How to Publish your First Academic Book

So, you submitted your PhD successfully and you received the coveted title. You also managed to get a part time teaching job, or a full time job for which you get paid only at a part time rate. Your ex supervisor, your friends, your relatives, your new colleagues, they all have very high expectations of you. They are looking forward to reading your first monograph. On the other hand, you are too aware of the difficulties of satisfying them.

It is true that there are too many books out there. Everyone wants to be a published author! However, while the publishing houses are facing financial constraints, the publishers are becoming increasingly more selective. Only a small percentage of the books that have been written will be bound in a volume and will enter triumphantly in the libraries and the bookshops of the world. Yours will be one of them, if you follow the simple steps I will describe here.

First of all, you need to chose your publisher carefully. University presses are best suited for your needs at this stage of your career. Check out who published your favourite books in your field in the past ten years. Common sense dictates that the publisher will be interested in producing another volume of the same topic and calibre. While in this process, avoid ALL vanity presses or presses that do not send the manuscript to external readers. These can only harm your future academic career!

As a new and unknown author, you need to inspire trust to your publisher. The most effective way to do that is by asking one of your esteemed colleagues for his/her recommendation. Your ex supervisors and/ or the external examiners of your thesis are best suited for this role. They can talk to their own publishers or send to the press your unpublished thesis with the promise that extensive revisions will take place. If they are in no position to help, do not rush into sending your manuscript to the publisher. First of all, you need to build an excellent reputation by publishing several articles and an edited collection of papers. Once your edited book is in the libraries, it will be much easier for you to land a contract for your monograph.

Since your recommendation letters are assured or your reputation has been strengthened, you should contact personally the publisher. Start from the top publishers in your field. Do not sell your work short! Even if you met the Acquisitions Editor at a conference, send a brief email stating the topic and giving professional information about you. The prospective publisher will be able to tell you whether (in principle) he is interested in producing such a volume or not. With this letter at hand you can go to future employers and apply for full time jobs.

Then it will be time to put together the book proposal. Firstly, you should present the state of the art of your topic by describing briefly the books, which are in the market and their impact on the academic community. Your original contribution to the topic should follow immediately after. Make certain that the publisher, the readers and the general public understand the value of your book and how it will change the way we think about your topic. In addition, you would have to describe the content of the manuscript; so, write down the titles of the chapters and give a summary for each one of them. The publisher will also be interested in the his/her readership, so add a paragraph explaining who will read the volume and why. If you expect it to be used in university courses, by all means, mention it! Do not try to convince them that it addresses the needs of a general readership; rather insist at a targeted audience. Add also information about the length of the manuscript, the photographs and the maps that will be included. This way, the press can estimate the cost of the production. Throughout the proposal be clear, truthful and simple (not simplistic). Send also your cv and at least one chapter.

Send the proposal to one press at the time. I know that you are stressed about the publication and that you would have preferred to send it to a multitude of publishers but I would still advise against it. Bear in mind that publishers occasionally, if not regularly, talk to each other and that sometimes readers are receiving proposals for more than one presses.

While you are still in the fever of your search, do not forget that you have to revise your thesis and complete at least 2-3 chapters (if not the entire manuscript) in order to get the coveted contract. Keep in mind that you are writing for a wider audience and not for a committee. Make certain that the book is short, 250-300 pages, and extremely readable. Incorporate in your revisions the feedback you will receive from colleagues or readers (even if they rejected you).

Be extremely patient, while you are waiting for the readers’ reports; it may take months before you receive firm answers. When they arrive, the press will offer you (hopefully) a contract and you will be on your way to becoming a published author! If, on the other hand, you book is rejected (God forbid!) do not get desperate. Every time I get rejected I remind myself that this happens because I am at least twenty years ahead of my time! Pick up the pieces and try another press.

Economic historian and numismatic consultant


  1. Thanks for this helpful post. The one thing I’m puzzled about is why you recommend not sending book proposals to more than one publisher. Certainly you shouldn’t submit the complete manuscript to more than one publisher at a time. But publishers seem happy to receive proposals that have been submitted elsewhere simultaneously, and those that do not usually state this clearly in their submission guidelines.

  2. James,
    it is neither illegal nor unethical to submit the same proposal to multiple presses. But there is a practical problem. Let us assume that you are sending your proposal to both Oxford and Cambridge at the same time. Both of them are in the UK and both of them use the same limited number of readers on the British Isles. If the same proposal goes twice to the hands of the same reader and he is not happy with it, he will reject it twice. If you send the proposal to one press and you receive a negative answer, then you can revise before you send it to the second press. This way, you stand more chances that it is accepted the second time around.

  3. Hello Constantina,
    thank you for those tips, I will keep them in mind during the next period as I think I have to consider taking this step… It feels like so much work to do though ! I haven’t seriously contacted pubishers yet, except for BAR who though replied very positively on a short email I sent.
    Have you published yours ?

  4. It may be that Oxford and Cambridge proceed as you suggest. I think most American publishers will not send a proposal to outside reviewers. In my experience, a proposal is reviewed by editors, who will then express interest or disinterest in seeing the complete manuscript. Once you submit the complete manuscript, that is when it will be sent to outside reviewers. But, as I said, it may be that different publishers do things in different ways.

  5. I have published two academic books in the area of pharmacology. In both cases, the editor sent my proposal out to external, independent reviewers before they offered me a contract for the book. Perhaps my experience is unique but I would state that external review of a book proposal is not uncommon here in the United States. In fact my third book proposal is currently under external review.

  6. “If you don”t know how to die, don”t worry; Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and Adequately. She will do this job perfectly for you; don”t bother your head about it.”

  7. Now a days when many publishers are accepting proposals via email and responding in a matter of days, it is absolutely ridiculous. You can/should pitch proposals to as many publishers as you want AT THE SAME TIME. One thing I noticed is that many publishers still like to get proposals in the mail even if they accept them via email, they respond better to hard copy proposals.

  8. I have currently been approached by a colleague, himself a Managing Editor from open access publisher Versita. They publish monographs in open access model and I managed to submit my work to them. The process is actually quite easy, I didn’t have to pay any publication fees and I am now waiting for my work to get published.

  9. and by the way:
    one important thing, when you re trying to get your work published: be as much detailed in the synopsis as you can. That should be very helpful to the editors…

  10. I have two dissertations (PhD-thesis. and PsyD.project) and one masters’ thesis I would like published. I would like to know who are the best publishers to contact. I have seen whole theses published on-line. Any good ideas re. publishing would be helpful to me.

    • Look for publishers who already published books relevant to the topic of your thesis.

  11. i need to publish my PhD as a book about English literature, is there anyone who can help me?

Leave a Reply