Pre-Publishing Material from Your Book: How Much, Why, and What to Choose

How much material to pre-publish for an academic book

You might have heard that it’s a good idea to publish journal article versions of one or more of your book chapters but been warned that publishing too much from the book can jeopardize your book’s chances with university presses.

Both are true.

In this post, I outline why you definitely should publish some of your book’s material in academic journals. Then, I answer targeted questions about how to select the best material, how much is too much, and offer advice for working with pre-published material.

Table of Contents

Pre-Publishing Book Material Basics: Why, How Much, What, When, and Where

Why should I pre-publish material from my book?

Your CV and author profile section of your book proposal help the editors answer key questions about who you are as a scholar. In particular, pre-publishing material from your book* in top peer reviewed journals in your field(s) help the editor answer:

  • Does this author demonstrate that they have mastered conventions of peer-reviewable academic scholarship in their field(s)?
  • In what field(s) is this author an expert? (Discernible from journal titles, in part)
  • On what topics is this author an expert?
  • Is there an existing audience for this book? If so, who might it be? (Discernible from journal titles, in part)

Additionally, pre-publishing material from your book (and giving conference talks about it) helps generate interest in and enthusiasm for the eventual book with your target audiences.

*Note: Having your dissertation “published” on ProQuest does not count.

How much material can (or should) I pre-publish from my book without jeopardizing my book’s chances with university presses?

For many US-based university presses, up to 33% of the book’s material can be pre-published. Hear what Bridget Barry, editor in chief at the University of Nebraska Press and Chloé Johnson, commissioning editor at Liverpool University Press have to say on this topic (the relevant clip ends at 59:09).

However, do consult with the acquisitions editors at your target presses, specifically. Or, for a rough estimate, you can also peruse the “acknowledgements” section of several first monographs published by your target presses, where the author might reference which chapters were pre-published as journal articles or book chapters. Some more selective and prestigious presses have stricter limits–as low as 10%!

Since journal articles are often shorter than book chapters, a good rule of thumb is to publish at least one but no more than two journals articles that will be quite similar to book chapters. (Want more figures? Laura Portwood-Stacer gives some very detailed advice in response to a reader question on this precise topic!)

An Exception to This Rule: When Scholars Repackage Articles as a Book

You might be thinking: “but I know (or have heard of) a scholar who basically published a whole bunch of articles (or chapters in edited volumes), and then repackaged it as a book. Why can’t I just do that?”

Here, two factors probably differentiate that book from yours. First, while university presses sometimes offer book contracts to senior scholars for projects consisting almost entirely of pre-published material, it’s rare for them to do so to authors of first books.

Second, different presses have different thresholds. While the 33% figure can be a good starting estimate for US university presses, academic trade presses might have different standards. So, do compare apples to apples. Don’t think norms for a senior scholar’s seventeenth book at a very different publisher will apply to your first book with a university press.

What should I pre-publish?

You will want to publish journal-article-length versions of book material and book-adjacent material (which does not count in the 33% figure).

Book-Adjacent Material (Not Counted in Percentage)

If you had to excise case studies or chapters from the book, repurposing them into journal articles can be a great way to both make sure that work finds space in your disciplinary conversations and build interest in your larger project. Because it will not appear in the book, it does not count in the 33% figure referenced above.

1–2 Book Chapters (10–33% Overlap)

You will want to publish journal-article length versions of individual chapters’ claims (or a part of a chapter).

Choose material that:

  • illustrates the types of engaging analyses you’ll offer in your book
  • establishes you as an authority on your book’s main topics
  • is for your book’s main audience

What Not to Pre-Publish

Do not write an article-length version of your whole book.

Say, for instance, that your book analyzes four novels–one in each chapter. A good pre-published article could present your chapter-level claim about Novel A (which corresponds to Chapter 2 of the book). A pre-published article should definitely not present your book-level claim followed by four very short sections, each analyzing one novel (which corresponds to Chapters 1–4 of the book).

Publishing an article-length version of your entire book proves that your book-level claims do not really require an entire book to support. Publishing an article-length version of your whole book–and not one (or one part) of its individual chapters–can jeopardize your book’s chances.

A Note on Pre-Publishing and Tenure

If you are at a research-oriented institution, your tenure dossier will likely need to contain a book plus several articles. Pre-publishing both book and book-adjacent material can help you establish a robust article publication pipeline.

But do beware.

Many institutions want to see you expand your research beyond your dissertation’s (and first book’s) topic. Some require you to show you are making progress on “a second project.”

If this applies to you, don’t exclusively publish book and book-adjacent material (to the exclusion of new research topics). Consult trusted mentors and senior colleagues regarding how you are progressing toward your departments quantitative and qualitative tenure and promotion research metrics.

When should I pre-publish material from my book?

Pre-publishing book and book-adjacent material is both a way to generate interest in the book with your core audience and to establish your author profile. So, you should aim to have at least one such article accepted for publication before you draft book proposals.

By the time you submit book proposals, you should know what material is (or will be) pre-published. Do not plan to submit another chapter from your book as a journal article after submitting book proposals.

Where should I pre-publish my academic book’s material?

One main goal of pre-publishing book material is to spark interest in the topic with your book’s audience. Additionally, editors might use journal titles, in part, to determine the audience(s) for whom you regularly write. So, try to place your article-length material in a top journal read by your book’s target audience.

If, for instance, your book is about representations of dance in 19th-century Scandinavian poetry and you intend for your claims to be significant to scholars of 19th-century Scandinavian literature, it’s probably not a good idea to target a dance studies journal. (For more on selecting appropriate journals, I know of no better resource than Wendy Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks).

Working with Pre-Published Material: The Proposal, Permissions, and Your Book Chapter

What should I say in my book proposal about material I’ve pre-published?

Presses have different recommendations about where to discuss pre-published material.

Princeton, for instance, asks authors to “indicate whether any of the material has been published previously” in the “proposed chapter outline.” Other presses, by contrast, ask you to address this point in an “apparatus” section. Do refer to your target press’s guidelines.

When describing pre-published material, be as specific as possible regarding how–if at all–the book chapter builds on or expands the journal article version.

For more on preparing strong proposals and outlining your book’s specs, see Laura Portwood-Stacer’s The Book Proposal Book.

How do I get permission to reprint a journal article in my academic book? How hard is it to get permission?

As the acquisitions editors and I describe in the video clip above, getting permission to reprint a published journal article in an academic monograph is usually simple. In most cases, you will merely complete and submit paperwork.

To learn what your specific journal requires, visit the journal’s page and search for materials on permissions and/or reprinting.

Note: some journals also require you to include specific language in your book’s acknowledgments or introduction about the reprinted material.

How different does the monograph chapter version of a published journal article need to be?

The shortest and most accurate (though somewhat frustrating) answer is: “as much as is necessary for the chapter to do what it needs to do in service of the book.” That is, you should not add materiaal for the sake of adding something. Similarly, you should not merely copy and paste your journal article into your book manuscript and call it “done” for efficiency’s sake.

Book chapters and journal articles are inherently different: academic book chapters must contribute a piece to a much larger book-level argument. Journal articles, by contrast, are self-contained.

So, instead of worrying about quantitative dimensions (is adding 3,500 words enough? How about one new case study?), revise your work in such a way that it serves the book.

Looking for concrete information about how, specifically, to revise your journal article into a book chapter? I’ve got you covered with my post outlining four key dimensions you should carefully review when revising your journal article into a book chapter.

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