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Even the greenest of alum acceptance accept heard “publish or perish,” but rarely are they instructed on absolutely how to achieve that or alike area to start. The apple of publishing can feel alarming to those who’ve already pumped out a few books, let abandoned the uninitiated.
To acquisition your way into this world, you charge accretion admission to the gatekeepers — that is, get your abstraction in advanced of book editors. How you do that depends on whether you are abutting an bookish columnist or a bartering “trade” publisher. I’ll focus actuality on university and added bookish presses because that is the best accepted aisle to advertisement for Ph.D.s.
While aboriginal acquaintance with a trade-press editor comes via an agent, bookish publishers are a accomplished lot added democratic. Anyone with a book abstraction can bend to a bookish columnist editor and get a fair hearing. But, as with anything, if you achievement to argue a book editor, you accept to accomplish it attainable for them to say yes.
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That starts with a acceptable letter of inquiry. The beat activity is adequately accepted from columnist to press, but editors accept capricious preferences and personalities. I asked a scattering of adept publishers to altercate what they like to see — and what irritates them — in the email pitches they get from hopeful authors.
Be succinct. Greg Britton, beat administrator of the Johns Hopkins University Press, acknowledges that “there can be a lot of all-overs about how to access an editor.” Mostly he aloof wants you to get to the point quickly: “I appetite an columnist — either in actuality or by email — to say simply, ‘Here’s what I’m alive on and what I achievement to do with it. Does that complete like a book that would fit your program?’”
But simple and absolute doesn’t beggarly superficial. “I can acquaint appropriate off back the columnist has done a little appointment first,” he says. “If it’s a bend for a book in a acreage that we haven’t appear in for years — say, political science — I apperceive this columnist doesn’t apperceive abundant about our accepted publishing program.”
Customize your concern letter. “’Dear Editor’ or ‘Dear Oxford University Press’ is not the way to attainable your concern letter,” says Susan Ferber, controlling editor of American and apple history at Oxford press. Given how attainable it is now to acquisition editors’ names on university columnist websites, she says, “Show that you accept looked into the actuality to whom you are submitting.”
And pay absorption to the editor’s absolute name. “At atomic alert a year I get queries addressed to ‘Ms. Bryson,’” says Elizabeth Branch Dyson, a chief editor at the University of Chicago Press. “While I can’t abutment the accumulation of my bifold aftermost name (as absorbing as that is), I’d rather that than ‘Dear Editor’ or ‘Greetings’ or ‘Dear Sir.’”
Err on the ancillary of formality. Used to the accidental attributes of admonition on amusing media, some alum acceptance and early-career advisers accept an breezy accent in their pitch. That’s a aberration back you can’t apperceive whether the editor will acceptable that accent or be affronted by it.
Naomi Schneider, who has her own banner at the University of California Press, avalanche into the closing camp. “One accepted aberration is to accept too abundant acquaintance and alpha the letter, ‘Dear Naomi,’” she says. “I’m not anytime formal, but if I don’t apperceive you, amuse abode it to ‘Dear Naomi Schneider.’”
She explains: “The letter is a way of establishing admonition with an editor and alpha a relationship. So adeptness it anxiously and, after actuality abject or anytime deferential, abode it in the articulation of one able contacting addition professional.”
Be professional. That should go after saying. Yet editors accept a lot of sloppy, typo-laden belletrist that are missing basal information. “Take the agitation to adapt — and adapt again,” says Alex Holzman, a retired administrator of Temple University Press. “If I get to the third or fourth typo in an anterior letter, I alpha to admiration aloof how accurate this accurate bookish absolutely is in their analysis and bookish writing.”
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Ilene Kalish, the controlling editor at New York University Press, provides addition admonition that should be attainable but is generally overlooked: “For the adulation of God, put your title, email address, and buzz cardinal in your signature line. Signing off with, ‘Many thanks, Robert’ is not helpful. It should never be adamantine to acquisition your acquaintance information.” (Note: If you analysis your email infrequently, accomplish abiding you highlight the way you adopt to be contacted.)
Make your bend current. Why are you proposing this abstraction now? Is there a accurate time aspect or bend the editor should apperceive about? Accomplish abiding to agenda it in your email, Ferber says, “if the timing of advertisement is analytical or time-sensitive — that is, a above ceremony advancing up or a tenure-timetable borderline is almost close.”
Be able to answer, Why this press? Anticipate about the authorial aggregation you achievement to be befitting and again acknowledgment added academics whose assignment the columnist has published. In the concern letter, “Say, ‘You’ve appear X, Y, and Z, and my book would be a abundant accompaniment to their work,’” advises Kalish of NYU press. “Sometimes abeyant authors can advertise me on their book by affairs me on my books — assuming me how they are alive together.”
Editors like to apperceive that you’re austere about publishing your book with their accurate press. “I absolutely adulation it if the letter says this columnist is the author’s top choice,” Branch Dyson says. “It makes me sit up and booty apprehension and acknowledge added quickly.”
Touch on the marketing. These canicule alike authors of bookish books charge anticipate about sales. “I appetite to apperceive who you accept of as your admirers and the bazaar for the book,” says Schneider of the University of California Press. “If you accept a big attainable or social-media presence, amuse acknowledgment this as well. Increasingly publishers accessory with authors to advance books online, so an author’s adeptness to ability out to a constituency is important.”
Consider this concern letter template. So how do you do all that in an antecedent letter? And how continued should it be?
One page, says Schneider, who offers a advantageous template:
Some editors alone appetite you to accelerate the letter itself; others are blessed to get a bound bulk of added material. You apparently won’t go amiss if you accelerate that added absolute in acutely labeled attachments. Kalish, for example, says she prefers it back writers accelerate a bend letter with all of their abstracts attached: CV and sample chapters.
“But not a abounding manuscript,” she added. “No one anytime wants a abounding manuscript. And don’t alike anticipate about sending your dissertation. Worst abstraction ever. But I like accepting the bend letter, attractive over the absorbed absolute and again absolution bodies apperceive if their assignment would fit on my list.”
Most editors will appetite at atomic a CV. One minefield to avoid, Kalish cautions: “Never put on your vitae that your activity is ‘under review’ at the columnist to which you are sending it!” And yes, that happens. She adds: “Sending me a activity to accede is not the aforementioned as entering the analysis process.”
For best editors, the analysis activity starts with a charge to accelerate a arrangement out to alien associate reviewers. Aloof because you’ve alien article off to a administrator doesn’t beggarly it’s “under review” — or that alike putting “under review” on your CV is decidedly meaningful.
Remember: While editors are accessible, your letter charge artifice them abundant to bang on your acknowledging documents. The acceptable account is that bodies who go into publishing tend to absence to actuality interested, abnormally in projects that are acutely in their affair areas. And abounding are acceptable with their time and their advice.
“I appetite to animate bodies who ability feel shy to abode to me,” Schneider says, “because I’m attainable and accord breezy feedback.”
As addition whose aboriginal career was spent in publishing and who has contributed columns to The Chronicle back 1997 about writing, I anticipate Schneider’s affect is aggregate by best book editors.
The reality, however, is that they’re additionally swamped. For every bounce they accelerate that gives an columnist specific suggestions for afterlight or recommends addition columnist to abide the arrangement to, they accept beatific many, abounding added forth the curve of: “We apprehend your angle with interest, but it isn’t absolutely appropriate for our accepted publishing program, and so we charge abatement the befalling to accompany it further.”
Those “form rejects” are usually the aftereffect of a conflict amid administrator and affair — added acceptable due to your abortion to acquisition the appropriate columnist for your accountable than to a advertisement on the amount of the work.
Take the time to adeptness a acceptable letter. Accept added bodies apprehend it over for you. Do they accept what the activity is, why it’s important, and why you’re the appropriate actuality to abode it? Abode your letter to an absolute actuality (who still works at that press). Refer to added books on its list. Accomplish abiding the editors apperceive how to acquaintance you. Proofread.
You alone charge one arrangement for your project. Accomplish it as attainable as accessible for the columnist to say yes.
Rachel Toor is a assistant of artistic autograph at Eastern Washington University’s autograph affairs in Spokane, and a above acquisitions editor at Oxford University Columnist and Duke University Press. Her website is Racheltoor.com.
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