APLA Mentoring at AAA in Denver: Publishing Your First Book

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Shaylih Muehlmann’s recent book, published by University of California Press.

By Christine Hegel-Cantarella

At our AAA Early Career workshop on Publishing your First Book, we were fortunate to have five editors (Anne Brackenbury of University of Toronto, Kate Marshall of University of California, Michelle Lipinski of Stanford University, and Priya Nelson University of Chicago, Marion Berghahn of Berghahn Books), as well as  Shaylih Muehlmann and Caroline Schuster, who each recently published their first book.  Our panelists all shared invaluable advice and answered myriad questions from the audience.  Although there were divergences that highlighted some of the ways each press is unique, I’ll recount here some of their shared wisdom:

When you have a clear idea for a book project, and at least some chapters completed, dive in!  Don’t be afraid to reach out and make appointments well in advance of the AAA meetings to meet with an editor or two.  Do your homework first (talk to friends and colleagues who’ve published, look carefully at book lists to identify which presses might be a good home for your book.  

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Caroline Schuster’s recent book, published by University of California Press.

When you meet with the publisher, never pitch a book as your dissertation.  The book needs to
be for a very different audience than your committee and in some way be the next step beyond that first pass.  Also, don’t pitch your book as filling a gap in the literature; an editor wants to be excited and compelled by your book project on its own terms.  Be prepared to explain why you are excited about the book, what you think makes it unique, and be clear about WHO you want to read your book.  

If an editor is interested, disclose if you are still shopping it around.  Some editors will only look at book proposals and manuscripts if they are your first and only choice.  

If an editor is interested in having you submit a book proposal, ask friends and colleagues if you can review their successful proposals to guide you.  Some tips: Be able to cite other recent work that addresses similar themes and be realistic about your time frame.

If you are still the process of figuring out how to transform your dissertation into a book, it might be worth the investment to hire a developmental editor (I recommend Erin Martineau: http://www.emartineau.com/; press editors can also recommend developmental editors) to help you organize your ideas and refine the prose in your sample chapters (or your entire manuscript).  This can help tip reviewers and the editor toward publishing your book.

Finally, if your book doesn’t get picked up by the publisher you wanted, don’t feel dismayed!  There are many reasons beyond the quality of your scholarship that may lead an editor to pass on your book so get back in the saddle and pitch your book to another publisher.   

About Jennifer Curtis

Jennifer Curtis is an Honorary Fellow in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh: http://www.sps.ed.ac.uk/staff/social_anthropology/curtis_jennifer.

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