You—the author—have the ultimate insider’s perspective when it comes to your book. You know everything about each object you analyze and how your ideas develop over the course of your chapters.
Publishers come to your book through a very different perspective.
First and foremost, they see it through the lenses of field/discipline, methodology, topic, and scope. And despite larger academic trends toward interdisciplinarity, many university presses still publish within narrow academic disciplines.
How to Situate Your Book in the Publishing Landscape
You probably have a good sense of your field’s intellectual landscape. But your field’s publishing landscape is slightly different and centers around parameters that we often take for granted. So, your first step in finding a publisher is re-familiarizing yourself with these (more basic) dimensions of your book.
The AUP Subject Area Grid
Start by considering the Association of University Presses’ Subject Area Grid. Notice just how broad the categories are.
For instance, the closest subject areas for someone working on a cultural history of 18th-century Northern European folk dance would be “History–European,” or “Arts–Dance.” These subject areas are very blunt instruments, and also imply very different books!
Ask yourself: in which one, highest-order subject area would your book be classified? Is it an “African Studies” book that draws on history to make its claims, or is it a “History” book first that also participates in African Studies? Is your book a “Literature (Scholarly)” book or a “Gender and Sexuality Studies” book? A publisher will eventually need to paint your book with such broad strokes! (Note that these questions are also similar to those you must ask to assess your book’s audience.)
For additional support and ideas for using the AUP Subject Area Grid to assess your book (and, consequently, identify a long list of target publishers, see the section “Professional Guides” in Chapter 4 of William Germano’s Getting it Published, 3rd. ed.
Then, reflect: what does approaching your book with this very blunt instrument teach you about the publishing landscape and about how presses will see your book?
Your Book’s Key Dimensions
Finally, you’ll lay out a few additional key characteristics regarding your book and do a bit of research to make sure you get a broad sense of your field’s publishing landscape.
Answer the following questions:
- What geographical and historical contexts do you consider?
- In what subdiscipline(s) does your book fit? (cultural anthropology, continental philosophy, postcolonial studies, etc.)?
- What primary sources do you use for your analyses? What does this tell you about your discipline and subdiscipline? (e.g. if your main primary sources are novels, you are probably writing a literary critical monograph; if your main primary sources are archival documents, you are probably writing some type of history)
- Who is your book’s one primary scholarly audience?
With your answers in mind, choose 2–3 publishers from the AUP Subject Area Grid that are currently acquiring in your book’s main area. Visit their webpage and search for their subject areas. Find the one or ones most closely aligned with your project. Notice how their subject areas might differ from those on the AUP Subject Area Grid, and how your project might fit.
Going through some potential target presses’ subject area catalogs likely gives you a very general sense, too, of both the differences between the subjects and those between publishers that acquire in the same area. For instance, perhaps one of the publishers the author of the cultural history of 18th-century Northern European folk dance does acquire in dance/performance studies, but only projects focusing on the modern area. Maybe another publisher acquires in 18th-century European dance studies, but prefers classical and not folk projects.
Ask yourself: in which press subject areas does your book seem to fit most logically? What differences do you notice about the books these presses publish in similar areas?
Now that you’ve gotten a sense of the broad strokes through which publishers will classify your project, you’ll use your knowledge of your (sub)discipline’s intellectual landscape to start to assemble a more targeted list of publishers that could be good outlets for your project.