Monday, April 30, 2012

How to write a book proposal for an academic press

So, you want to turn your dissertation into a book? Or, perhaps you want to write your first academic book on an entirely different subject. Unless you are famous and have publishers soliciting manuscripts from you, you likely will have to submit a formal academic book proposal to an academic press to have a hope of publishing a book with such a press.


Many university press websites have guidelines that can help you through this process. UC Press has a good set of guidelines as does Harvard. Be sure to check the websites of the press where you plan to submit to find out if they have specific guidelines.

In this blog post, I provide generic suggestions for what should go in an academic book proposal, and then suggest a method for writing such a proposal.

A book proposal for an academic press has seven basic components:

  1. A one-page description of the book. The most important aspect of this one-page description is the argument you will set forth. Here is one example of how to do this:
    1. Paragraph 1: Hook – Invite the reader into your proposal with an interesting anecdote or some surprising data,
    2. Paragraph 2: State your central argument. Back it up with a few sentences.
    3. Paragraph 3: State the contribution to scholarship and place your work in the literature.
    4. Paragraph 4: Provide a brief roadmap to the book. Guide the reader through the book.
  2. A descriptive table of contents. Dedicate one paragraph to each chapter. Give the title of the chapter and provide a three to four sentence summary of the chapter.
  3. A mechanical description of the final manuscript. Here you say that the estimated length of the final manuscript will be anywhere from 70,000 to 150,000 words. More or fewer words may raise eyebrows. You also should specify how many illustrations and/or tables you anticipate.
  4. A description of the audience for your book. Tell the editor who you expect to purchase your book. Will it be read only in your field, or also in other disciplines? Will undergraduates be able to understand your book? Or, is it solely directed at faculty and graduate students? Could it be used in undergraduate or graduate courses? If so, explain which ones.
  5. Describe the competition. What are the existing books in your field? Name those books. How will your book stand out from these? Do you use a different methodology or approach? Is yours designed for a different audience? If any of the competing books you mention are quite similar to your own, spend a few sentences explaining how yours is distinct.
  6. How far along are you? Do you have a complete manuscript? If you do, say so. If not, say how many chapters you have completed, and provide an expected date of completion. If this is your first academic book, I discourage you from sending a proposal before you are certain you will finish the book within a year. If the publisher requires a complete manuscript, you likely want to be less than six months away from completion before sending the proposal.
  7. Who might review your book? You can provide the names and contact information of people who you think might be appropriate readers for your book.

Now that you know what the components are, it should be easier to imagine how you will write such a proposal. I suggest you start with the chapter descriptions, as those should not be terribly difficult to write. Once you have those done, you can begin to work on the introductory first page. When you get stuck, turn to the other, easier parts of the proposal. Describe the audience; list the reviewers; say how far along you are.

Once you get a full draft of your book proposal, set it aside for a week and work on the book, preferably on the Introduction. Pick the proposal back up after a week and see how it reads. Edit it and give it to a friend to read. Once you are comfortable with it, send it out to presses.

You can send your proposal to as many presses as you like. Some presses even allow for multiple submission of the entire manuscript.

Good luck!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

How to Publish an Academic Book – Why Choosing a Publisher is Important and How to Choose One

Like many aspects of academic publishing, where you publish is often as important as what you publish. Thus, the decision of where to publish your academic book is a crucial one. It could make a tremendous difference in your career whether you publish your first book with Harvard University Press or VDM- Verlag.

If you are in a field such as History or Literature, where book publishing is essential, the prestige of the press is particularly important. If this is your first book, and the primary purpose of writing the book is to secure tenure, in most cases, you should first try to publish your book with a university press.

Harper memorial library - mark your seat and your favorite book with a note!

A university press is a publishing house associated with a university, such as Cambridge, Duke, or the University of California. University presses are ranked by prestige, and, in most cases, the prestige of the press is directly related to the prestige of the university. However, there is some nuance here, and presses are often known for specializing in certain subfields. For example, if you are publishing a book on Spanish literature, it may be better for you to publish with Bucknell than MIT. So, how do you figure all of this out?

Which University Press Should I Publish In?

Because university presses vary both in terms of prestige and the areas in which they publish, it is important to choose the right press. Here are three strategies you can use to help you figure out which publishers could be right for your project.

Look at your bookshelf. What books are you reading? Where are they published? Pay special attention to books you are reading and citing that have been published in the past five years, as presses change their focus over time. Are there any presses that stand out on your bookshelf?

Ask around. Ask people who are familiar with your work, who have read part of your dissertation or other papers, which presses they think are most appropriate for your work. Ask senior colleagues in your field which presses are known for publishing in your subfield. For example, if your field is Latin American Literature, ask colleagues in that field which presses have the best lists in that field. Also ask around your department so that you get a sense of which presses are most respected in your discipline in general.

Visit book booths at conferences and try to find books similar to your own. Pay attention to which books are on the front display, as those are the books the publisher is highlighting. You also can ask the representatives at the conference booth if they publish in your area. Be prepared to ask a concise question such as: I am writing a book on discourses of race and racism in Peru. Is that an area in which your press might be interested? Usually, the representative can tell you pretty quickly whether or not they are building a list in your field. If they are very interested, they may ask you for more information, so be prepared to tell them a bit more about your work.

University, Trade Academic, Trade, and Vanity Presses: What’s the difference?

What about publishing with a non-university press? In addition to university presses, there are trade academic presses such as Routledge, Rowman and Littlefield, Palgrave MacMillan, Lynne Rienner, and Paradigm Publishers. Whether or not you should publish in these presses depends a lot on your field and your department. In some departments, these presses are seen as not as prestigious as the university presses, and any university press would be better. However, in other fields, it does not make a difference, and a book with one of these presses is perfectly fine.

I published my first book with a university press because my mentor told me explicitly that a university press was the best bet to ensure tenure. Thus, although two trade academic presses solicited my manuscript, I never sent them my materials. Trade academic presses also seem to be a bit more likely to solicit manuscripts from junior scholars.

I am not at all against publishing with trade academic presses, but I do think that you should be aware that there is a hierarchy, and that these things matter in academia. Whether or not they should matter is a different question.

I decided to publish my second and third books with academic trade presses. I never even discussed my second book with an academic press. I made that decision because I figured Paradigm Publishers, an academic trade press, would give me more editorial leeway on a controversial topic, because their current list includes a wide variety of controversial topics. My third book was invited by a series editor at Routledge, and they promised (and delivered) a very quick turnaround, making this an excellent choice.

I am happy with my decision to publish with trade academic presses. However, I did not publish these books in a quest to secure tenure – I had my university press book as well as several articles for that purpose. I am currently writing another book, and I have not yet decided which kind of press I will shoot for.

In addition to academic trade presses and university presses, there are trade presses such as Simon & Schuster, W.W. Norton, and Viking. Publishing in trade presses is a whole different ballgame, and generally requires an agent and a marketing scheme. If and when I figure out how that works, I will write a separate post on trade presses.

I should note that there are also vanity presses, which may email you asking you to submit your manuscript. A notable one is VDM, which routinely sends out emails asking if you would like to publish with them. If you do not need a book for your career, and would like something to give your mother, this is a good option. Otherwise, steer clear of vanity presses or any press that does not send your book out for peer review.

If you are not sure whether or not a particular press is an academic press, in addition to asking your colleagues, you can also ask the press if they send the manuscript out for review and if they copy-edit the manuscript. Any press that does not do those two things is not an academic press.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ask the Experts: Seven Strategies for Success on the Tenure Track

Securing a tenure track position in today's job market is a major accomplishment. Once you have one, though, how can you ensure your success and achieve tenure?

Success Ahead .. Helping others is a pillar of Judaism.  King David declares: Olam Chesed Yibane – the world is built through kindness. That is the essence of Judaism. (February 10, 2012 / 17 Shevat 5772) ...

Last week, I was on a panel where new faculty could ask the panelists questions about the promotion and tenure process. The invitation to the panel indicated that we should come prepared to answer questions and that they would end the panel by asking us to each give our single most important piece of advice to new faculty.

I decided that my single most important piece of advice would be to tell the new faculty that they could figure out the tenure standards for their department, even if no one wanted to be very specific about it. I detail how to do that in this post.

There were other gems of advice offered by the Chairs, Deans, and tenured professors on that panel, and I will share some of them with you.

  1. Write every day

    One of my colleagues told me before the panel that her single most piece of advice would be to write every day. This, of course, is a piece of advice that I fully endorse. Writing every day is one of the most important things you can do to achieve the research productivity needed for tenure.
  2. Look at the tenure documentation

    Several panelists mentioned the importance of actually looking at the tenure documentation early in your career. I remember doing that and the paperwork seeming a bit overwhelming. Now that I am on the other side, I think you should not only look at the forms you will have to fill out when you apply for tenure and promotion, but that you should actually fill them out. In fact, I think you should fill out two versions. The first version should be based on your current CV. The second version should be how you plan for your CV to look when you go up for tenure. That will give you a very accurate idea of what you are shooting for.
  3. Make a list of your external reviewers

    Now. One of the best pieces of advice I received on the tenure track was to make a list of 12 people who are at the top of my field, and to make it a point to contact them while I was on the tenure track. If you write this list in your first year, you only have to contact two people per year over the next six years. And, you can start with the least intimidating people.
  4. Network to establish a national reputation

    One of the panelists suggested a fairly easy way to do this: Organize a panel at your national conference. Organizing a panel will put you in touch with scholars in your field, and will give you increased visibility.
  5. Be mindful of service

    Another good piece of advice was to be mindful of how much and what kind of service you do. First, you have to figure out what kind of service you like. Do you like serving on review panels? Do you like curriculum development? Do you like organizing seminars? Do you want to be on the athletics committee in the hopes of scoring free basketball tickets? What do you like to do? Once you figure out what kind of service you like, you may want to be proactive and search out those kinds of opportunities. That way, when other opportunities arise, you can say that you are already occupied with other service tasks. It is, of course, crucial to know that you can say “no” to service requests, especially when your “no” is accompanied by a good explanation.
  6. Teach effectively and efficiently

    We also discussed teaching. One of my colleagues suggested mid-course evaluations as a valuable tactic. I fully agree. I often find that asking students their opinions midway through the course is an optimal way to get feedback you can actually implement as well as gives the students an opportunity to get any strong opinions they have off their chest. I also just had to mention Robert Boice’s finding that successful new faculty don’t spend more than two hours preparing for each class. My fellow panelists also suggested that new faculty seek out advice from their more seasoned colleagues as to how to be a more efficient grader and more effective teacher.
  7. Know your evaluation criteria and use them as a guide

    The panelists also pointed out that the evaluation criteria at the University of Kansas are: 40% research; 40% teaching; and 20% service, and that you cannot overcompensate in one area and expect for it to spill over into other areas. This is especially the case for service and research. You can’t do tons of service and hope that no one will notice your lack of research productivity. 

It can be overwhelming to be starting a new tenure track position. But, life on the tenure track does not have to be tortuous. Keep that in mind as you come up for strategies to survive and thrive on the tenure track

Sunday, April 8, 2012

How to Thrive in a Joint Appointment: Four Strategies You Can Implement

Are you in a joint appointment? Thinking of applying for or accepting a joint appointment? Here are my thoughts on how to make a joint appointment work for you.

When I applied for a position as an Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas in 2005 with a joint appointment in Sociology and American Studies, I had no idea what a joint appointment was. I did know, however, that I wanted a job at a Research I institution, so I accepted the joint position with few questions about that aspect of my new job.
My first year on the tenure-track in a joint position was difficult. I found it challenging to discern how much service I should do, how involved I should get with the politics in each department, how much emotional energy I should invest in the various conflicts that emerged, and how to create a publication record that would please both departments. Of course, the first year on the tenure track is difficult for most people. However, I think that the mere fact of having two departments at least means that you are twice as likely as a person with one department to find yourself negotiating messy departmental politics. Finding one sane, well-run department is difficult. Being lucky enough to end up in two is even rarer.

People often ask me my opinion on joint appointments, as I have had one for seven years. I think that there are costs and benefits to joint appointed positions, and that perhaps the costs outweigh the benefits. However, this post is not directed at administrators trying to make decisions about whether or not to create joint appointments. Instead, it is directed at those faculty members who find themselves jointly appointed and want to make it work.

Here are a few lessons I have learned along the way that have helped me to thrive in my joint appointment.

  1. Find good mentors. In each department, find a mentor with lots of institutional capital who can help you navigate service requests. I copied one of my departmental mentors on every service-related email exchange I had with my Chair to ensure that she was aware of what was being asked of me, and went to her for advice before accepting any service requests.
  2.  Make sure no one forgets you have a joint appointment. Although perhaps it should not be this way, it will often fall on your shoulders to remind your Chair and others in the department that you have a joint appointment. Make sure that you remind people whenever necessary. For example, in both of my departments, we are expected to set aside time to advise students during advising period. In Sociology, we are asked to set aside three hours a week. I set aside 1.5 hours, and remind the person making this request that I have a joint appointment and thus do half the advising hours.  In American Studies, each full-time faculty member is given 12 advisees, and jointly appointed people are given 6. As this is already the norm, I don’t have to say anything.
  3.  Pull your weight, but no more. Be sure you are pulling your fair share in the Department – as a jointly appointed faculty member.  If everyone in your Department is on two committees, then, as a jointly appointed faculty, you should only be on one. If everyone is on just one committee, then you should request one of the committee assignments with a lighter load, in light of your joint appointment. Feel free to be creative in what you ask for. One year, for example, I was on the Undergraduate studies committee in Sociology, which does both curriculum development and advising. I asked if I could just do advising, and the Chair agreed. That also worked out well for me because I find advising more rewarding.
  4.  Make it work to your advantage. Try to come up with ways that the joint appointment can work to your advantage. Here are three examples of ways I have done that:
    • At the University of Kansas, American Studies is considered to be in the Humanities, and Sociology in the Social Sciences. When we have internal grant applications, I can choose which area to submit my application. As the Social Sciences tend to have more resources, I usually submit my internal grant applications to the Social Science Division.
    •  I have a 2/2 teaching load, with one course per semester in each department. By teaching courses in both departments, I have a wider selection of courses to choose from and have been able to teach what I want when I want to by taking advantage of the wider range of possibilities than those that a singly-appointed faculty member might have.
    • As a jointly appointed faculty member, I can request resources from both departments.  Thus, when one department is not able to provide me with something I need, I can ask the other department.

The last thing I will say about joint appointments is that if your joint appointment really is not working out, keep in mind that you often can switch your line to be fully appointed in one department. Admittedly, you should have a really good reason to do this, but it is often an option if things are not working out in your joint appointment.