Does the Status of the Press Matter?

Today’s post is in response to a reader who wrote in asking, “does the status of the press matter when seeking to publish your book?”

Sometimes I am surprised by what people ask me, and this is one of those times.

Does anyone not know the answer to this question?

The answer is:  yes, the status of the press matters.  It matters a LOT.  It matters like—choose right and you get a great tenure track job and a career and a retirement plan, choose wrong and you live forever in adjunct hell.

If you are in a book field, you need a book for tenure, certainly, but increasingly you need a book just to get a job at all.  I am not saying that the book has to be OUT to get the first job.  But you need to be well into the process of book publication to get that job. By which I mean, be able to talk knowledgably about the book plan and timeline, perhaps have chatted the book up with an editor at a conference, or been invited to submit a proposal, and beyond that, have a proposal ready to send, or in submission.

Whether or not you’re finished with your dissertation, if you are in a book field, you need to be looking ahead to the book, and thinking about where, when, and how it will be published.

In these circumstances, naturally, you will be excited if you find your work being solicited by an editor at a press.  But if you’ve been invited to submit a proposal by an editor, you must not instantly leap at the invitation!  You must make sure that the press is of a caliber that will advance your career.

Presses that advance your career are major university presses and Routledge and the like.  Presses like Ashgate, Rowman and Littlefield, and Palgrave and so on are an indeterminate rank and will count at some universities and departments more highly than at others. Other presses must be evaluated very, very carefully.  There may be a small and obscure press that is well known and important in your particular niche—and then it is fine to pursue publication with that press.  But in general, small and obscure presses do not advance your career.

Putting a book out with an obscure press is not much different than having no book out at all, in terms of gaining a tenure track job or tenure.  Yes, you’ll have a book between covers that you can put on your shelf and proudly show your friends and family.  But a book that “counts” for the tenure track job market and tenure?  That book needs to be out with one of the major presses of the academic world.

You may observe that some well known and influential senior scholars sometimes publish with presses that are not of the first rank.  Why?  Because they can. Because their reputations are unassailable, and they can afford to pursue publication that is based on prior personal connections, or that is less rigorous in terms of review, with no impact to their standing.

But for anyone seeking to create a scholarly reputation, the importance of the status of the press of the first book cannot be overstated.  Any press that does not have “University” in its name should be approached with great caution.  Inquire closely with advisors you trust whether or not to consider it.


Comments

Does the Status of the Press Matter? — 12 Comments

  1. I would go even further and state that a book with a lesser known, less respected press is WORSE than no book. No book means that you might someday have a contract with a reputable press, but a book with a low status press implies that you tried and failed to get your book published by a reputable press. I had the option of publishing my diss from one of those soliciting presses which would have supplemented the many articles I had with little extra effort on my part, but I chose not to over concerns of the stigma from such a press. Also, not all university presses are the same. Some are just a step above the obscure German press no one’s heard of, although it might depend on the field.

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  3. I don’t live in the US but am considering publishing with a US press. Would anyone agree that these are among the top US university presses? Which do you think is the best? I’m thinking specifically about presses that publish cultural studies, history, American Studies, literary criticism, sociology, anthropology and the like. Am I missing any major presses? And again, which are in the very top 3?

    Harvard
    Princeton
    Yale
    University of North Carolina
    Stanford
    Cornell
    Chicago
    NYU
    U of CF
    Duke

    • It doesn’t work exactly like this, ie, in one grand ranking. Each of these presses is higher ranked in certain fields and subfields than the others. My own book–sort of contemporary Japan cultural studies/anthro with race and gender themes, which came out from Duke– would have been bizarre and inappropriate from at least half of this list. Not to pick on poor old harvard as I’m wont to do…but Harvard U Press is not all that great in a LOT of fields. It was notorious in one of my own subfields for producing dreary hardcover tomes that nobody ever EVER read. The rankings are decided at subfield level, so you must judge for your own field and subfield and find the press that publishes the best of the KIND of work that you do.

  4. I’m in a more journal-oriented field, but the rule of thumb I tell my students to follow carries over to book fields.

    Take a piece of paper and make a list of 25 to 40 articles that are really influential in your subfield, and keep a tally of which journals show up most often. Turns out that the big guns are consistently turning to “Journal of Stuff People Spend Too Much Time Thinking About” as an outlet for their best and most exciting results? Then that’s where you want your best research to be published too.

  5. Hi Karen, I’m in the process of publishing a book in international relations. I have been approached by Routledge and by Rowman and Littlefield. I was seriously considering the possibility of going with Rowman and Littlefield since they would publish the book both in hardback and in paperback. Routledge on the other hand would publish only in hardback, and yet I had the impression that you feel that Routledge has a better name in today-academia. Would you have any suggestion? Thank you so much for your time and for this great website!

    • t’s good that you’ve been approached but what you now need to do is create a proposal package and send THAT out to the top presses in your field. Don’t just choose among those who express interest in you; be proactive. Routledge is definitely higher rank in the US, but there are other presses higher ranked than Routledge as well.

  6. Hi Karen,
    What if you’ve been approached by one of the lesser publishers you mentioned, but for a series being edited by top names in your field (and actually internationally renowned)? Thank you.

    • Still no. Top names sometimes go slumming later in their careers, and get involved with lower ranked presses because said presses offer them quick and easy routes to publication or vanity-style series. This is fine for them, they are already senior. But for you, the prestige of a series editor will in no way shape or form outweigh the lack of prestige of the press.

  7. Hello Karen,
    Thanks for yet another great post. I am at the writing up stage of my dissertation (archaeology) and was contacted by a German publisher called Scholars’ Press. Even though I was very flattered, I was a bit suspicious. Have you heard of them? Also, I wanted to ask you how does one go about finding a publisher? I really appreciate your advice. Thanks in advance!

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