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Tips for getting your book published from an IU Press acquisitions editor

Oct 9, 2019

When Jennika Baines, now an acquisitions editor at Indiana University Press, started in publishing, she admitted that she didn’t know the difference between a dissertation and a book.

stack of books
Indiana University Press is based at the Wells Library at IU Bloomington.Photo by Getty Images

And she quickly realized that it was something other people had questions about, too.

One of the biggest differences is audience, she said. In a dissertation, you are writing for your committee members and want to show you’ve done the research and have opinions on your area of study. But for a book, the audience is broader and doesn’t always need all that context and background. Plus, writing a book is a much more collaborative experience, as authors work with editors, marketers and designers.

So Baines, who specializes in global and international studies books, compiled a list of tips and regularly shares them at events at the Wells Library in Bloomington, where IU Press is based.

Whether you want to adapt your dissertation into a book or are working on your third or fourth book, getting published is a big part of a career in academia, she said.

Inside IU asked Baines to share some of her advice for getting your book proposal accepted. Here are her tips:

If you’re starting with your dissertation

Start by cutting down footnotes and literary reviews. But most importantly, think about your audience – people outside your university community. What do you want them to know? What are they looking for you to tell them?

“Be aware of the fact that someone will pay for your book,” she said.

Find a press

Just because your university has a press doesn’t mean that’s the best press for you. Each press has subject areas they focus on, so look for ones that would be a good fit. Think about how your book would fit into the larger conversation that the press is producing.

To find a press, you can check the Association of University Presses’ Subject Area Grid or the book exhibit halls at conferences in your field. Don’t be afraid to reach out to editors to see if they would be a good fit to work with.

“A lot of the time people think they want to go with a big-name press, which does have its advantages,” Baines said. “But a smaller press might offer other benefits like more hands-on experience with an editor, so it’s good to explore.”

Get your proposal ready

Every press will have a list of what they want included in a proposal. Just like a cover letter for a job application, proposals should be tailored to each press. Include how your book will fit in with the books the press has already published and include a summary of your book. Remember to tailor the pitch to a reader who may know about the topic but isn’t an expert.

And keep it interesting. If the most interesting part of the book is in chapter three, put that at the top of your pitch, not after a recap of chapters one and two. Think of it as an elevator pitch: clear and interesting to as many people as possible.

“A really good proposal will accompany the book along the entire process from the pitch to the jacket cover,” Baines said. “Keep it concise, engaging and really relevant.”

Send multiple proposals

With journal articles, the pitching process means one journal at a time until you find the right one. But with presses, you can send the same book (with a tailored pitch) to multiple places at once. Include in the proposal that you are sending the pitch to multiple presses.

“If you agree to work with a press, stick to it,” she said.

Know that you are a marketer, too

Something else to bring up in the proposal is how you as the author would be involved in marketing and spreading the word about your book and your work. One way to do that is to have a social media presence that you can use as a platform for your work and to build a following.

“A press can’t work for you; we need to work with you, and the most successful books are when the authors are involved in marketing,” Baines said.

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