Reflections on seeking a publisher 3: Write the proposal before the book?

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Reflections on seeking a publisher 2: A lengthy process

The process of proposing and publishing takes a long time, so patience is important. I started the proposal process nine months ago, and there’s a chance I may be working on a new proposal soon. There are ways that I could have saved time in the process, but even if I had been maximally efficient, I would still have been looking at a process of several months.

In February, I sent my first proposal to an agent who specifically requested sole consideration, which was fine with me, given that part of why I was trying an agent was to avoid doing multiple proposals. (I will discuss the question of giving publisher sole consideration in a future post.) The agent’s website said if I hadn’t gotten a response within six weeks that I should assume that my proposal was rejected, so I waited (and avoided the difficult task of preparing another proposal).  When I hadn’t heard within five weeks, I started to work again, thinking about to whom to send my next proposal.

Reflections on seeking a publisher 1: Introduction

For most of this past year, I have been in seeking a publisher for my book for graduate students about using scholarly literature. As I write this, my proposal is scheduled to be discussed at a publication meeting a few days from now, and by the time this blog post gets published, I will either have a contract offer or another rejection.

In this and the following posts, I reflect on some of the issues that have come up in my process—issues that might be of interest to writers who are not yet experienced in proposing books to publishers. Those with more experience might view my reflections as naive (and if so, feel free to comment), but those with less experience might at least find comfort in someone else struggling with similar issues, even if they don’t find useful suggestions.

Dear dissertation advisers: Ask for short drafts, use page limits

If you want to give better feedback and also save yourself time, ask for short drafts and suggest the use of page limits (or word count limits). Both you and your students will benefit.

For any reasonably intelligent and diligent graduate student, the problem of having far too much to say is more common than the problem of not having enough to say and is the much more difficult problem to fix.

Dear dissertation advisers: Focus on the practical dimensions of the research project

Generally speaking, this may be the least common of the “bad feedback” issues that I see, but it can be crushingly bad feedback. Many, many professors try to force their students to look at the practical dimensions of the project and try to get the students to do less. Almost every professor I ever worked with told me some variation of “do less,” and many students with whom I’ve worked have also been told to try to do less, so I know it’s no rare idea, but some students could really benefit from this advice.

I have two main suggestions here: 1. Get the students to reduce the scope of their project if possible and reasonable, and 2. Explicitly focus on the practical dimensions as a reason to make the project smaller in order to reduce the emotional impact of being told to do less. 

Dear dissertation advisers: Make sure student has defined the research purpose and question

Defining a good research question is crucial to developing a successful research project, and it is no easy task. For some, defining a good question comes easily, but for many, especially doctoral candidates who may have never developed their own research project before, it is a great hurdle. And, as I suggested in the previous post, if the research purpose and question aren’t defined, then there’s no point in your looking at other stuff: if your student hasn’t defined the research purpose clearly, they’ll have trouble making progress.

A good definition of research question or purpose is not only crucial, it’s usually really easy for a reader to find in skimming through a paper. Most drafts have several sentences that say things like “the purpose of this research is…” and “the research question is…”. These sentences need to be clear, and they need to agree with each other (multiple conflicting statements of purpose can often be found in early drafts of research).