Happy New Year! We're kicking off 2020 with questions from scholars and researchers about the publishing process. If you have one, email us. Today, we demystify the process of approaching a publisher with this question from a reader:
When is the best time to approach a publisher -- when you've completed your project or before you've written anything?
This is one of the questions we get most frequently. Some publishers require a full manuscript or an extensive proposal, whereas others might prefer to be involved in shaping the project. That said, while publishers' preferences vary, you can approach at various stages: when you have an idea, when you have a partially written manuscript, or when your manuscript is complete. In all of these scenarios, you should have identified a potential fit between the publishing house you're approaching and your project.
You may approach when you have an idea, when you have a partially written manuscript, or when your manuscript is complete.
The advantage in the first two cases is the possibility of getting valuable input that can in turn help you deliver a stronger final manuscript as well as a preliminary indication of a publisher's interest. Early conversations with editors can give you guidance about the publisher's focus, or advice on shaping your project to increase its appeal or to widen your readership. If you are approaching with a partially written manuscript, you're in a strong position to make a compelling argument as to why your project is a good fit for the publisher. (For avoidance of doubt, expression of preliminary interest does not guarantee interest in the final manuscript, which will depend on the completed project, as well as on the publisher's focus at the time of submission.)
If you’re approaching with an idea, it is still expected that it is concrete and fleshed out. For example, instead of saying, I'd like to write a book on X, be prepared to elaborate on X in Y country, during period Z, using this approach/theoretical framework/methodology, etc.
When you're approaching both with an idea and with a partially developed project, we also advise that you have a plan in mind, should the publisher express interest: e.g., a realistic assessment of where you are in your research, what remains to be done, how much time it would take you to deliver an outline/proposal/full manuscript, etc.
In most cases, and especially with early career researchers or those without a long publication record, publishers would want to see a formal proposal and sample chapters or full manuscript before offering a contract. In that case, as with approaching with a full manuscript, it is important to follow the submission instructions. Typically, they are tied to internal processes and workflows and ensure that your manuscript is handled efficiently. On a more symbolic level, respecting the publishers' guidelines signals professionalism to the editors.
Do you have questions about approaching a publisher? Post them in the comments section below or email us.