How Academic Publishers Decide What to Publish


Almost all academic publishers look at three key things when deciding whether to publish a proposed book. Our Executive Editor Alan Sturmer considers how authors can use this knowledge to choose the right publisher and make the best possible book proposal.


1. Fit with the publisher’s market

Each publisher has its own particular view of what makes up its main audience (i.e. library, textbook, academic/practitioner, academic trade) and its main fields. The first part of the assessment process is to determine if the proposed book targets the audience for which the publisher primarily publishes. This is sometimes obvious, but often an author may try to position his or her book to appeal to a variety of readers and the publisher will need to work with the author to sort out each other’s priorities.


2. Value of the book to its field

A good academic publisher, whether university press or commercial, publishes in order to provide research that will advance knowledge and understanding in the fields that they serve.


3. How well it will sell

In order to remain viable, publishers must, of course, cover the costs of producing, marketing and distributing the titles they are publishing.  In order to determine these things, a publisher will require a proposal. We can tell a lot about the project, and the author, from this document. Be sure it is well put together, with as much detail about the book as possible. We will want an outline and synopsis, a clear sense of the market, what you intend to contribute to your field by publishing the book, and what the competing or similar books are. It should be well-formatted, without typos, and be clear and comprehensive.


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Generally, your first point of contact with a publisher will be the Commissioning or Acquisitions Editor (or in my case, Executive Editor). This person is your best friend. They will decide whether your book fits the above criteria and if so, whether they wish to take it forward. They remain your ultimate point of contact throughout the entire process from early discussions to post-publication and beyond. If they decide your book is a good fit, they will send the proposal out to a number of peer reviewers. The reviewers will be asked to  comment specifically on the content of the book and on point two above.


As mentioned in point one, a publisher will focus on specific fields. In order to grow, they will often move into new disciplines, typically areas related to existing parts of their list (an economics publisher might develop a new list in management, for example). Once they have decided on a new area, the Commissioning/Acquisitions Editor will seek out potential books and scholars to write them.


Academic Publishers are quite strategic in how they develop their lists and therefore carefully choose which books to publish. Doing a bit of research is well worth your time in order to find the best fit for you and for your book.

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