I’ve been learning as much as I can about academic book publishing since I graduated in 2018. While most of the committee members had published books, I didn’t get much information about the process as a graduate student. So when I decided that I wanted to transform my dissertation into a book, I sought out more information about the process from a variety of venues including panels of authors, panels of editors, and one-on-one conversations with published authors. I still have much more to learn, but a number of points have repeated across sources in areas where I had lots of questions, so I’m going to share some of what I’ve learned.
When should I start?
Coming off the job market, I was acutely aware that some folks already had book contracts as graduate students. I went into my postdoc year feeling behind on the book until I got more information about the process. From start to finish, the book publishing process takes several years. It doesn’t usually take 6 years though, so you don’t need to walk into a tenure-track job with a contract in hand to have a book that counts towards tenure. That said, it does take more than one year, so you’ll need to get some information and figure out a rough timeline.
First thing to find out is what you need in hand for the book to count for your tenure file. Some universities want a hard copy of the book in the file. Others want reviews published on the book. Others are fine with proofs submitted with the file. Each of these scenarios have different rough timelines. That said, most editors and authors I heard from agree that getting a contract in your third year on a tenure-track position is (usually) sufficient for having book in hand for your tenure file.
Advance contracts are (mostly) no more.
It used to be that it was common to land a book contract with a proposal alone, but that is less and less common. Many presses will ask for a proposal and two sample chapters, but some ask for a proposal and the full manuscript upfront. If the proposal is the only thing requested, an editor may show interest, but still ask for the full manuscript before being willing to move forward.
Every editor I’ve heard speak to this point has mentioned that they are not expecting a full manuscript in their mailbox in a week after a request like this. In fact, some of them specified that this sometimes takes up to a year. So you will have time to work on your manuscript if you’ve only prepared two chapters, but are asked to submit the full manuscript. You may decide though to prepare the full manuscript before you submit the proposal. I know of at least one successful book writer who prefers to write their books fully before submitting a proposal so that they’ve had a chance to fully think through the whole project and all of its pieces before writing the proposal.
Articles based on book data should come first.
Once you’ve published a book, there are copyright issues with republishing content with articles, but the opposite is not a problem. If you plan to publish an article using exact content from any chapter in your book, you should publish it before the book is published.
Editors tend to not like when “too much” has been published that overlaps with the book data. However, what “too much” means will vary by publisher, so ask the editor for a rule of thumb before you get too far into articles based on the book. Most of the editors I’ve heard speak agree that two articles is acceptable, but there may be other presses that have a more stringent or more relaxed rule on this.
Everything is easier for your second book.
The last thing I’ve learned is that publishing your first book is a lot harder than any subsequent books. Once you’ve proven yourself as capable of completing a book, you have a track record that makes the process easier for any future book projects. This is true even if you switch publishers for your second book as you’ve already completed a book from start to finish. Whether a second book is easier to write than the first is a whole other story…