What’s the process for publishing a (SoTL) book?
by Jessie L. Moore
The Center for Engaged Learning produces two book series on engaged learning and teaching – one in partnership with Stylus Publishing and one that’s open access and supports books that experiment with genre or medium in ways that take advantage of an online format. As we’ve worked with authors and editors in both book series, we’ve identified frequently asked questions about publishing books. This post offers a general overview of the process and kicks off a series of posts addressing these questions. While we focus on scholarship of teaching and learning and engaged learning topics, the information we’ll share may be relevant to other book projects.
I have an idea for a book… What’s my first step?
- the book concept,
- its potential contribution to practice and literature,
- its appropriateness for the series,
- an indication of the anticipated format (e.g., authored book or edited collection, estimated number of chapters, and organizational structure),
- brief information about your relevant qualifications as an author/editor, and
- a preliminary plan to promote the book at conferences, etc.
Based on that proposal, we might:
- invite a full proposal,
- ask for brief elaboration on a point in the proposal before we make a decision,
- redirect you to another series or publisher if we think the idea has merit but doesn’t match the goals of the series,
- invite you to revise and resubmit your brief proposal, or
- share constructive feedback about why we aren’t inviting a full proposal.
What tips would you offer for writing the full proposal?
We have specific guidelines for each series, which we’ll share if we invite a full proposal.
Tip 1: Read the guidelines carefully.
We ask for information that will guide our deliberations (and our discussions with Stylus, if applicable) and help us decide whether we can commit to working with you on your book. As Jonathan Karp has noted, “each new acquisition marks the beginning of a relationship, one in which [the editor] will be reading an author’s work closely and engaging in what is usually an extensive conversation and collaboration” (32). The required components of the full proposal help us determine if producing your book is a reasonable investment of our Center resources. Yet your full proposal also contributes to our consideration of how we collectively can collaborate over an extended period to share your work with a higher education audience interested in research-informed engaged learning practices. For our series, that collaboration doesn’t end when the book is published since we also host supplemental open-access resources that could evolve as readers interact with your text.
Tip 2: Describe your specific, intended audience in relation to the series mission.
Who should read your book, and why? Why is the series an appropriate way to reach that audience, and what promotional activities will you pursue to help connect with your intended readers? The challenge is to balance focusing on a specific audience with reaching a broad-enough market to merit production costs (even – or perhaps especially – for an open access book). Gregory M. Britton cautions:
“What we mean by ‘publishing’ in this context is selecting, shaping, vetting, and producing books and then connecting them with their readers – mostly other scholars who need them – in a way that is responsible and sustainable… As important as this work may be, it rarely reaches an audience big enough to support its publication in a purely economic sense… [Yet] even nonprofit publishers need to make enough money to sustain their activity.” (40-41)
For both series, we need to see that you understand your readers well enough to connect with them through your writing and to promote your work at conferences, via professional networks, and on social media.
Tip 3: Research your competition.
When we ask you about the need for the book and how the book fills a gap in the literature, with attention to its competition, we aren’t simply asking for a literature review. Yes, we want to know how your work fits within broader scholarly conversations. As Britton writes:
“A scholarly book may be unique, but it exists within a larger context of other books in its field. These books are in conversation with others, they advance arguments, they test ideas and may overturn them, they bring different perspectives on previously accepted wisdom. Scholarly books exist in dialogue with other scholarly books.” (42)
Yet the economic reality for many readers is that they (or their institutions) also are selecting from among the books in this conversation when they decide how to spend their limited book budgets. Therefore, your proposal needs to demonstrate your awareness of this competition and establish why your intended audience will invest in your book (perhaps over others).
How should I interpret a request to revise and resubmit my full proposal?
If we’ve asked you to revise and resubmit, we’re genuinely interested in your proposal. We want to support the successful development of your book – and that begins with a solid proposal. If you are submitting to the Stylus Series, we might be anticipating questions from Stylus’s editorial review board and want to increase the chances that your proposal will be successful at that next stage of review. For both series, your revisions might help us collectively to better understand your intended audience (and how to get your work in front of them), your anticipated organization, and the ways that supplemental open-access resources could both enhance reader experiences with your book and support marketing efforts.
Are books in both series peer-reviewed?
Yes, the series editors and friends of the series complete peer reviews at multiple stages. Both series editors offer extended feedback on the first complete book manuscript and also may send the manuscript to an external reviewer. When you submit a revised manuscript, the lead editor for your project may decide to share sections or the entire manuscript with reviewers again.
As Peter Ginna writes, “The peer review process [is] not just a quality check but a valuable form of market research” (24). Reviewers help us continue to address the questions, “Who will read this book?” and “How might the author reach a wider audience of people who should read it?”
Ultimately, though, the goal of peer review is to help you produce a better book that will be widely read and referenced. Britton reminds us that:
“Editors… use peer review to do two things. First, the review helps determine whether the book deserves the press’s imprint – basically, that it is worth publishing… The best peer reviews [also] do something else. They suggest improvements to the work, they offer constructive criticism of the author’s argument, and they point out any errors or gaps in the work. They may also alert authors to other sources that could help refine the book’s argument. This prepublication review is invaluable. Occasionally authors will bristle at the suggestions or react with embarrassment to the criticism. To this I respond that it is better to be criticized privately than after publication in the pages of the key journal in the author’s field. The purpose of the review, ultimately, is to give the editor and the press confidence that this book will make a meaningful contribution to scholarship.” (46)
How long does the whole process take?
We typically ask authors to submit a complete manuscript within 6 months of signing a contract, though the timeline might vary depending on the series and the status of the project. Reviews and revision may take another 6 months – or longer, if we request additional revisions.
Once we accept a manuscript, it still must move through production. Nancy S. Miller notes that “A comfortable production schedule for a book from finished manuscript to publication can be as little as nine months, but the sales and marketing schedule typically exceeds a year” (67, emphasis added).
We’ll detail the copy-editing, page-setting, and other production processes in future posts. For planning purposes, authors need to know that these stages still require input from you – sometimes with quick turnaround times. While it’s tempting to focus your energy on your next writing project, leave some space in your writing schedule to review copyedits and page proofs and to compose supplemental resources (if not submitted with the complete manuscript).
What other questions do you have about publishing books about engaged learning and SoTL? Please share your questions in the comments so that we can consider them for future posts in this series.
- Britton, Gregory M. 2017. “Thinking Like a Scholarly Editor: The How and Why of Academic Publishing.” In What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, & Business of Book Editing, edited by Peter Ginna, 40-48. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Ginna, Peter. 2017. “Where It All Begins.” In What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, & Business of Book Editing, edited by Peter Ginna, 17-29. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Karp, Jonathan. 2017. “The Alchemy of Acquisitions: Twelve Rules for Trade Editors.” In What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, & Business of Book Editing, edited by Peter Ginna, 30-39. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Miller, Nancy S. 2017. “The Book’s Journey.” In What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, & Business of Book Editing, edited by Peter Ginna, 59-68. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Jessie L. Moore is Director of the Center for Engaged Learning and Professor of English: Professional Writing & Rhetoric. With Peter Felten, she edits the Stylus Publishing/Center for Engaged Learning Series on Engaged Learning and Teaching and the Center for Engaged Learning Open Access Series.
How to cite this post:
Moore, Jessie L. 2019, October 25. “What’s the process for publishing a (SoTL) book?” [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/publishing-a-SoTL-book