In his second post, Cambridge University Press Social Science Publisher John Haslam offers a few more notes on getting your first book ready for publication. John focuses on revised theses and other first books, but many of the issues are common across all publishing proposals.

Preparing a proposal

At Cambridge we ask for 10 pages or so introducing the book. We need details of subject, argument, place in the literature, intended market (subjects and level), structure, and a brief C.V. (Resumé).

You should tell us what is new and important about your book. How does it add significantly to the field? Why would people need to buy it? Many revised theses and first books can be narrow, or incremental in their contribution. Authors need to explain carefully what their book offers.

If you want to send some supporting material at this stage, please keep it brief (a chapter or two). Editors have enough in their inboxes without receiving typescripts they haven’t asked for.

What happens next depends on the publisher. Some publishers (particularly commercial ones) might be willing to take reviews and make a decision at this stage, on the basis of the proposal, and may even ask to see a thesis.  Most university presses, if they are persuaded by the proposal, will want to see the full revised typescript, or sample chapters at least.

You may therefore need to balance your need for a quick decision against the attractions of a particular publisher.

Most publishers have a set of guidelines, or even a fill-in form, available on their website. Ours can be found here.

The review process

If the proposal passes the first hurdle, editors will send typescripts or sample chapters to readers for comment. Referees are asked to report on quality, originality, and the market.

The time taken varies enormously since it’s a matter of getting the right people at the right time. Unfortunately the best referees are often the busiest, so please bear with the editor.

Once the editor has reports, he or she can make a range of decisions. If the first report is clearly negative, they may decline, or wait for further advice. If the response is mixed, publishers will often decline, but they may sometimes ask for a revision and a further review round. If so, the author has to decide whether to do this, or try elsewhere.

Even a set of reasonably supportive reports will not necessarily mean a ‘yes’, if the editor is operating in a context where there is strong competition for places in a list or series, or there are doubts about the market. In these cases the bar can be very high.

If there is a positive decision, most publishers have a board of editors or directors or other governing body which will need to approve the issuing of a contract (in Cambridge, the Press Syndicate). Authors are often asked to respond to reports during that process, and it’s generally best to be constructive rather than defiant when doing so…

Finally, publishers often offer a contract on the understanding that the final version of the typescript will be approved by a reader, so the review process may not end even with the offer of a contract!

Find out more next week when John’s final post will appear.

This post was updated in March 2019.

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