a favor. The one exception to this is if you’re an independent scholar or have been out of the academic world for a while and you have what you think is a really good project in a particular sub-discipline of philosophy. Then finding a big name in that sub-discipline to say something effusive or at least nice about your project may cause an editor to look more closely at it than she otherwise would. And that’s because we editors all get a fair amount of proposals from folks who aren’t associated with a university, and many of these might be considered inappropriate or very under-researched. (This happened a lot more when I was the Religious Studies editor at CUP, but it occurs in philosophy too.) If you don’t have an affiliation, that note from someone well known in the field may serve the purpose of saying, “this person is legit – she knows the literature, is up-to-date with the debates, etc.”
Tony Bruce (Routledge): At Routledge we get reviews on almost every book proposal/prospectus, so having an endorsement from a figure, senior or otherwise, doesn’t really make much of difference. It’s not a job application or tenure review and each book is considered in large part on its own merits. Having said that any evidence that the author’s work is solid is always welcome.
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): Very occasionally, I have taken on a book as a result of a tip-off. But it is quite rare, and I wouldn’t say that such recommendations weigh with me particularly.
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): An e-mail of support or introduction from someone else known to the editor may make a difference when the decision of whether to express interest in a manuscript is otherwise a close call.
Stephen Latta (Broadview): As a textbook publisher, our editorial review and decision-making processes are not blind (though our reviewers’ identities are not revealed to authors). To some degree we take into account the credentials and reputation of prospective authors. That is to say, we would be more likely to publish a book on, say, moral psychology from someone with reputable scholarly publications and teaching experience in that area than from someone without that background. If a note of recommendation indicated some level of expertise that wasn’t otherwise apparent (on a CV or in a proposal), then it might be taken into account. On the whole, though, such a note is not likely to have a very significant effect on an editorial decision, one way or another.
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): It wouldn’t hurt – but an unsolicited recommendation of this kind wouldn’t be, for me, a decisive factor in a publishing decision.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): Editors, like everyone faced with decisions in the modern world, look for signals in the wall of noise with which they are confronted. Those signals can often take the form of a recommendation from a trusted advisor or another author or a prominent scholar in the field. Their recommendation need not necessarily be more than an email saying, “I know you’re very busy, but this project is worth a close look.” Of course, those doing the referring shouldn’t be too promiscuous about the practice. I think editors get to know who reliable recommenders are and those who recommend everyone who asks them to do so.
Why did you publish Colin McGinn’s book, The Meaning of Disgust? Did it go through ordinary peer review process? – Profx
Peter Ohlin (Oxford): Yes, it did go through the OUP peer review process. I know it’s not a popular book (or author) among some, but like every book that OUP publishes, it was peer reviewed by qualified reviewers, and then approved by the OUP board – known as the Delegates.
Does OUP publish books by adjuncts or underemployed academics? – Tom
Peter Ohlin (Oxford): We have published books by philosophers who are not in full-time positions though admittedly they are in the minority. Like most editors, we do take an author’s research profile into account when reviewing a project. If not in a fulltime position, having a strong record of publishing articles with top journals might help bolster the submission.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): Not speaking for OUP, but however rare it might be if a topic and/or a manuscript is very good, we would certainly consider it despite the current status of the author. That being said, the reputation, credentials, and name recognition of an author are not insignificant factors in a publishers ability to promote and sell a book, so publication decision do have to factor these things in.
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? – Linda
Andrew Beck (Routledge): Best to write both Series Editor and Press Editor at the same time, so that everyone is on the same page. At Routledge, I only oversee two series with series editors: “Current Controversies in Philosophy” (Series Editor, John Turri) and “Routledge Contemporary Introductions to Philosophy” (Series Editor: Paul Moser). Our Routledge Philosophy Companions and Routledge Handbooks in Philosophy (into which Tony Bruce and one other editor also commission volumes) don’t have Series Editors, so proposals for these two reference series can come straight to Tony and to me.
Tony Bruce (Routledge): Either is fine, though on balance probably quicker and easier for the publisher if you approach the editor at the publishing house first, rather than series editor. It tends to be quicker that way.
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): It is possible to go through a series editor, but my advice would be that you approach both the series editor and the press editor simultaneously.
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): Unsolicited submissions should be directed to the editor at the press and should request particular consideration in that series.
Peter Ohlin (Oxford): I think if you have a series in mind, it’s perfectly fine to approach the series editor directly. The OUP editor would probably consult the series editor anyway. But either way is really fine.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): I think it can work either way. Certainly if you know the series editor at all, probably better to start with them. If you know the press editor, you might start with them. If you know anyone who previously published in the series, you might ask them how it worked since it can vary from series to series with some series editors being more active in seeking things out for their series and with others approving or disapproving suggestions made by the Press.
Does you 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)? – Linda
Peter Ohlin (Oxford): It is best to consult the OUP editor about this question, which can vary from project to project and from author to author. For a first-time author writing a more specialized monograph, we would usually want to see a complete draft, whereas for mid-level and senior figures, a partial manuscript or a proposal with sample chapters might suffice. There aren’t any formal US/UK procedural differences in this regard, but it is best to ask the editor directly what they would like.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): For most books, and definitely for first books, we tend to prefer a full manuscript, but we do often sign up something to an advance contract particularly if we are very keen on a project and want to secure an exclusive commitment to review and publish the final manuscript. The one thing to bear in mind if you are an untenured professor is that an “advance contract,” one that is contingent upon final approval by a peer review process of the final manuscript may mean very little to your tenure and promotion committee. While there are definite advantages to having an advance contract from a publisher, what really matters is that the final manuscript has been accepted for publication.
Who decides (or what process is used to determine) whether a volume appears under the “Clarendon Press” imprint of OUP? – Anonymous
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): ‘Clarendon Press’ was a label used for OUP Oxford’s research-level publishing. But some years ago we decided to discontinue it because we didn’t think it was an effective piece of ‘branding’ – few people understood what it meant and it caused confusion. It is still used for a few special purposes – e.g. scholarly editions of classic texts like the Clarendon Hume.
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). – Anonymous
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): In some subjects a US publishing program is likely to look very different from a UK publishing program. In philosophy there is no strong reason for difference between the programs, as English-language philosophy is generally intended for a global readership. So there are no differences of policy or aims between the two offices, none that I am aware of. We simply do a lot of philosophy publishing, enough to keep several editors busy, and it is good to have editors based on both sides of the ocean. No doubt there are some design tendencies which are more pronounced in one office’s publishing than in the others, though both use quite a wide range of designs.
Peter Ohlin (Oxford): To add on to Peter’s comment, I think there might be subtle differences, in terms of how the books look, and in some areas of editorial focus, but at the same time we also coordinate to present a coherent and unified philosophy list that can appeal globally. As the questioner says, there is no division between us in terms of the national origins of the authors.
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? – Anonymous
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): These answers may sound ingenuous, but here they are anyway:
– badly written proposal
– vague about readership (e.g. ‘it’s an original piece of research, also ideal as a textbook’)
– sounds more like a dissertation than a book
– author’s reputation seems to be mainly in a discipline other than philosophy
– no articles in leading journals
Factors like these might not be enough to lead to rejection, but I think they would count against a proposal.
Why are some OUP books not on Oxford Scholarship Online? – Anonymous
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): We aim to put all works of original research online. But not trade books, scholarly editions, textbooks – we have other online channels for most of these.
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? – Anonymous
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): I hadn’t noticed that this was the case, but I shall certainly look into it now.
OUP Marketing: The majority of our books do have the “Look Inside” function on Amazon. Our older titles might not at the moment, but we are working on this. If you visit the book’s OUP catalog page, we include Google Preview (icon is under the cover image) for the majority of our books. Similar to Amazon, some of our older titles might not have this available at the moment.
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. – Plankton
Andrew Beck (Routledge): Author compensation through royalties does vary dramatically, as you suspected, and, so, there really aren’t any “typical” amounts. The range is very broad.
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): Royalty income is only modest for scholarly books. The primary compensation for specialized, scholarly books is on the level of tenure and promotion rather than income from book sales.
Stephen Latta (Broadview): This number varies so much that it would be misleading for me to specify a “typical” amount. It depends on the price of the book, the volume of sales, whether the book is single-authored or multi-authored, and whether it’s an authored text or an anthology (the latter typically has a lower royalty rate). In some cases, an author might make $1000 or less. In others, tens of thousands.
Peter Ohlin (Oxford): Writing philosophy books for money is probably not a good way to get rich. A few hundred dollars in royalties might get paid for a scholarly monograph – but more might be made for a book published for a popular readership, or an undergraduate textbook.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): I’m reminded of the scholar who once told me he got a million dollars for his first book. He then proceeded to tally how much his projected salary over the course of his career would add up to now that he received tenure because of his first book. A typical book contract specifies a royalty rate ranging from 5% to 10% of the net price of the book (it could be more or less depending on a number of factors). But let’s assume 10%. So if your book is $50 and the publisher sells that book to booksellers at roughly $35, you get $3.50 per book. If you sell 500 copies of that book, you will get $1,750. You can do the math from there and I suspect many authors earn much less than that. And some, such as textbook authors and authors of books which break out to a more general lay readership can make a lot more, but those are relatively rare.
What role does projected volume of sales play in publication decisions? – Tim O’Keefe
Andrew Beck (Routledge): They play a very significant role, but—as Tony says below—we have different expectations for different kinds of books.
Tony Bruce (Routledge): Projected sales are important, but you’re right in that they vary enormously from a specialised research monograph, where we sometimes project sales of as little as two hundred copies up to textbooks where it will be in the thousands. That said projected sales of the print versions are getting harder to predict as ebook sales increase, and are a much less reliable guide to the success of the book than they used to be.
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): Projected sales are an important consideration and I certainly do take them into account. An editor develops a feel for what will sell. Sometimes a project has to be declined, even though its quality is good, because it just doesn’t look marketable.
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): This is probably most pronounced when it comes to considering books containing previously published material. A book we wouldn’t otherwise consider on these grounds might be viable if we expect it will enjoy greater than average sales—either from course adoption potential or based on the prominence of the author.
Stephen Latta (Broadview): Projected volume of sales plays a big role in our publication decisions. Every book we publish involves a substantial investment of both staff time and money (freelance fees, typesetting fees, printing costs, honoraria to external reviewers, marketing expenses, distribution of complimentary examination copies, etc.). To recover these costs or produce a profit, we have to expect that a book will sell a certain number of copies.
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): Research monographs don’t sell in vast numbers, and we are OK with that. Having said that, the fewer people a book reaches, the less has been achieved by publishing it. And the fewer a book sells, the less likely it is to work as a business proposition for us. If I look back at the sales of books I’ve published, and see some that sold poorly, I have to wonder whether OUP’s investment of time and resource would have been better directed elsewhere. But I know that some very specialist works which will only reach a small readership are none the less of great value and importance – I think for instance of scholarly editions of little-studied classic texts.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): University Press publishers are not-for-profit institutions. However, they must nonetheless try to cover the costs of, if not the individual book, then their publishing operation as a whole. Therefore, when deciding whether or not to take a project on they have to project the anticipated sales from the book and whether those make it a viable publication prospect for them. That doesn’t mean a publisher won’t publish a book with relatively low projected sales if it’s an important project, but that may have impact on the price they can charge for it. But even apart from the financial considerations, I think most publishers and editors want to publish books that sell not merely as matter of profit generation or financial viability but as a measure of impact and influence. We are in the dissemination business and projected sales is a good indicator of how widely important scholarship is reaching its intended audience.
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)? – ejrd
Tony Bruce (Routledge): We don’t track submission/acceptance/rejection rates electronically at Routledge books (though we do in Journals). On balance the length of time from the decision to send the proposal out for review to acceptance is about three months. Much depends on how quickly we can find reviewers.
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): From Cambridge’s point of view, I probably take on at most a third of what I’m offered (this is of course separate from projects that I commission specially). The review process usually takes somewhere between two and three months, though it can be less if what is under consideration is a proposal or incomplete typescript. After the project is delivered for publication, production usually takes about nine months, though large-scale contributory volumes can take a bit longer.
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): To evaluate a proposal: generally two weeks to a month, but occasionally longer–especially if a proposal is reviewed by an outside reader. Peer review: three to four months is average, but this can vary widely.To produce a book, our standard production schedule is thirteen months. The rest of the process involves revising and reviewing revisions, and waiting for acceptance to publish from our editorial board. The total process from submission of the manuscript for review to publication runs a year and a half to two years when minimal revisions are necessary; or several years when revisions are more involved and/or a second round of peer review is required.
Stephen Latta (Broadview): I don’t have exact numbers here. I can tell you that our review process typically takes between 2 and 4 months. The timing of our copyediting, typesetting, and production process varies depending on the size and complexity of the text and the occurrence of unforeseen issues (i.e. problems with reprint permissions, printing errors, etc.) but is typically between 6 and 18 months.
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): I don’t have the stats, but I typically ask advisers to read a book manuscript in two-three months. Sometimes they won’t agree to that; or they will agree and then find they need more time. If it got above four months I would probably feel that the process was taking too long. I have to be aware that my advisers have other responsibilities competing for their time. I would normally expect to have finished copies of a single-author book within about eight months of receipt of the final manuscript. Edited volumes tend to take a bit longer.
What percentage of book proposals do you personally solicit from potential authors, and what percentage of book proposals just show up unexpectedly? – Anonymous
Andrew Beck (Routledge): Probably 80% solicited; 20% unsolicited. Textbooks, reference works, supplementary coursebooks, and guidebooks are almost always solicited, and I’ve thought hard about the topics and about who to invite. Scholarly monographs and the very few scholarly trade books I commission tend to be unsolicited.
Tony Bruce (Routledge): At Routledge the percentage of book proposals I personally solicit from authors is very high, probably 90%, but this is because I do more textbooks, handbooks/companions, translations of classic texts, guidebooks and books in series that need to follow certain parameters. They need to be matched with the right authors and editors and the authors need to be willing to accommodate comments from reviewers , from me, and sometimes from our marketing team. When I published more advanced research monographs probably 70% of those would come in unsolicited.
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): I’m not sure, but I would say that the ratio of projects offered and projects specially commissioned might currently be 50/50.
Stephen Latta (Broadview): I couldn’t give you an exact percentage, but the majority of our new projects (those that aren’t new editions or spinoffs) come out of unsolicited proposals.
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): Most of the proposals I pursue come from authors with whom I was in contact before they sent the proposal. In which case a proposal from them will probably not be unexpected. But maybe one in three of the proposals that I pursue were not expected when I received them.
Peter Ohlin (Oxford): This is about the same for me. I do receive unsolicited proposals from authors I don’t know that I end up publishing – but these are in the minority.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): I don’t think I can put a percentage on it that would truly be accurate, but I would say greater than 80% of the projects I take on come from prior contact with the author or knowledge of their work. The arrival of the specific project may be unexpected, but it is unlikely that it would just show up completely unexpectedly. That said, the proposal for one of my favorite and most successful books simply landed in my snail mail inbox one day.
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? – Anonymous
Andrew Beck (Routledge): Yes, absolutely. Come talk to me and please bring your questions. I’m at all the APAs and a few other conferences too. I’ll likely, in turn, have questions for you. That’s how things get started.
Tony Bruce (Routledge): Yes, definitely, an informal chat over a coffee is always welcome! We make lots of appointments to see authors and would-be authors at the APA meetings, where Routledge always have a booth, as well as some of the other smaller meetings like ASA for aesthetics, the PSA or Philosophy of Psychology.
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): I’m happy to hear about a project at a conference, but also to get a proposal as a follow-up.
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): We want to meet you! Conferences are great for making personal introductions and gauging your rapport with a potential editor (and vice versa).
Stephen Latta (Broadview): Yes, absolutely! We travel to philosophy conferences such as the APA with the goal of meeting and talking with prospective authors. We often have quite a bit of downtime at these events, and are normally happy to chat about specific projects or about philosophy and book publishing more generally.
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): Sure, conferences are for talking – though the real business is likely to be done by email.
Peter Ohlin (Oxford): Same here – in general I prefer being contacted by email, being busy (like most editors) at conferences, but happy to chat at a conference too.
Lucy Randall (Oxford): I agree, and I’d add that, because conferences can be so busy, I’m grateful when people write ahead of time if they want to meet and discuss their work. This is especially helpful when I have a chance to look at even just a sketch of a proposal or your CV before we meet.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): Good question. I think editors don’t mind being introduced to you and hearing a bit about your project but I think it’s a mistake to think this is your one and only chance to tell an editor about your brilliant ideas and I better corner them now and tell them what each chapter covers in detail in 3 minutes of less. It’s best to let the editor lead: introduce yourself and let them ask a follow-up question or ask them if they are interested in books on X. If they ask more information, great. If not, understand that they probably had 12 meetings already that day and ask them if you could send a proposal to them.
If you have rejected a book proposal from us in the past, will this count against us for a new, unrelated proposal? – Anonymous
Tony Bruce (Routledge): No. It would depend very much on what sort of book you are proposing next time round e.g. textbook, supplemental text, handbook.
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): If I’ve declined a project, that doesn’t necessarily count against a future project, unless I had formed the impression that the author wasn’t very good; but I do try to assess each proposal on its own merits.
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): No—not the fact of a previous rejection.
Stephen Latta (Broadview): Not normally, unless our earlier rejection was due to concerns about the general quality of the scholarship and writing.
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): No
Peter Ohlin (Oxford): Nor for me, I would look at each project with fresh eyes.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): No. Just because one project doesn’t fit, doesn’t mean the next one won’t either.
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. – Anonymous
Andrew Beck (Routledge): Those decisions are pretty standardized at Routledge, depending on the type of book it is (scholarly monograph, textbook, Handbook, etc). I must say that I repeatedly hear comments about how attractive our books are, and especially our book covers, are. The cover designer I’m working with currently is the best, without question.
Tony Bruce (Routledge): Paper decisions are made by our in-house production team and they depend in part on what sort of book it is (again, textbook, research monograph, guidebook), also what is the optimal trade-off between paper quality and price. If a textbook includes illustrations certain paper thickness is required. We generally share cover designs with the authors but ultimately the Publisher decides what they think will work best for the market, and how much we can afford. It can easily costs $400 or $500 for a photo or piece of artwork on the cover, before colour printing costs are included.
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): At Cambridge, I’m afraid authors have no say in the manufacturing process for the book.
Stephen Latta (Broadview): Indeed, for the most part these decisions are made in-house by our production staff. At Broadview, most of our books have similar production qualities (paperback, post-consumer recycled paper, with standard trim sizes determined primarily by manuscript length), so there’s not actually very much decision-making required for individual books.
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): I have colleagues who are expert in these things and have well-tested policies for them. But we will always listen to authors’ preferences about how their book is produced, and see if we can accommodate them.
Peter Ohlin (Oxford): OUP is a large organization that has agreements with various printers and suppliers. There are cost and availability considerations for those decisions, which as Peter M says are handled by dedicated production personnel in the press. But it never hurts to ask.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): For materials, these are decision made by production and manufacturing, the editor, let alone the author, rarely has a say in these matters. Whether the book is in cloth or paper depends on who the Press sees as the market for the book.
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%)? – Anonymous
Tony Bruce (Routledge): I generally discourage publishing previously published articles/papers, as quite often said articles are available electronically via JSTOR and libraries don’t want to pay twice for the same material. That said, in cases when the articles/papers were published in many different formats (journals, books, lectures, reviews) and locations, or are not available electronically, it can be a good opportunity to draw otherwise hard to get hold of material in one place. That was the case with Routledge’s publication of Gilbert Ryle’s Collected Papers and our ongoing publishing of Russell’s Collected Papers – some of which have not yet been published. So, being pretty well known will definitely help, and being very famous will help a great deal!
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): The percentage of previously published work which is acceptable can vary, but for a young author I think I would not want to see more than about 30% to 40% of the volume having been previously published.
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): Previously published material is best kept under 20% but may creep up to around 30% if the quality is particularly high or the book is especially important/effective as a whole. Since journal articles are already so easy to access electronically, the decision to produce a book in which material is substantially accessible in this form has a higher bar to clear.
Stephen Latta (Broadview): This varies depending on a number of details, and it would be best to simply ask the editor; we wouldn’t normally publish a book consisting primarily in an author’s own previously-published articles.
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): I don’t have a strict rule about this, partly because I think it’s not just a question of quantity. What really matters is that people who are acquainted with the author’s articles will feel that the book offers them significantly more than they can get from the articles (for these people are the primary readership for the book). So I think it’s generally important that the key ideas and arguments of the book should not be out there already. If we are going to talk quantitatively, I guess I would say this: if an author wanted to play safe, she might aim to ensure that no more than one-third of her manuscript was previously published. Having said that, some books are genuinely more than the sum of their parts.
Peter Ohlin (Oxford): As Peter M says, there aren’t strict rules about this, but it’s worth keeping in mind that libraries are the primary customer for academic monographs. They don’t generally like to spend their limited budgets on content that they already have access to via their journal subscriptions. So I think it’s worth careful consideration whether value is really being added by reprinting previously published work. This is even more the case as publishing scholarly work moves inexorably toward online away from print.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): See my answer to Anono’s question, below.
Do you have a target range for length? – Anonymous
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): Yes, we are most comfortable with projects between 85,000 and 115,000 words all-in.
Lucy Randall (Oxford): Most authors find that their manuscripts come to about 80,000 to 120,000 words (about 200-300 printed pages), which works well for us. Books that are significantly shorter or longer than that are more difficult to publish.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): I have no hard and fast rules about this, but I think books in general should probably be a minimum of 30,000 words, if not 40,000 (On Bullshit notwithstanding) and should ideally stay south of 150,000 words, if not 120,000 words, or even better 100,000 words. Of course this depends on a number of factors including the topic, scope, whether your name is Derek Parfit, etc. But do bear in mind, the more words, the more expenses a publisher incurs including copyediting costs, printing costs, etc. These are all factors which can effect the price of the book. Also, do think of length in terms of words, not pages. Word processing programs make this extremely easy to do and it’s what publishers work with when calculating eventual book length. I’m still surprised by the number of scholars who can’t tell me the word count of their manuscripts. And lastly, when a publishers asks for the length in words, they mean everything including the footnotes and bibliography. Those go in the book too!
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? – Anonymous
Lucy Randall (Oxford): This is a good question. To pitch this type of book successfully, I think the author should pay attention to the use of specialized language and jargon in the proposal, aiming to keep it to a minimum. He or she should try to demonstrate a knack for clear and engaging writing, and have a good sense of what is interesting and relevant to a lay readership. Also we can tell a lot from the comparisons an author draws in a book proposal; it helps if you compare your book to a close analogue in terms of audience and author platform rather reaching too far. This connects to Peter O.’s point earlier about doing research before contacting the publisher. It behooves the author to check out what other books exist on the given topic, how books on your topic tend to perform (as best you can), and think hard about what will make your book stand out or resemble specific books. We ask for this kind of assessment of competition and audience in book proposals, but I think it’s a good exercise for authors to undertake even while conceiving of an idea for a general-audience book.
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? – Anon
Andrew Beck (Routledge): A rigorous peer review process. But if you’re suggesting that academic philosophy itself is becoming “an echo chamber of the famous and privileged” then, no, I’m not going to pretend that we have special measures in place to police or reform the directions of the profession.
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): I actually think that a rigorous peer review process, such as we have at Cambridge, is a pretty effective means of preventing what you describe. If an author is considered to deserve their fame then I’m glad to publish them, but I always ask readers to be completely frank with me, no matter who the author is; that is one of the advantages of an anonymous review process. And as for protegés, they don’t get through the door any more than anyone else, since I don’t go much on special recommendations.
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): I wonder whether you think the philosophy profession is an echo-chamber of this kind? If so, then academic philosophy publishing is likely to follow suit. However, I do try to draw on a very wide pool of advisers—from about at least 300 different institutions around the world each year. And of course I try to choose advisers who are not too cosy with the authors on whose work they are advising (nor hostile to them).
Rob Tempio (Princeton): What strategies does the academy have in place? This also assumes that editors only publish what your so-called “famous and privileged” tell them to publish and I just don’t think that’s the case. Even if so, it’s not necessarily the job of the publisher to do anything other than reflect the state-of-the-art of the field as well emerging areas of interest which may be altering the state-of-the-art. That being said, I think there is much more individual choice in publishing decision then the premise of your question allows for. I believe deeply in the importance, power, and appeal of philosophy and whatever I think can further those ends I’m interested in no matter the source, purported prestige of the author or institution.
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? – PhD Student
Andrew Beck (Routledge): Good question. I’d start by coming directly to me with the idea. I can tell you whether I think it would work on the Routledge list or not and, if it would, likely will have further suggestions about shaping the project and the next steps in the process. In short, if you have a good idea for a book, don’t let being a Phd student prevent you from approaching a publisher. For one thing, you won’t be a student forever, and I’m in this game for the long term.
Tony Bruce (Routledge): Best to start by writing up a proper book proposal and contacting the relevant book editor. Almost all of us editors will have guidelines on how to submit book proposals. From my point of view being a grad student is less important than the strength of the topic of the anthology and the contributors you’re going to muster. In fact grad students, in my experience, are quite often closer to what’s hot and emerging than the really senior folks, because they’re organising conferences and the like, so I’m always interested in what they’re thinking and writing about.
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): This is definitely possible, though there’s something of a cart/horse hurdle. You’ll want to have a critical mass of contributors on board before you will interest a publisher; and on the other hand, many contributors will want the publisher’s interest before committing to the project. It does help to have a more senior scholar on board to call in favors in this respect—even if this is behind the scenes rather as a co-editor.
Stephen Latta (Broadview): With an anthology, especially one involving the solicitation of pieces from other authors, I would recommend first querying a potential publisher. Anthologies are often more costly and time-consuming than one might expect, and I’d advise against putting a great deal of work into one (or asking others to submit abstracts for new articles) without a publishing agreement in hand. It’s not impossible for a student to get a book contract, and we’ve published a number of critically and commercially successful books with authors who were completing PhDs at the time their contracts were issued. But it can be more difficult to get a book contract at that stage. And, of course, an author in that situation should think carefully about whether he or she wishes to balance the demands of a book-in-progress with the requirements of a PhD and the tenure-seeking that typically follows.
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): The two most important factors, for me, in considering an anthology of new essays, are the subject and the contributors. If you have a plan, but don’t have contributors lined up, I wouldn’t be able to say anything definite about Oxford’s interest. If you have a subject plus a list of contributors who have agreed to participate, I could say something about the likelihood of Oxford’s interest. In order to think about offering a provisional publishing commitment, I would need to see a proposal which included abstracts of the essays lined up for inclusion. But even then I might not be able to offer a publishing commitment without seeing a complete manuscript.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): If I were your advisor, I’d urge you to focus on finishing your PhD and get a tenure track position before taking this on. But if you must, I’d get as many firm commitments from contributors as you can. You might even consider taking on a more senior co-editor with a publishing track record. But finish the PhD first.
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? – On and On and On and On anon
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): I haven’t seen those particular mini-monographs, but I like short books – so long as they are really books, and not bloated articles.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): Many people think of us as the original mini-monograph publisher with the publication of Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit. And I often get this query because of that. In addition, Frankfurt continues to edit for us a series entitled Princeton Monographs in Philosophy which were intended to be short books that were too long for a journal article and previously thought too short for a book. Those range from 30K to 60K words. But the Palgrave Pivots are meant to be quite short and the Stanford Briefs are digital only I believe. We briefly had a program of digital only shorts called, you guessed it, Princeton Shorts. These were excerpts from well-established and successful PUP books. One of the main downsides of these digital only, very short books is that you have to sell quite a lot of them at prices ranging from $1.99 to $4.99 to make them financially viable. Perhaps the best model of short books in the English-speaking world is OUP’s Very Short Introductions. I’m sure it varies from book to book, but it’s a stupendous series overall.
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? – Zac
Andrew Beck (Routledge): It depends on the type of book you’re proposing. Generally speaking, I like to have chapter-batch reviews of most textbooks as well as probably one or two manuscript reviews. The reviews aren’t meant to be fiats to be followed slavishly by the author, but they do give me and the author a sense if the book is on the right track. Also, with some exceptions, the larger the potential market for a textbook, the more reviews I tend to commission. Scholarly monographs and other narrower publications are less sensitive to the directions and tastes of the market, and indeed often should ignore them, and so chapter-batch reviews usually are unnecessary for these types of publications.
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): Speaking for myself, I would not encourage the production of more and more detailed prospectuses. If I think the project sounds interesting and marketable, then I want to see material — and the younger and more junior the author, the more I would want to see.
Stephen Latta (Broadview): The development of book project varies from case to case. At Broadview, none of these situations is uncommon, and all are acceptable:
- An author has an idea for a book, and contacts me with a brief email query or a conversation at a conference. If it seems like a good idea, I’ll encourage the submission of a complete proposal and possibly a sample chapter. We’ll then have the proposal and sample externally reviewed, and if the project is approved by our editorial board we’ll offer a contract. The author will work on the manuscript independently, consulting with me as needed, and in some cases receiving further external feedback either during or after the completion of a draft manuscript. Then the text is moved on to copyediting, typesetting, and production.
- I contact an individual, asking if they’d be interested in authoring a book on a particular subject. If they say yes, we’ll go back and forth until a proposal has been hammered out, which will then be reviewed by our editorial board (typically with a higher chance of approval, given that the project was solicited). Then we’ll proceed with the rest of the process described in (1) above.
- An author has completed a manuscript, perhaps as a draft textbook that he or she has developed while teaching, and contacts me to ask about publication. We’ll review the manuscript, and if approved we’ll offer a contract. If revisions are suggested by our reviewers or our editorial board, the author will have some time to produce a final draft; otherwise, we’ll immediately move the manuscript on to copyediting.
Those aren’t the only possible scenarios, but most of our philosophy books develop in one of the above ways.
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): One could approach potential publishers as early as a having an easy-to-articulate thesis and a proposed table of contents for a potential book; or as late as having a complete manuscript ready. I might ask for a sample chapter or two if the proposal does not include these, but otherwise I would not ask to see in-progress work beyond what would be helpful in considering whether or not to express interest in a proposal. I would wait for the complete manuscript.
Peter Ohlin (Oxford): I think this really varies from author to author and how they like to work, and is less about what the press might prefer. I don’t think re-working the prospectus is necessary, but I do think it’s a good idea to get as much feedback as you can, either from colleagues or by publishing portions of the work as articles.
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? – Anonymous Assistant Prof
Andrew Beck (Routledge): Having a working relationship with a commissioning editor will certainly work in your favor. If I’ve worked with you and enjoyed working with you and your book was well received, I’m definitely going to want to work with you again. But I also try hard to read a proposal and the outside evaluations of it as objectively as possible.
Tony Bruce (Routledge): An iPad on royalties after six months is pretty good going! If we’ve published you before and the book sold well it most definitely helps your chances second time round. But again at Routledge a key driver is whether it’s a textbook, reader, handbook or research monograph, and even more important a good set of reviews on the proposal.
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): Working relationships with authors definitely have some importance, and if a first book has done well, I would be willing to look at correspondingly less sample material for a second project — perhaps 30% of the projected eventual whole.
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): When looking at proposals and everything else is equal, it’s absolutely a positive thing to have worked with an author in the past. It’s helpful for both author and editor to have been through the process together once before; and such a past working relationship could indeed be decisive in the decision to offer an advance contract for a manuscript still in progress.
Stephen Latta (Broadview): As mentioned earlier, our review and decision-making process isn’t blind, and so we do take into account the credentials and background of authors when making publication decisions. If we’ve worked with an author before and their previous project(s) went well, then we may be less cautious than we would with a new author. That said, at Broadview we very often offer contracts on the basis of proposals and sample chapters, without a complete manuscript, even to authors we’ve not worked with before.
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): In such a situation I would be glad to receive a proposal and a few draft chapters, and it is quite likely that I would see if I could offer a contract on that basis. The fact of an existing publishing relationship wouldn’t really weigh in the publishing decision for the new book: but the author’s success in bringing previous projects to successful publication would certainly be a factor in his favour.
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. – T
Stephen Latta (Broadview): That’s an interesting question, and not easily answered. Often, we’re able to accommodate authors’ concerns about particular contract wordings or details, either by clarifying ambiguities or by revising as requested. But of course, we can’t accommodate all requests. In some cases, when authors have offered particularly insightful comments or reasonable suggestions/requests, we’ve even permanently adjusted our standard contract terms in response.
One common request that can usually be accommodated is adjustment to the submission deadline; if, upon receiving a draft contract, the proposed timeline seems like it would cause undue stress or would not be possible, we’re usually quite flexible. When it comes to royalties, however, there’s usually little room for flexibility; our editorial board assesses projects on the basis of a standard royalty rate, and adjustments to that rate can have a significant effect on a book’s viability.
Lucy Randall (Oxford): Your editor wants you to be happy and satisfied with your contract so it can’t hurt to ask about anything that you don’t understand or you would like to try to negotiate. That being said, even if your editor wishes he or she could accommodate your requests, sometimes company policies and rules get in the way, so we all have to move forward once we’ve given our best shot. Sometimes a case can be made for increasing royalty rates, but it depends a lot on the project at hand, as book budgets are delicate, especially for scholarly monographs for which the sales expectations are modest to low. It’s not unusual for authors to ask for clarification about the handling of the index, or to ask for more information about reuse of their work at the contract stage. Sometimes, following these conversations, it will make sense for the editor to add a clarifying statement to the contract as an amendment, or to adjust the terms of the contract otherwise. There’s nothing I can think of that would be unthinkable to ask your editor about the contract, so you should feel empowered to discuss what’s on your mind. It’s a lot easier for the editor if you raise your concerns at this stage rather than later on in the process, and you obviously don’t want to sign a document that you’re not comfortable with or that you don’t understand.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): I think royalty rates are something you could certainly ask about. If the contract doesn’t already stipulate this, you might for instance ask for the royalties to be increased beyond certain thresholds, say after 5,000 copies sold [I deliberately put in a high number here because a publisher might be willing to share a greater royalty if the book performs much better than anticipated]. But don’t be surprised if the publisher can’t change much in the contract particularly for a monograph. But the main things for your to be focused on I think are the delivery date and the length. It pays to be as realistic as you can on both of these. One thing authors often ask about is having the copyright registered in their name. I recommend against this. It really makes no difference since the entire contract is a grant of rights to the publisher. Putting the copyright in your name just confuses the matter. People interested in obtaining rights to a portion of the work, say for anthologizing, will come to you instead of your publisher which they will need to do even if the copyright is in your name. Other things authors ask about are whether the price can be specified in the contract and whether we can guarantee a paperback if the book is being published first in hardback. On the former, the answer is almost always no since a number of factors can impact the price and this is not something publishers can contractually maintain. On the latter, some publishers will agree to this, but many will not and will decide on a paperback on the basis of sales and reception of the hardcover.
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? – AnotherGradStudent
Andrew Beck (Routledge): High-priced hardbacks are meant almost exclusively for the library market. If we’re publishing it as expensive hardback, it means we’ve taken a gimlet-eyed view of the full market and don’t think we could make the book financially viable with a more aggressive publishing strategy, e.g. lower-priced hardback or simultaneous HB and PB release. Every publisher has lots of examples of where they published a book more aggressively, say in a simultaneous HB-PB release, and lost money on the book, but also know they would have made money if they had published it first as an expensive hardback and waited to release the paperback. This is because most libraries understandably will purchase the least expensive option available.
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): The monograph is a threatened species and if we’re to keep publishing them at all, we have to be able to make some money on them. We would also say that we have editorial and production input into a monograph which is what we as publishers contribute to it, and which helps to make it more worth reading than if you simply posted it online, which of course you could do for free.
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): Hardcover, scholarly books are intended primarily for the institutional market rather than for sale to individuals. At SUNY Press we release scholarly books in hardcover only at first (and as e-books for sale at the hardcover price). The high price of these editions is necessary for us to recover our costs, as institutional sales have decreased. More of library budgets are devoted to electronic resources; and it is common for many libraries to “share” a single copy of a book using interlibrary loan. At an appropriate time, we release a paperback edition intended for sale to individuals and at this point the e-book will take the paperback price. We believe this strikes the right balance between earning back our operating costs and making our books available. It takes time in any case for individual purchases of a book to pick up—after word about a book has gotten out, reviews have appeared, and professors have been able to consider new titles for courses.
Peter Ohlin (Oxford:) OUP takes its mission of disseminating scholarship seriously. I think you’ll find that the prices that Oxford charges for print monographs are moderate compared to other presses. Two economic factors here – first, there are significant costs involved in bringing a book on a specialized topic (with modest sales expectations, sometimes just a few hundred copies) to market – production costs like copyediting and typesetting, and manufacturing costs such as paper, printing, and binding. Second, academic libraries are the biggest paying customer for academic research, and the pricing for certain books often reflects that market. That said, we do work hard to price in such a way as to maximize the readership, and if we feel that setting a lower price can bring in more sales and more readers, we will do so.
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? – Anonymous Assistant Prof
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): The sales of philosophy monographs vary greatly, but most of them remain in three figures rather than four, and very few would reach five figures.
How much does it cost on average to produce a monograph? – Anonymous Assistant Prof
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): Without giving a specific answer I would say that the numbers on a typical production editor’s P&L, documenting production costs (paper, printing, binding, copyediting, and typesetting), would give only a partial answer to this question. Other costs include the editorial process, including peer review; marketing (including soliciting reviews/sending review copies; conference attendance, with recent books displayed); sales (including maintaining e-books and metadata in a variety of formats); and other back-office work like handling royalties, and permissions, reprint, and translation requests. And implicit in all these expenses are our fixed costs of staffing and office space.
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): Direct costs (i.e. what OUP pays to copy-editors, typesetters, proofreaders, printers, etc.) are a few thousand pounds; indirect costs are harder to estimate, because it’s not really determinate how much of the costs of running a publishing business should be accounted for against any particular book.
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? – Anonymous Assistant Prof
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): fproNot at all. Given continued sales of books published in past years, our top ten best-selling books in a particular period bring in roughly five percent of our revenue.
Peter Momtchiloff (Oxford): Some books sell much more than others, but I don’t make any publishing decisions on the basis that one part of the publishing program can make up for the financial deficiencies of another. I don’t think cross-subsidizing of that kind is a good way to run a business. Every book I publish is considered in its own right, both as a business proposition and as an intellectual contribution.
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? [Clarification from Justin: Alo, are you asking whether the publishers would be reluctant to publish philosophical works by a non-philosopher (works, we’ll assume, that meet the appropriate quality threshold) simply because they were written by a non-philosopher?] – Alo
Andrew Beck (Routledge): My guess is that the number of people who have done the requisite reading and training to work at the research level in philosophy without having been formally trained in a philosophy graduate program is pretty small. That said, such people do of course exist and have the challenge of being taken seriously by everyone in the profession, not just publishers. I’ll refer you back to my answer to “John”, above: when you’re working with publishers, have someone who’s well known in the subfield in which you’re working read your work and write a fairly detailed, affirming statement about it.
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): The less one’s cv demonstrates participation in the areas in which the proposed book project is intervening, the less likely we would be to express interest in the project. When making such a submission, one would want to make a strong case in the cover letter as to why the author is capable/qualified. That said, I’m often asked whether one should bother submitting a proposal for a particular project, and my answer is almost always, “send it!”—even if my initial inclination is negative. A well-prepared proposal can address many of the concerns that would incline an editor toward rejecting a project articulated only in general terms.
Peter Ohlin (Oxford): I don’t think any of us are against this in principle, but in practice I think it is difficult for a non-philosopher to make a contribution to the scholarly literature in the same way as a professional philosopher, who is familiar with the relevant literature, is a part of the relevant debates, and has a reputation in the field.
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… – Married ToTheStruggle
Tony Bruce (Routledge): When we send proposals out for review at Routledge the comments we get back from the reviewers generally lead to some revision of the original proposal. Quite often it will be the addition of a chapter covering some topic that didn’t feature in the original proposal, or moving the ordering of the chapters around a bit, or adding some features that a requisite part of the series (if the author is proposing it for inclusion of a series) e.g. chapter summaries or study questions. But generally speaking if the proposal reviewed well the author should stick to it. As always, if in doubt ask your editor.
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): If an author departs from the original proposal in certain ways and they are in themselves reasonable, then this can be negotiated, and a clearance reader might also have some input into that. However I wouldn’t be very sympathetic to a substantial increase in length!
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): It’s fine, and often even a positive thing for a book project to evolve from the proposal stage to the completed manuscript. You should consult your editor if you find the total length varying excessively from the proposal estimate, or if the focus of the project changes in substantial ways. Otherwise, don’t worry too much about coloring inside the lines you sketched out in the proposal.
Stephen Latta (Broadview): If, after submitting a proposal and signing a contract, an author thinks that significant changes are warranted, they should consult the publisher to ensure that those changes are acceptable. This is particularly important with adjustments to manuscript length, which can change the economics of a book quite a bit (and may violate the terms of a contract). Smaller changes, such as adjustments to the content of a particular chapter, don’t normally require consultation with the publisher.
Peter Ohlin (Oxford): I think it is fine to make changes as the project evolves, but the author should be checking with the editor if these are significant differences with the proposal.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): Reasonably close. Certainly the book should be on the same topic. But seriously, editors know ideas change, often for the better, about how a book should be structured or certain nuances or moves in the argument. As long as the book is basically the same idea the publisher signed on to, the structure and format can change within reason.
How do you view proposals in which key chapters have already been published as freestanding journal articles? – Anono
Peter Ohlin (Oxford): This is fine – and in most cases it is a plus. That said, most of the time we would not want the book to be a collection of published articles.
Rob Tempio (Princeton): Ideally there should be less than 50% of he book previously published. I also want to know that what has been previously published is more than just plopped into the manuscript, but has likely been altered and integrated with the other chapters so that the whole is more than just the sum of its parts.
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. – W2
Hilary Gaskin (Cambridge): You’re right — it is a variety of factors. But several can be highlighted: a strong topic, good cohesiveness around that topic, and a contributor line-up with a reasonable geographical and gender mix and a sprinkling of big names.
Andrew Kenyon (SUNY): This is best when the topic is one that is only beginning to be explored by philosophers, and the terrain is being worked out before definitive monographs have been published that solidify the general contours of the area or approach. Otherwise, the whole should be greater than the sum of its parts; and course adoption potential helps.
What questions should an author be sure to ask prospective editors when trying to decide which publisher to work with? – Justin
Lucy Randall (Oxford): A lot of times, prospective authors find it helpful to ask us what we look for in a book proposal and how much material should be submitted for review. Authors are wise to ask how the peer review process works at the press in question, and how long it usually takes. I think, in preliminary conversations, authors should be forthcoming about what they’d ideally get from an editor and a press, for example if they want someone to help them with their writing or if they are especially interested in marketing or social media, so that the editor can advise them on whether it’s likely to be a good fit based on the author’s criteria.
Thanks for answering these questions, editors!