Finding the Right Academic Publisher #4: Ranking University Presses

Finding a Publisher for your Academic Book, Activity 4_ Interviewing Colleagues and Mentors to Rank Your List of Target Presses

How can you publish your academic book with a top press in your field?

In this post—the final in the four part “Finding an academic Publisher” series—I show you how to do just that.

By now, you’ve already done the hard work. You’ve gotten to know your book again, and you put together your long list of publishers in your field. Then, you researched presses that publish in your fields. You now know which presses actually publish books like yours. And you have a strong case for why your book would be a great fit for the others.

But making the case for your book to a press is only half the equation.

Not all publishers are equally prestigious. In fact, press prestige is field- and topic-dependent. The top university press in Latin American Cultural Studies might only be mid-tier in French Cultural Studies or Latin American History.

Even if it’s not the sole reason for publishing your book, you probably hope it will count toward tenure and/or promotion. Press prestige will likely play a role in your dossier, to varying degrees. And, as Karen Kelsky points out, “The prestige of the press still matters!

So, in this exercise, you will rank the presses into 2-3 tiers by interviewing the two groups who will evaluate your dossier: colleagues at your current institution and mentors in your field(s). You will also contact

Ready to start?

What to Ask Your Current Colleagues & Why

Your colleagues will be the ones to vote on your tenure/promotion case. But they might not necessarily be familiar with your specific field’s publishing landscape. So, you will want to make sure that they see the university presses you are considering as “reputable” in a general sense.

Here, I recommend a combination of formal and informal interviews. If possible, start with your department chair or the chair of your department’s promotion and tenure committee.

Here’s a sample script for what you might say:

I’m close to starting to put together book proposals. I have a tentative target list of publishers for which I think my book would be a good fit. So, I wanted to meet with you to make sure the departmental tenure and promotion committee would look favorably on books published with these presses. Right now, I’m considering… Do you have any concerns?

These meetings are also a great opportunity to get any additional publishing advice from senior departmental colleagues. Questions you might ask include:

  • Do you have any tips or advice for me as I begin the proposal process?
  • Is there anything you routinely see junior colleagues do wrong at this stage?
  • (If the person has published a book him/herself): Is there anything you wish you’d have known before preparing and submitting book proposals?

Finally, these meetings can also be a useful way to make second-hand connections to editors. I recommend only asking these questions if your colleague is relatively research productive herself and if her field is relatively close to yours:

  • Do you happen to know other scholars who have recently published with these presses? (Check out what to ask them!)
  • Do you happen to know the acquisitions editor(s) at any of these presses?

If you’re on the tenure track, you should also try to get a sense of what state the book will need to be in by the time you submit your research dossier for external review. “A book” can refer to very different milestones–sometimes, up to 3 years apart!

What to Ask Mentors and Senior Colleagues in Your Field & Why

Conversations with senior mentors in your field will serve three main purposes. First, they will help confirm that you have identified publishers for which your book will be a good fit. Second, because they are much more likely to be in your subfield(s) than colleagues at your current institution, they will be able to more accurately help you rank your presses into tiers. Finally, they might have personal connections to editors or be willing to introduce you in person or via email.

I’m close to starting to put together book proposals. I have a tentative target list of publishers for which I think my book would be a good fit. So, I wanted to meet with you to make sure I’ve chosen presses for which my book would be a good fit and that my tiers are relatively accurate. Right now, I’m considering… as my top tier, and … as my second tier. Do you have any concerns? Are there any presses I should add to my list? Any presses I should eliminate?

If you must ask by email, be sure to include a current brief (3-4 sentence) summary of your book, especially if it’s changed majorly since the last time she’s seen it.

At the end of an in-person conversation or in a follow-up email, ask your mentor if she knows the acquisitions editor and/or series editor for your subject area and, if so, she might be willing to introduce you via email (when the time is right) or allow you to use her name in your proposal cover letter.

What to Ask Authors Who Have Recently Published with Your Top Presses

Formal and informal interviews with authors that have recently published with your top presses serve two purposes: 1) gleaning critical information about how that press, specifically works and 2) potentially establishing second-hand connections to editors for “warm” introductions.

One main question plagues authors of first books–“When should I submit book proposals?” The real answer? It depends on so many press-, project-, and author-specific factors that it’s impossible to give universal advice. However, now is the point when you can gain critical information about how the acquisitions editors at your top presses prefer to work.

I outline much more specific questions in the “Querying Mentors and Recent Authors about Your Target Presses” lesson of my standalone course on identifying your book’s audience and finding a publisher, but you will broadly want to ask about their own path from initial contact with the editor to published book and about their own personal experiences of what it was like to work with that editor and press.

Identifying your book's audience and Finding an Academic Publisher

Final Step: Finalize Your Tiers and Turn toward the Proposal

Now that you’ve interviewed mentors and colleagues for a variety of purposes, you should have reasonably set top and second (if not third) tiers. You might also have second-hand connections to the press’s editors.

So, you are now ready to begin formally preparing your book proposal.

The good news?

The hard work you’ve done in this “Finding a Publisher” series will serve as the basis for parts of your book proposal. For instance, the book summary and “mini competing works” you produced back in activity 1 will find their way into the summary/overview and competing works sections, respectively. And the information about each press’s proposal procedure you gathered will help you tailor your proposal to each of your top presses.

Ready to Move on to Actually Writing Your Book Proposal?

Here are three resources to get you started:

First, Overhaul Your Book’s Title

Did you know that your book’s title will be the first data point editors will use to understand your project? A bad title can cause editors to reject your project (if they don’t understand how it fits their list) or send it to the wrong reviewers. So, before you do anything else, take 90 minutes to complete my free mini-course that teaches you how to apply the lessons I gleaned by analyzing 188 monograph titles to revise your own book’s title.

How to Title Your Academic Book

Then, Learn to Tackle This Tricky Section

We academics don’t typically think of our scholarship as a commercial product, much less one that’s competing with other titles in the marketplace. So, the “competing works,” or “market competition” section can be opaque. How many works should it contain? With which books is yours in “competition”? In this post, I tell you exactly how to tackle this important section.

Finally, Read This Monster Post

I get it. You want to learn everything you can about book proposals now. Wait no more! Here you go.

Academic book proposals questions and answers
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