How To Write A Book Proposal


You all know that the book proposal is the cornerstone to a successful tenure track career in most areas of the humanities and social sciences. Sure, some parts of psychology and economics and other fields are not book-based, but basically, the law of the land is: write a book.

What you may not be aware of is that the book proposal should be an element in your job applications. I don’t mean you send a proposal with your job applications, of course, but rather that you dedicate several sentences in the job letter to the book proposal and where you are in discussions with presses.

In this job market, you have to be looking ahead to the book, and able to speak intelligently about the book and its publishing plan, from the earliest days, ie, even when you are ABD and still finishing the dissertation. You don’t yet need a book to get a job in most cases (although yes, it’s true, assistant professors with books under their belt will have an advantage over new Ph.D.s for some jobs), but you do need a book PLAN to get a job, and the more substantive that plan is—as in, accompanied by a completed book proposal, a timeline for submission to presses, actual discussions with specific presses, or best of all, an advance contract—the better you’ll do on the market.

The fact is, the dissertation does not get you a job. The anticipated book gets you the job.

OK, having established the necessity of writing a book proposal from early, early stages in your career, we now turn to the proposal itself.

I’m going to start by speaking in general terms about what you must submit to a press to get a contract. This is actually a collection of items, and not just a proposal.

In general, you do not submit a complete dissertation manuscript to a press.

Repeat: do NOT submit your full dissertation manuscript to presses!

Why? Two reasons:

  1. Because editors at presses are as overworked and overwhelmed as the rest of us and don’t have the time to wade through 300 pages of unknown quality.
  2. Because, frankly, your dissertation isn’t that good. No, I’m sorry, it really isn’t. This is true even if it won awards at your university and got passed with distinction, etc. etc. Here’s why: dissertations are not books. They’re dissertations. And the best dissertation in the world is not going to be the same as a marketable book. Dissertations are written to prove your legitimacy and to demonstrate mastery and to satisfy an impossible set of mutually contradictory demands set up by your advisor and committee. None of these things make for a marketable book that appeals to the widest possible audience. I will elaborate further below.

So what do you submit to presses? You submit the following:

  • an 6-8 page proposal (shorter if so specified by the press)
  • an annotated table of contents for the book
  • 2 sample chapters
  • a c.v.
  • a cover letter

Every one of these elements is indispensable, most especially the cover letter. Today, however, we will restrict ourselves to discussing the book proposal itself.

I will pause to say that of course, you should carefully check the requirements for submission listed on the press website. They may differ from what I’ve written above, and they will of course take precedence.  And ideally, you will have been in conversations with an editor or series editor at the press prior to submitting your package.  Blind, or unsolicited submissions, with no advance footwork, have a significantly lower success rate.  Please refer to my post, How To Work the Conference (Part 3 of 3) for ideas on using your national conference’s Book Exhibit as an opportunity to encounter editors at presses.

Be aware that you ARE permitted to multiple-submit to different presses simultaneously! This differs from refereed journal articles.   This simply has to be fully disclosed in the cover letter.

The Book Proposal

The book proposal is a sales document. It is entirely dedicated to showing that your book has a market and will sell.

Gary Smailes of BubbleCow, in a guest post on the excellent PhD2Published blog, says it best:

Here’s the first mistake most writers make when preparing a book pitch:

They think like writers and forget they are selling a product!

Book publishers are in the business of making money – even not-for-profit academic publishers need to keep themselves afloat. It’s true that many of them love books and want to see new knowledge disseminated, but at the end of the day they will not acquire a book unless they think it will sell enough copies to make back enough money to at least break even.

It’s your job to convince publishers that your book has what it takes to make it in the marketplace that that publisher specialises in. In reality this means you must pitch more than a unique contribution to knowledge. You must demonstrate that your book has a readymade, and accessible, academic readership, which means that your query letter and proposal are, in a sense, sales documents.

So, you thought you were in the business of having ideas, but what you must now take onboard is that you also in the business of selling them!

Hear, hear, Gary of Bubblecow (and be sure and check out Bubblecow for more information–albeit UK-focused– on book proposals)! The sad fact is that university presses are dropping like flies in this economic downturn, and can no longer publish small, obscure specialized monographs the way they used to when our disciplines were younger. University libraries are also under extreme budgetary strain, and have drastically reduced their purchases of new monographs, so the potential market for university press books has shrunk considerably.

Read what Ken Wissoker, the Editorial Director of Duke University Press, has to say (in another recent post on PhD2Published) about the state of academic publishing and library acquisitions:

Libraries have made deeper and deeper cuts in their budget for books to pay for…big journal packages.  In the early 80s a huge proportion of a library budget went on books. Now the proportions are reversed and books make up only a small percentage of a library’s budget. The recent library trend of “patron-driven acquisitions” which sounds like patrons choosing (it’s a great neoliberal term), but really means postponing or avoiding purchases as long as possible, will only make this worse. This results in a whole set of books that would have been publishable in a form individual scholars could afford five or ten years ago, but which will no longer have enough sales to be viable.  It means books (and fields) that I would have been proud to publish a decade ago, I no longer consider.

Nowadays presses will not accept a book unless they are sure that it will make a profit or at least make back the expenses of publication. So, as you conceptualize your dissertation (while you’re still writing it), and as you plan your revisions (after you’re done), make sure that foremost in your mind are the elements that have the widest, most interdisciplinary, and potentially popular (think NYT readership) appeal.  Refer to this post for suggestions on how to do this.

Above all, be aware that the book mss. has to be shorter rather than longer. Publishers recoil in horror from over-long manuscripts because more pages mean more costs.   One of your top priorities should be to ensure that your book manuscript is within the acceptable word count of standard books recently published by that press in your field.

The book proposal has to summarize your ideas, but it has to do it in a way that shows

a) there is a market for them

b) they are market-ready

These are two huge variables. Your treatise on the image of the turtle in 14th century Ottoman religious iconography may have pleased you and your advisor, but if there isn’t a market of scholars and students out there seeking to know more about 1) the Ottoman Empire; 2) medieval iconography; 3) pictures of turtles, then you are in trouble. And secondarily, suppose there are no fewer than three separate markets of scholars clamoring for more information on 14th century Ottoman turtle pictures, but your manuscript bears all the marks of a classic narrow, boring dissertation, is far too long, and has not been revised for prime time…then you are still in trouble.

So in summary, the book proposal proves that you have valid ideas, that those ideas have a market, and that those ideas are presented in a marketable way.

How to do this?

Opinions vary widely on what makes a good book proposal as a piece of writing, so I want to state at the outset that I am suggesting what worked for me and most of the colleagues and students with whom I’ve worked closely in the humanities and humanistically-oriented social sciences.

My recommended book proposal contains the following:

Introductory Section of one to two paragraphs that follows the model of the introduction in Karen’s Foolproof Grant Proposal—ie, begins with a large topic of widespread interest, discusses 2+ bodies of scholarly work on that topic, reveals a gap in that work, demonstrates the urgency of that gap (ie, the dire consequences of ignorance), introduces the author as Hero filling that gap, and unveils a clear statement of the book project as Heroic Enterprise.

A Deeper Background/Elaboration of Topic section will go more in-depth into the “story” of the topic—the who, what, when, where and how. Information for non-specialists on the historical or geographical or cultural context, the major players, the touchstone events, and major texts and their reception, etc. will also be provided. This is a tricky section, actually, because you can’t lose focus and drone on and on. It has to stay focused and concise, with each piece of information providing essential information for a new reader with no background in your field or topic to grasp the core issues to understand that context and import of your topic.

A brief Summary and Chapter Breakdown of the proposed book, which will give a basic word length for the finished manuscript, and then walk through the chapters, no more than three to four sentences dedicated to each chapter, with particular attention to the Introduction and Conclusion. This section will also reference how any lingering dissertation-ese will be eradicated and how dissertation-centric chapters such as the “literature review” and “methodology” will be removed.

A BRIEF Disciplinary and Inter-disciplinary Discussion of the scholarly context of the work—who has written what about this subject over the years, how has a major debate in the field emerged, and how does this book intervene in that debate/turn that debate on its head. If your field is tiny, then you want to show that you intervene in debates beyond your immediate disciplinary context. This not a comps exam and you need not be comprehensive.  This is a quick sketch of major works to establish the scholarly context only.

A Timeline to Completion section, which clearly articulates the revisions that have been/will be made that eradicate every last trace of dissertation-ese from the prose and that complete the chapters in a timely and feasible manner. Any new research that is anticipated—new fieldwork or archival research, etc.–will be clearly noted in this timeline as well. You will also list here the research leave time that you have gained/expect to gain to complete the book (particularly important if you are on the tenure track). Finally you will clearly disclose your plan for other publications, such as journal articles, based on the research, and show a savvy calculation for using these articles in high status journals to build excitement and anticipation for the book. This section should give a specific month-by-month timeline for the work, and give a deadline for completion of the manuscript for submission.

Finally, you will have the Marketing section. This is the section in which you explicitly discuss how well you expect the book to sell, who it will sell to, and how the press should best market it.

Now the market for most scholarly monographs is admittedly small and no amount of verbiage will change that. But if it’s a narrow but deep market, then you want to make sure you communicate that. And if your work spans several small markets, then you most definitely want to communicate that.

The markets to consider here are:

  • the market of academic libraries
  • the market of fellow scholars in your field(s)
  • the market of courses in your discipline (especially large courses)
  • the market of educated readers generally (again, think NYT readers)

You will want to address each of these markets individually, by showing how your work will appeal to it. This is the place where you mention other scholarly works that are similar to your work, and discuss, to the best of your knowledge, how well they sold and how big an impact they had on the field/fields. You will focus particularly on books published by the press to which you are currently submitting, and speak directly, to the extent possible, to the major themes prioritized in their recent and current lists, and to specific book series they are currently promoting.

You will write something like, “my book investigates similar themes to those in XXX by xxx, recently published by University of California Press. That book has had a major impact on the field and was widely reviewed in journals such as XXX and YYY. As I wrote my book to refute XXX, and to be explicitly in dialogue with xxxx, I anticipate that it will similarly gain wide exposure and be acquired by scholars and readers who are interested to see two sides of a pressing contemporary problem.”

The primary way that academic presses make money is through the sale of books for use in large undergraduate classes. Just think: if your book becomes the go-to case study on xxx in the Introduction to U.S. Society and Culture course, enrollment 350, taught in both Fall and Spring semesters in 25 universities across the nation—-how much cha-ching is that for the press? The more you can envision your book as a core text for use in large undergraduate classes, the better off you’ll be. You can certainly mention graduate seminars, but seriously—how much good are 10 graduate seminars annually, enrollment 8 students each, going to do the press?

Finally, you will end with a strong, concise Conclusion. This is an often neglected element to many genres of proposal, and one that I feel is indispensable. Remember that you want to sound, throughout this entire book proposal document, powerful, important, influential, well-prepared, and confident. The Conclusion is where you drive home this tone. In the Conclusion you end with a broad and expansive gesture toward the wider import and significance of your work. You strongly imply that your work is going to radically change the state of your field/fields, and have a major impact on scholarship and public discourse for years to come, and that the press would be foolish to miss the opportunity to be the publisher of your work.

As in all professional documents, the book proposal must reject any hint of querulousness or insecurity or inadequacy or anxiety. It must, from first sentence to last, display a calm command of the material, the genre, and your professional trajectory. You will engage with the press as a full-fledged professional who is confident in your abilities and excited to work with them on this next stage in your professional development. When you write, “I anticipate that this book will have a major impact on the fields of xxx, yyy, and zzz, and look forward to working with XXX Press in its publication,” that is the message you are conveying.





The “Tenuous Track” (A Guest Post)

by Anonymous, Ph.D.

Given that the vast majority of faculty members now teach off the tenure track, landing one of these coveted positions feels like winning the academic lottery. Before accepting my current tenure track position, I was actually fortunate enough to have the choice between two positions.

Doing due diligence, I inquired about the financial health of the institution at which I ultimately accepted an assistant professorship. I was assured that the institution was financially sound…only to find out a few months later that the board of trustees was demanding that we reduce our faculty by more than ten percent.

While specific cuts have yet to be announced, it has been made clear that tenure-track positions may be eliminated as the administration tries to balance our budget.

My goal for this blog post is to outline some steps institutions might take to soften this devastating blow. While I realize, as I have heard muttered in the halls over the past few weeks, people in business get fired all the time, I am still of the mind that the tenure system implies a degree of mutual commitment between an individual and the institution.  Fortunately, a few administrators also still maintain vestiges of this arcane belief.

In devising this list, I asked myself what assistance would I find most helpful if I should find a pink slip in my mailbox next semester, and then began sharing these suggestions with various individuals at my institution.

Course Reduction: Considering that peer-reviewed publication is the most valued currency in the academic world, it is advisable for all junior faculty to maintain an active scholarly agenda. All too often, however, class preparation, advising, and committee responsibilities take precedence because of their immediacy. This may be especially true at teaching-focused institutions with relatively modest scholarship requirements. Thus a candidate returning to the market can find him or herself at a disadvantage precisely because he or she was doing the current job so well. To help the faculty members that will be cut be more successful in finding a new job, the institution could grant a course release during one or both semesters of the individual’s terminal year.  Some may balk at this suggestion, pointing out that they cannot afford this when already in a state of financial exigency. To this I would point out that the institution will soon have to do more with less anyways…and this might be an opportunity to phase in the curricular changes that will inevitably accompany downsizing.

Additional Travel Funds: Travel funding for conferences varies widely by institution. Some institutions only fund a faculty member if he or she is presenting at the conference while others provide funds regardless of one’s degree of participation. While anyone newly returning to the job market probably should be presenting at his or her conference, there may be valid reasons why that is not happening. Either way, because it is still the norm in many disciplines to conduct preliminary interviews at the national conference, job seekers cannot afford to miss these opportunities. If a faculty member is being dismissed through no fault of her own, it seems that the ethical thing to do is for the institution to help defray the costs of her being back on the market.

Institutional Recommendation Letter: Having served on academic search committees, I always wonder why someone several years into a tenure track appointment would be applying for an entry-level position. Was their 3-year review unsuccessful? Are they the kind of person who cannot get along with colleagues? The answer is probably no, but knowing that I have thought these things about others now makes me wonder how my own potential jump might be viewed. While Karen here at the Professor Is In has made suggestions about how to craft one’s cover letter in situations like these, I would also recommend that the highest ranking members of academic affairs (i.e. the dean, provost, and/or president depending on institutional type) draft a recommendation letter for the dismissed faculty member(s) indicating: (1) that this dismissal is in no way a reflection upon the applicant’s performance and (2) that the decision to terminate the applicant’s contract was based on financial exigency.

Job Market Consultation: An assistant professor’s job application materials are presumably less than six years old, but since the competitiveness of the market has been increasing at an exponential rate, these materials must be carefully revised. In many cases, the best advice for revisions will come from an objective third party. Readers of this blog are likely already familiar with the consultation services Karen provides. Administrators may not be. Ask them to pay for these services (After all, what’s the worst they can do to you–fire you?). Yes there will be an expense associated with this, but I imagine that will be less damaging to the institution than the potential bad press associated with dismissing a number of strong, early-career scholars who cannot find suitable employment.

Granted, this list is not exhaustive and there are certainly other things that an institution can do to help junior faculty who are being dismissed through no fault of their own. Principal among these is giving the soon-to-be dismissed faculty members notice of their status as early as possible. If notices aren’t made until December or later, many of the tenure-track searches for which a candidate could have applied will already be in the interview phase. And if you should find yourself ‘safe’ from these cuts, find ways to help your imperiled junior colleagues. When someone is trying to update their job application materials and increase their scholarly output on top of regular teaching duties, an offer to cover a few classes or even babysit for a few hours could make a world of difference.

On Selling Out: A Semi-Manifesto – Langer #postac post

by Jessica Langer
Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

I’ve got news for you: if you take a tenure-track position at a university that uses a significant amount of adjunct labour, you have sold out.
This may come as a surprise to you. Academia is the opposite of selling out, you may think. Academia is where we go to fight and write against systems of oppression! It’s where we can get tenure and then use our power to speak out! Or at least, it’s where we can live the life of the mind and contribute to the intellectual history and prowess of the human race!
There are two problems with that.
1. Academics aren’t the only people, or even necessarily the most significant people, to contribute intellectually to the world.
This is surprisingly non-obvious to a lot of people who are transitioning out of academia – and people who are still in academia. The ivory tower of higher learning is a seductive ideal and a compelling image.
But… think about it. Who innovates in every space outside of academia? Where do thought leaders come from in industry? Who comes up with new and different ways to use technology, to build homes, to create sustainable urban spaces? Who thought up the Apple Watch? Who writes for the New York Times? Who’s in charge of getting astronauts safely to Mars in 2020? Mostly non-academics.
The idea that academia is the be-all and end-all of the “life of the mind” is one of the most pervasive and most destructive lies that academia has ever told.
2. Academia itself is an oppressive system. It always amazes me, the extent to which some academics will consider leaving for industry a failure of morals as well as of ability. Capitalism is an oppressive system; workers are alienated from their labour in the context of a large corporation or organization; the people at the top get paid many, many times what the people at the bottom make.They’re right, of course. It’s the system in which we all function, and it is oppressive; and by being a successful businessperson, I am participating in that oppression.
But so are academics who work on the tenure track.
The reason they are able to be on the tenure track at all, to teach the courses they do, to make the salaries they do, to have the departmental funding and the job security they do, is because the “grunt” labour of teaching undergraduate students is done largely by a proletarian class of labourers who have none of those things. These labourers are paid shockingly badly (in the States, at least), are generally not eligible for departmental funding, get the last pick of courses, and have no job security. They are the sweatshop of academia: the tenure-track folks are the customers who tut-tut at the labour practices of the factories while at the same time loading up their carts with cheap T-shirts.
So: is there any way not to be a sell-out? 
The short answer? No, there isn’t. Not in this system.
We all sell out. We all make the compromises that we need to make in order to keep ourselves alive, clothed and fed. We all compete with each other, and we all close our eyes to injustices in the interest of furthering our own self-interest.
We all try our best to live our ideals, but here is my radical idea: accept the fact that you live in a system that requires you to “sell out” in order to live, and be deliberate about your choices with the understanding of that. In the current university system, you will be selling out whether you take an academic job or leave academia. Don’t worry about selling out. Worry about how your work, whatever it is, is going to impact the world at large and yourself, your family and your community specifically – and make your choices based on a nuanced understanding that goes beyond fear and into deliberate action.

Making Good Choices in an Ugly Time

It a brutally ugly time to be an American.  I am enraged, furious, heartbroken, grief-stricken at the racist mass murder at AME Church in Charleston, and at the shameful, hateful, self-serving denial of racism as motive by the media and white Americans who will not face the truth of white supremacy in this country.  It is painful to watch Fox, the Wall Street Journal, and other commentators and people I know twist themselves into knots trying to find an “explanation” for killings that the murderer himself openly admitted were racially-motivated and derived from specific events in racist American history.

In the face of this outrage, there is little to say on the subject of academic job market preparation that doesn’t seem trifling and pointless.
However,  this week I received an email from a former client, an email that is about choosing love over fear, and connection over alienation. In anthropological terms, choosing affiliation over achievement.  And that seems something worth sharing today.   We all need to make choices–to care for ourselves, care for others, do the right thing, not the expedient thing.
So I leave you with this.  And the request: speak up, white Americans.  Be an ally to the black community that is staggering under the weight of systemic violence.  It’s time for white people in this country to step up and speak out: racism is real, white privilege is real, black people are being targeted in systemic violence. Here are some posts on how to be a white ally.
We all have a choice–stay silent, focused on our private interests, and perpetuate our privilege, or reach out, connect, listen, join, support, fight.
Dear Karen,
I was a new PhD client of yours in 2012. I have already thanked you for whipping my job materials into shape, but I haven’t yet thanked you for whipping my work/life balance priorities into shape afterwards.
We met up at the XXX meetings in 2013, shortly after I started my TT job. I had had two offers, one at an R2 in a lovely but small location, and another at a competitive R1 in a city. I chose the city and the stress of an R1 track, in part because I was single and wanted to meet someone. You schooled me: why choose more stress? Has the gamble paid off or are you still single? Indeed, I was. My personal life was not a priority.
Our conversation motivated me to write up the blog post Trailer Park Professor the very next day. The process made me rethink why academia has always been my priority, and why I was so worried about always trying to act the part of a junior R1 professor.
As I finished writing the blog post, I got an email from a colleague around my age, in my same field, that I had met 6 months earlier when giving a talk. Even then we had chemistry. But I ignored it, as I did when she was in my same session at the conference, because it was not “strategic” to date someone in the same field. I had been running away from her for months…
But then I asked, why? Because if all went well between us, it might mean I have to leave my big TT position one day? Would I deny myself personal happiness for the sake of this job?
For the very first time in my life, I decided that personal was more important than professional. We went out, soon we were engaged. We got married last weekend, with the support of our family, friends, and colleagues (photo attached).
She got a TT job in another state within long driving distance (and hired you to help negotiate). Our next challenge is to find positions in the same state, dare I say city. We’re already strategizing…and will contact you once we have a lead. (I was shortlisted at XXX this year, and although I was a close second, no offer. I’m relieved!).
Thank you for helping me see the psychosis behind prioritizing academics over a personal life. I could have ended up taking a very different, very miserable path.
[The client attached an adorable picture of their wedding, but she asks me not to share it just yet].

Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate – Fruscione #Postac post

by Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

Joe Fruscione

In the year since I left academia and began writing things for The Professor Is In, the biggest difference I’ve seen between the academic and post-ac worlds is the attitude toward collaboration. My experience collaborating in academia consisted exclusively of planning one conference and a few panels. I didn’t coauthor or coedit anything, in part because I knew such projects wouldn’t have the same CV weight as the articles and book I published, and in part because coauthorship isn’t too common in the Humanities. It’s been much the opposite in the post-ac world—thankfully. Collaboration is both more possible and more valued in the private sector. Since the post-ac world rewards experience and collaboration, tackling a project cooperatively can boost your resume, expand your network, and strengthen your skill set.

For instance, I’ve worked with fellow editor Bridget Rector (Tall Sister) on a few M.A. capstone projects: I handled the final rounds of copy editing, and Bridget handled APA formatting and citations. This was a pragmatic decision for us in terms of time management and playing to our strengths. Most recently, I’ve been working with freelancer Lisa Munro on copy editing a scholarly collection. I got this project through word of mouth: a colleague remembered my Facebook posts about changing careers and contacted me to help polish the collection’s 15 essays before it went to press. After communicating about the scope, timeline, and price, we had an arrangement. (This is an important step: don’t forget it.) I brought in Lisa because of her abilities and because splitting up the editing worked best with our schedules. Once we got a batch of essays, Lisa and I worked on the same draft and compared notes to make sure we were essentially doing the same things. From there, halved the remaining work, and we communicate regularly about issues or judgment calls that arise.

All of this is to say that collaboration in the post-ac world is helpful, valuable, and—especially as you’re starting out—necessary. For Lisa:

One thing that I think is interesting is that in so many disciplines (at least in history), the individual monograph and independent research are considered the gold standard. It’s been surprising to realize how different things are outside academia: it’s been more of a Here’s a problem, how can we best solve it? approach that welcomes working with others. I’m hard pressed to think of times when I’ve used that approach in academia.

So far in this project, I’ve seen how freelancers can learn from and help each other. Like Lisa, I’ve been impressed by my post-ac colleagues’ openness to working together or sharing experiences and advice. I’d like to see new or would-be post-acs do the same thing. (More collaboration inside academia could be good as well, as Gregory Semenza has recently written about.) Collaborating with a fellow freelancer can help both of you gain experience, connections, and knowledge, as well as prepare you for tackling future projects jointly.

Blogging or tweeting about your experiences can help other post-acs see the benefits of collaborating. #Postac Twitter is a wonderful resource for networking, sharing ideas and experiences, and coming to terms with a new career, as well as potentially getting new projects. Most current and future post-ac tweeters I’ve met have been open to sharing advice about topics ranging from finding work and contacts to handling taxes and payment logistics. If you’re not already doing so, join these conversations to expand your network. Jennifer Polk, founder of From Ph.D. to Life, runs the #WithAPhD chat and is working on a “Hire a Ph.D.” page to help prospective clients find experienced freelancers. As she told me recently, “I feel much more part of a community now than I did dissertating. Community is huge for me.” Find and follow Jennifer, Lisa Munro, me, and such post-ac tweeters as Liana Silva, Katie Pryal, Kelly Baker, and Chris Humphrey. I’ve traded notes and ideas with them and many others, which has helped all of us navigate the post-ac journey. For Katie, “collaboration is a path to success in a way that it never was during my eleven years within academia. There, we’re siloed in our institutions, our departments, even in our offices with our own research agendas. Beyond academia, we accomplish more together, as part of a network. My friends are writers, coaches, editors—but more importantly, they are there for me, for just about anything that I ask for.”

As I’ve written before, always be looking for new colleagues, new clients, and new opportunities to collaborate. The more you connect with others doing the same kinds of work, the more likely you are to find an ideal collaborator: perhaps someone who needs your sharp proofreader’s eye after doing the developmental editing. Regardless of who does what, you’ll teach each other a few things along the way.

Effective collaboration depends, of course, on effective communication: before you start this kind of work, make sure you’re on the same page as your collaborator regarding how you’ll handle the work, deadlines, and method of payment. Think about logistics, too. If you’re working on two parts of the same document, decide early who’s responsible for merging the files or otherwise combining the work for the client. When I cowrote this piece with Allessandria Polizzi last year, we first identified what we’d each bring to the discussion: Allessandria wrote from the perspective of a long-time corporate educator, and I wrote from that of a new post-ac shedding academic language in my professional correspondence. We shared a GoogleDoc and Skyped a few times. The work went smoothly because we communicated throughout the process about our experiences, writing habits, and progress.

Much private sector work involves collaborating—e.g., writing and editing multiple stages of a project, or publishing something as a cohort without attributing individual authors. Doing joint work as a freelancer can give you valuable job experience, resume language, and material to share in an interview. Since many of us have worked independently in academia, working collaboratively on writing or editing projects may seem unusual or unwelcome. Try your best to get past this mental hurdle. The more you’re open to collaboration and networking among colleagues, the more you’ll be in a position to add to your experience and skill set.

Why You Need Your Own Academic Website – Guest Post by Adeline Koh

by Adeline Koh


The first thing that anyone interested in your work is going to do is to Google you (See Dr. Karen’s recent Vitae post on that subject). It’s a hard, bitter truth to accept, but our online presences are increasingly becoming stand-ins for our professional selves. If someone is looking for a contributor for a special issue of a journal, if someone is looking for a speaker, indeed, if a search committee member is interested in a candidate–everyone will go to Google first, because it’s easy, and because it gives the researcher a sense of who you are and how you present yourself to the world.

Your own professional website is going to be one of the first landing pages that you want them to find. Yes, you should also have a professional presence on social media, but having your own website in your own domain presents you as a serious professional, and allows you to craft some of the first impressions you make to others most strategically. If you don’t have your own website, you are letting the little bits and pieces about you on the web dominate your professional identity.

Think about it: is your personal Facebook profile the first thing you want someone interested in you professionally to find? Of course, you’ve probably locked down the majority of your settings, which means that this person won’t be able to find out much. And therein lies the problem–said person won’t be able to find out more about who you are as a scholar, what interests you, what your theoretical trajectory is, what you think about teaching.

The webinar I’m running on Wednesday, June 17, will give you the tools to get started building your own website.

What I’m going to cover:

– how to make a beautiful website even if you have zero programming knowledge;

– A comparison and evaluation of different types of content management systems (WordPress, Tumblr, Wix, etc.) for academic use;

– the importance of having your own domain name vs. using your university’s webpage,

– a quick comparison of hosting services and

– a guide to finding good and professional-looking designs, how often you should update your site, and more frequently asked questions.

The webinar will end with a hands-on workshop which will get participants started with purchasing their own domain name and hosting, meaning you should plan on walking out of there with your own domain, something like:

What qualifies me to give this webinar? I’ve ten years of experience with web design and am passionate about how people construct their online identities. I’m also the director of a digital humanities center (DH@Stockton) at Stockton University, and an associate professor of literature. I’m self-taught in technology, meaning I taught myself how to do all of this while pursuing very traditional humanities academic training.

Also: why take this webinar rather than taking some free tutorials online? What I can give you is information that is tailored to you as an academic, rather than someone appealing to jobs outside of academia. I can provide for you the kind of shortcuts and evaluations of software, hosting services, and content management that is ideal for a professional academic.

You might still have doubts in your mind:  isn’t creating your own academic website self-promotional in the worst kind of way? Isn’t it essentially vanity publishing? It might be both to some, but having a professional website is one of the best ways to get your name out there. My own website was responsible for getting me invitations to speak and to write when I was an unknown assistant professor teaching at a small school in New Jersey. Without my website, I would not be in the professional position I am in today.

So take a deep breath and get started. Come join me on June 17, 2015, 2-4pm EST. I would love to have you and will make it worth your while.

Data Point, Data Point, Data Point…

Sometimes I hear reactions to The Professor Is In, that my level of attention to details and minutiae (everything from what kind of bag you carry to where your voice rises in your delivery of a sentence) is excessive–even anal or obsessive.  Sometimes people will huff, indignantly, “If they’re going to judge me on something as small as what bag I carry, I certainly don’t want to work there.”  When I hear these reactions (I don’t always, since they’re usually out of earshot.  But sometimes they come to the fore), I always take pains to clarify.

Will they not hire you because of the bag you carried?  Solely because of your bag?  Unlikely.  No search committee is going to say, ‘she was excellent as a scholar and teacher–her job talk was path-breaking–but sadly we can’t hire her because of her bag.  If only she’d carried a different bag…’

No, that doesn’t happen.  Even when a search committee has a judgment about your bag (and they may well have none at all), it may not even rise to the level of discussion, or even consciousness.

What does happen is this:  you are surveilled from the moment your application arrives, to the moment you step back on the plane at the end of your campus visit.  At each point in between, you are being judged.  The people doing the judging are using all of their senses–some consciously, some not–to evaluate you.  They encounter you, take you in, and instantly begin to file away impressions, data point by data point:

  • Good cover letter: data point
  • Sloppy CV: data point
  • Typos in the teaching statement: data point
  • Quick, courteous email response: data point
  • Strong response to publications question: data point
  • In need of a haircut: data point
  • Weak response to teaching question: data point
  • Good idea for a second project: data point
  • Querulous, anxious vocal patterns: data point
  • Innovative research methodologies: data point
  • Ratty backpack: data point
  • Sketchy familiarity with campus programs: data point

And on, and on, and on… data point by data point.  At the end, these will all be gathered into a larger general “impression” of the candidate.   Again, some will be explicit — all elements of the formal record, for example — while some will be implicit.  Things like haircut, clothes, bag, vocal patterns may be noticed by some search committee members and not by others, and may be weighed differently even when they are noticed.  I make no claims that all search committee members will notice everything in the list above, or consider them significant, or evaluate them consistently.  What I do claim is that someone on the search committee is likely to notice some of the above (and an infinite list of other such factors) and file them away in some form, to become part of the overall judgment that carries forward into the evaluation process.

So: will a school not hire you because of your bag?  No, not likely.  But will one or more search committee members observe a ratty backpack as part of the general impression of “professionalism” you make, and consider it (consciously or unconsciously) as part of your readiness to leave behind a grad student identity and operate as a faculty member…?  I believe the answer to that is yes, and so urge you to attend to it and all the other details of your record and mode of self-presentation that I talk about at The Professor Is In.





On Foregone Earnings, or the Economics of Adjunct Life (A Guest Post)

by Russ Burgos

In August 1994, at age 31, I started graduate school in the hope (widely shared) of becoming One Who Professes. In May 2015, at age 52 and stuck in the adjunct life like a bug on flypaper, I rather wish I hadn’t. It’s the money, you see; more specifically, the lack of it.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the teaching, and there’s something indefinably splendid about lighting upon a question, digging into it, and coming up with an answer. I enjoy conversations with brilliant colleagues and former students worldwide. I’ve even been known to have a passably good time at academic conferences, 8 a.m. panel times to the contrary notwithstanding. And while I do blame “The System” for the penury it imposes on contingent faculty, I’m not blaming it for my status as an auxiliary in the armies of academia. I made that choice for what were good reasons at the time; the fact that they’re no longer persuasive is an artifact of changes in my life and not in the university system itself.

Nevertheless, I rue the day that scholarship got its hooks into me. While it is true that money can’t buy everything, it’s just as true that it can buy pretty much everything you need. In a recent column at Chronicle Vitae, Kelly J. Baker wrote of her conflicted feelings at having turned down a retail management job with The Gap in favor of completing a Ph.D. in Religion. Her husband, she wrote, “asked me if I knew how much money I’d lost while working in low-wage academic jobs for 11 years. I couldn’t bring myself to do the math.”

I could; here’s what I found:

Based on my last full year of earnings in the “civilian” (non-academic) world and using the very conservative assumption that I would never have received a raise or moved into a higher-paying position than the one I had at age 30, working in the adjunct professoriate has cost me roughly $750,000 in foregone earnings to date.

Three-quarters of a million dollars. That’s a lot to pay for the privilege of teaching thousands of undergraduates without job security, an office to call my own, or even a trivial share of the professional support the university provides for ladder faculty. And the meter keeps ticking: every year I spend on the adjunct treadmill essentially costs me an additional $40,000 or so in foregone earnings – again, based only on what I was paid 22 years ago – and even controlling for things like commuting expenses (which I would have had regardless).

To put that another way, I would have to work two-and-a-half additional full-time jobs at the federal minimum wage simply to make up the difference, to earn what I was earning as a solidly middle-class worker two decades ago.

Bear in mind, these are back-of-the-envelope calculations; I was interested in the comparative statics of then and now, not in an econometric analysis of my personal finances. My main concession to mathematical rigor was to control for inflation, and so I used the handy dollar inflation conversion table maintained by Robert Sahr of Oregon State to put all my figures in 2014 dollars. Taking out my tax files, I computed both my “what-if” non-academic gross earnings and my actual gross earnings, ignoring changes in tax rates, retirement contributions, and the like (if anything, including retirement contributions and the foregone wealth they would have generated would only make the comparison more stark).

Drilling down into the numbers, the picture gets even bleaker.

Like so many adjuncts, I held out hope too long for a tenure-track position and so stayed committed to the social/professional norms of my field. I went to conferences; I wrote journal articles and book chapters; I maintained association memberships and subscribed to journals; I bought books. Those expenditures were pure losses – not even loss-leaders, because contrary to expectations they didn’t lead to tenure-track employment.
As a non-academic, I certainly would have traveled and bought books. But I have no doubt those travels would have been far more pleasant (no discounted conference hotel rooms next to elevators) and those books far less costly (it’s a rare day indeed when Narrow Market Academic Publishers Inc. puts out a volume for less than $100) – and every bit as satisfying. The difference between spending for pleasure as a civilian and spending for necessity as an adjunct is another example of what Elizabeth Keenan called the “compounding disadvantages of adjunct life.” The more you spend (and forego) to perpetuate your status as an adjunct, the greater the value you attach to having done so: It’s the teaching, the mission, the challenge of exploring new ways of thinking.

It’s self-delusion.

The fact is, people find rewards in all kinds of work. As an undergrad, I drove a forklift. There was satisfaction in a day’s work done well – umpty-ump pallets moved from Point A to Point B – and once the day’s work was done, it was done: no sampling books you’ll ultimately not adopt for a new or revised syllabus, no grading, no curriculum review, no interminable e-mail exchanges with students demanding grade changes, no drafting of conference papers that won’t out-live the conference weekend, no assembly of job applications for jobs you won’t get – all of which constitute loss of value in time, energy, and opportunity costs.

What I have done – and what I suspect a lot of adjuncts and soon-to-be-Ph.D.’s do – is selectively discount the payoffs to the Path Not Chosen so that the “life of the mind” looks better retrospectively. We systematically underestimate the life-satisfaction we would have received from a “straight job” and systematically overestimate our life-satisfaction from things like conference participation and teaching. It’s a form of what economists call “post-purchase rationalization” or the Buyer’s Stockholm Syndrome, a cognitive bias that blinds us today to the full consequences of a costly – and bad – decision we took yesterday.

When students approach me about graduate school, I do my utmost to deter them, especially those who hope to become professors. Hope is not a strategy. The fact is, the professoriate is not a calling; it’s a way of making a living. It’s a job. Dressing it up as a “calling” is simply a way of avoiding the cognitive dissonance associated with the costs. As a contingent professor, I’ve come to believe the cruelest part of contingency is not the status, but the rent that status extracts. The brutal economic reality of contingency is this: Adjunct life is a pay-to-play system, one where the dollar value of foregone wealth – and the foregone quality-of-life that implies – is the only real measurement of career progression that matters.

Why You Need to Know About Social Media Marketing – a #Postac Post

by Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Jessica Langer

Let’s get right to the point: social media is one of the biggest growth industries within marketing, communications and their cognate fields. If you have a PhD in the humanities, communications is potentially a natural fit for you as an #altac/#postac target field… and if you’re hoping to land an #altac/#postac job in communications, at this point, you must have at least some competency in social media.

And I don’t just mean “have a Facebook account and know how to use it”. I mean that you need to know how to use social media and other digital channels to achieve real, material organizational objectives. You need to know how to communicate via digital channels effectively, not just on your own behalf but within the context of an organization.

The webinar I’m running on Friday, June 5, “From Humanities Ph.D. to Social Media Marketing: A How-To with Dr. Jessica Langer“, will give you the tools you need to do exactly that: to build your professional competency within social media.

I’ve spent most of the past five years building a business in social media and digital marketing. For me, it’s the perfect fit because I love marketing, I’ve spent a decade in the field, and I spend so much time online anyway (*cough*). I haven’t just built my own business, though: I also teach social media marketing in the MBA program at the Schulich School of Business at York University and the MCM program at McMaster University. Several of my students have gone on to jobs in social media directly from these programs.

In this webinar, we’ll cover:

– The fundamentals of marketing, including value, the 4 Ps, and STP
– Marketing ethics
– Social media best practices
– Analytics and KPIs
– Social media and digital marketing in the organizational context
– Building your network
– Entrepreneurship 101
– Plenty of time for questions!

I’ll take you through the process of discovering what you need to know about the field to decide if it’s right for you, how to develop the specific skill set(s) you need to make yourself credible to potential employers, and real, actionable steps for beginning the transition from academic to social media/digital marketing and/or communications professional. This is not an instantaneous transition, but we’ll get you started on the right foot and set off in the right direction.

Come join us on June 5 from 2-4 PM. We’d love to have you – and I promise it’ll be worth your while.

How To Pitch Your Book to an Editor at a Conference

This week the Daily Nous website has a marvelous post, Answers From Academic Publishers, devoted to advice on publishing an academic monograph solicited from actual editors from Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, Routledge, and other major presses.  It has an eye to Philosophy, but is really relevant to all book-based fields.  It’s filled with valuable insights.  It reminded me of this post that I wrote in 2012, and haven’t updated since.  So I’m re-posting it, along with an addition at the end from the Daily Nous post specifically about approaching editors at conferences.  Good luck pitching your books!


Today’s post is a Special Request for many, many readers who have written over the past year asking how to pitch their book to potential editors while at disciplinary conferences.

I confess, I’ve been kind of avoiding writing this post. I’m always happiest when I can be dogmatic and dictatorial (in what has been lovingly called my “knee-jerk prescriptivism”), and grow less happy as my level of uncertainty increases.

And pitching a book at a conference is an awkward and uncertain process indeed. The fact is, unless you’re Professor Famous-Pants on your third book, you’re really a bit of an imposition in the editor’s extremely busy schedule. That does NOT mean you shouldn’t do it! It just means that if you feel weird and awkward…well, that’s natural.

I felt uncertain enough about this topic that before sitting down to write a post, I actually asked for advice from an expert in the field, an actual editor. To be specific: the Editorial Director of Duke University Press, Ken Wissoker, whom I’ve known for a number of years.

I’m going to begin the post by writing what I consider the rules (“rules” is really an overstatement here; these are more considerations and recommendations) to keep in mind when deciding when and how to pitch your book.

After that I will share Ken’s brief remarks that he made over Twitter (hence the brevity).

The first thing to do when planning to pitch your book at a conference is first off, to think carefully about which editors you want to meet. Do homework to familiarize yourself with the major presses in your field. These are not always the highest status presses in general. Sometimes they are, but sometimes they may be relatively small presses with a firm specialization in precisely your area. Look carefully at the current catalogues of the presses and ask yourself whether your book fits in with what you understand to be the agenda and mission of the press at that time. You must look at current publications from the last 2-3 years primarily, because press agendas and missions evolve, as different individuals take over editorial positions.

Always (and this IS a rule!) aim for the highest status press that you can accomplish. Many, far too many, of you have been allowed to believe that all books count equally. They do not. There are top tier presses–the major university presses and Routledge and a few others—and then there are second tier presses (I’m not going to name these in a blog post just yet. I don’t feel well enough educated on this point to feel confident of my judgment). And then there are third tier presses and below. Beware of ANY press that pursues YOU, if it is positioned below the list of top-tier presses. The fact is, top tier presses do not typically chase young, first-time authors. Second tier presses sometimes do. And third tier presses usually do. Be dazzled and seduced by the interest of an editor who follows you after your paper at the conference and eagerly urges you to submit your mss. to XYZ press that you’ve never heard of, and you’re setting yourself up for a book that does you precisely nothing on the job market. And a bucketload of bitterness when you finally figure this out a few years down the line. The status of the press matters.

A related issue is the geographical location of the press. If your goal is a tenure track job in the United States, then make sure that your book is contracted to a U.S.-based academic press, OR Oxford or Cambridge University Press. OK, I acknowledge, I’m not an expert on British and European presses, so there may be a few more presses over there besides Oxford or Cambridge that you can safely publish with and still be competitive for a U.S. job (and please keep in mind that this is entirely field dependent—Classics, for example, being a field where the U.K. press imprimatur counts for a great deal).  But in general, sorry, our world is parochial and U.S. search committees respect familiar U.S. university press publications.

You should treat the encounter with the editor exactly the same as you would encounters with influential scholars in your field. As I explain in excruciating detail in this post, your greatest ace in the hole is advance planning. Get in touch ahead of time. And when I say ahead of time, I don’t mean 3 days. I mean three months or three weeks. The fact is, famous and influential people (and editors at major university presses fall into this category) tightly pack their conferences with a dense series of appointments and meetings with old friends from graduate school, former students, current collaborators, shmooze-objects, and people who are looking them over for job offers, in addition to an often packed schedule of panels and talks, and executive board meetings for a range of subdisciplinary associations and units. These people have no time to spare. In the case of editors, they will be doing some or all of these things, and in addition will be intensively running around the conference attending targeted talks and panels that they feel may yield future books. In many cases, the only way that you, a person with virtually no capital or status, can claim the time of someone this influential and busy, is if you get on their schedule VERY VERY early, before they have had their conference slots reserved by everyone else.

You should be asking for a 20-30 minute time slot. As a first time author, you don’t really get more than that. I know that you think your book needs an hour to fully describe. Tough. You get 20-30 minutes. When you’re famous, you’ll get more.

You will want to do your best to have an actual “location” for the chat. What often happens at conferences is that you find yourself trotting along after Ms. Editor as she races from one panel to another while being flamboyantly greeted and shmoozed on by 15 other eager writers on the way, while you breathlessly try to summarize ten years of research. This is frustrating and humiliating. If you can avoid it by establishing a plan to sit down in an out of the way corner, do that.

If you have failed to make an advance plan, and see an editor standing there at the booth whom you’d like to approach, then use a mini-version (like 2 sentences) of the pitch I describe below to introduce yourself and sketch in the briefest and most intriguing (yet factual!) terms your project, and ask for an appointment to discuss at greater length. I strongly urge you not to launch into a comprehensive pitch right there at the booth, with no warning, because the editor very likely has other appointments scheduled and will be distracted and annoyed while you are talking.

Now, once you are in your scheduled meeting, you need a pitch. The pitch, like all professional pitches for the job market and everywhere else, has to be efficient, concise, and well organized. Here’s what it must not sound like:

I wrote my dissertation on how more and more Japanese women are studying abroad and living abroad, and also even in some cases marrying Western men, and I did a couple years of fieldwork, starting with my masters thesis, including in Hawaii and also in Japan—especially Tokyo– in which I looked at this from different perspectives, and it touches on themes like transnationalism and globalization and also gender and race, and things that are really important in anthropology right now, and I know that I haven’t yet really finished everything I need to do in terms of fieldwork, because I really need to get back to Japan to do some updated research, and to focus more on popular media depictions of this phenomenon, but basically I defended last year and so right now I’m just trying to figure out how to turn this into a book….. ad nauseum.”

What is wrong with this rendition? First, it starts in the past, with the dissertation. You are not pitching a dissertation, you are pitching a book. Second, it has no title. Titles focus and clarify, and indeed “sell” the project. Third, it devolves into a discussion of the research process, rather than the intellectual project as finished product. Fourth, it talks about themes that it (loathesome word) “touches on,” instead of articulating a clear and focused central argument and the intervention that argument makes in basic assumptions or orthodoxies of a field. Fifth, it collapses into graduate student excuse-making about what it *doesn’t* do and what *isn’t* finished, instead of being a confident statement of its achievements and contribution. Sixth, it states a “desire” for a book without articulating a clear plan for a book, and a timeline for completion. Seventh, it’s disorganized and boring and a depressing run-on, instead of a tightly organized statement of a scholarly project.

A proper book pitch will look something like the following. I give it here in one chunk, but obviously a pitch is a CONVERSATION, so these are all elements that will emerge organically in dialogue, not monologue, form.

I am currently writing a book manuscript which I’m calling “Women on the Verge: Japanese Women, Western Dreams.”*** It is based on my dissertation, which I defended last year in the Anthropology department at the University of Hawai’i, where I worked with Takie Lebra and Geoffrey White. I am currently a tenure-track assistant professor in Anthropology and Asian Studies at the University of Oregon.

The book, which will be my tenure book, examines a recent phenomenon of young Japanese women studying English, traveling abroad, and in some cases seeking to marry Western men. It is based on two years of fieldwork on the subject in Hawai’i and Tokyo. Specifically, the book uses popular media discourses about this subject, which have been escalating in both news media and also an emergent genre of women’s memoirs, and ethnographic fieldwork findings with the women themselves, as well as the Western men with whom they interact personally and professionally, to construct an interdisciplinary study of women’s motivations, the reactions they are inspiring in Japan, and their on-the-ground experiences in their evolving encounters with the West.

My core argument is that women pursue these avenues as a critique of Japanese patriarchy in general, and Japanese men in particular, but at the same time, find themselves enmeshed in a transnational racialized economy of desire, fed by international media such as Hollywood, that privileges white men as desirable objects, and places women and men of other races in varying positions of subordination to them. This economy of desire produces consequences that play out in women’s experiences in international workplaces and relationships in unanticipated and evolving ways. The topic intervenes in current debates in anthropology about race and global mobility, and participates in an emergent anthropology of sexuality.

I have already published two journal articles on this subject, and presented it widely at Asian Studies and Anthro meetings. It garners a great deal of attention, and I believe the book will be highly marketable. I am writing it with an eye to being appropriate as an assigned ethnography for the globalization or sexuality thematics of large Introduction to Cultural Anthropology courses, but because I engage with current theory, I also anticipate that it will be used in a wide range of more advanced anthro courses, as well as Asian Studies and Women’s Studies/Gender Studies courses.

The manuscript will be 6 chapters long, and it is about 50% complete. I intend to revise the five dissertation chapters over the coming year, to do 4 weeks of fresh fieldwork next summer, and to draft one entirely new chapter based on that fieldwork next year. I have a junior sabbatical in my third year which I”ll devote to the book, and I am also currently applying for fellowships for writing leave. I anticipate the manuscript being complete in Fall of 20xx.  I am interested in publishing with XXX Press because I think the book fits in well with your series “xxxx” and your overall recent emphasis on books dealing with globalization and sexuality, and of course race and cultural studies.”

I realize this looks like a lot, but I read it aloud and timed it, and it’s about 4 minutes of text. Divided into the natural give and take of a dialogue, it is an efficient, concise, and well-organized statement of a project that answers most of the questions that an editor will have.

What are those questions? Here is a partial list, which you can see are answered in the summary example I gave above:

Who are you and are you a legitimate scholar? (Should I even be listening to you?)

What field are you in?

Are you aligned with people I have heard of in that field?

Do you have a position that supports the writing of this book with financial resources and leave time? (Can I expect this thing to actually get done?)

How badly do you need this book done (Is tenure the great motivator?)

Am I intrigued by the title? Will others be intrigued?

Do I “get” your topic?

Is the topic interesting? To me? To undergraduates?

Is the topic important in your discipline or fields? Why or why not?

Have you asked whether it’s important in your discipline or fields? Do you care?

Have you tested out this topic in public venues and gotten good responses?

Do you have a core argument that you can actually articulate? Is it persuasive?

Do you have evidence that supports that argument?

Is your evidence interesting?

Is your argument and evidence new and emergent?

Is your argument and evidence accessible to a wide range of undergraduate and educated lay readers?

Is your argument and evidence sophisticated enough to appeal to serious scholars?

Is this book appropriate for my Press? 

Does this book fit into a current series that we’re marketing?

Will people buy this book?

Who will buy this book?

What classes will this book be assigned in?

How long will this book be? Is it a reasonable length?

When will you be finished with this book?

Do you have a feasible plan for writing this book, and support to do so?

Do you seem like a reasonable person or a drama queen?

Can I work with you or are you going to make my life a living hell?

I have never been an editor, so I am actually surmising that these are the questions that editors are asking themselves and you as this conversation proceeds, based on my experience of publishing a book, and helping other young scholars publish theirs. Actual editors, I would appreciate your thoughts in the comment stream.

I will stop here, and now share the Tweets of wisdom of Ken Wissoker, Editorial Director of Duke University Press. What he said is:

  • Get in touch ahead of time and make a plan to meet.
  • I hate being ambushed in the booth between appointments – but I know some editors like talking that way. Find out; don’t presume.
  • Explaining your argument to an editor is not like explaining it to someone in the field. Don’t get lost in the details!

With regard to this last point: you’ll notice in the pitch I gave above based on my book, I did not go into chapter summaries or much detail at all about specific theories I was engaging with in the field. If asked, you would certainly be prepared for equally concise and well-organized responses. But don’t lead with those. Let the editor ask for more information, and pursue his or her own lines of inquiry.

Good luck.


From the Daily Nous:

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.


***Full disclosure—Although I’m using my own book for an example here, this is not precisely how my book contract came about. I didn’t pitch my book cold at a conference. I also didn’t have this title decided on prior to writing the book—it actually came about through extensive discussions with my editor, Reynolds Smith, at the tail end of the process. Reynolds, if you’re reading this, you know how this all went down!