Cambridge University Press Social Science Publisher John Haslam offers a few final notes on getting your first book ready for publication. In his posts, John focuses on revised theses and other first books, but many of the issues are common across all publishing proposals.
The market context
Sadly, the sales of research work, i.e the academic monograph, have fallen sharply over recent decades, from a few thousand copies in hardback in the 1970s and 80s to a few hundred copies now.
The main reason is falling library budgets, and an increasing proportion of that budget taken up first by journals (chiefly in STEM subjects), and then by electronic products. The library cake has shrunk and so has the size of the slice of the cake available to monographs.
Academic publishers have been able to cope with this to an extent by reducing costs (new technology, outsourcing typesetting and printing); and by diversifying into other products: textbooks, trade publishing, English-language teaching. They are also seeking out ‘new’ markets in Asia, Latin America etc.
Ebooks have become important, making up 15% upwards of total sales. However, in the context of research work ebook sales act largely as a substitute for paper sales, rather than adding to them, so though they are likely to increase it’s unlikely to add to the number of overall sales.
So, the business of monograph publishing operates at the edge of viability, and for obvious reasons the most difficult sector for University Presses is the ‘first book’.
As a University Press, our aim is to preserve a brand based on quality, while publishing good books which sell enough copies to be viable. So we combine rigorous review processes, with hard-headed sales considerations.
None of this is to suggest that it’s impossible to find homes for research work – indeed the number of possible outlets is perhaps larger than ever – but the climate for first books with leading University Presses is undoubtedly difficult.
1. Try to get distance from your work, be dispassionate, try to to see it as a publisher will. If it’s a thesis, take time to think about the book’s contribution and how it will need to be revised to make a book.
2. Do research on the market and on the publishers who serve it.
3. Take care to find out publishers’ requirements for proposals, and to present the proposal well to cater to the particular publisher.
4. Send only the material which the publisher requires.
5. Stay in touch with the publisher during the review process, but be patient.