How to Get a Book Contract as an Independent Researcher | Lex Academic Blog

As an independent researcher, securing a book contract is a fantastic way to ensure your research can be shared with a wider audience, and it can open the door to all kinds of new opportunities. It’s common to approach an academic publisher after finishing a PhD, so if you’re planning on turning your thesis into a monograph, one of the most important tasks will be to decide how to shape your existing research into a book. Start by thinking about your book’s main argument, what material you’ll use from the thesis (and what you’re going to cut), and how to succinctly express your ideas in a few key points that will convey exactly what your book will offer. If you’re coming up with an entirely new project, the overall process will probably be a little slower, as you will have to do quite a lot of research before your proposal is ready to go. Sometimes editors will work with you to develop your idea if they think it shows promise. Everyone, though, will need to polish up a proposal before they get a contract. To increase your chances of success, it is advisable to seek professional support at this stage.

How do you know which publisher to choose? Think about those with a track record of publishing work that aligns with your own subject and approach. Traditional university presses and trade publishers with academic divisions will spring to mind immediately: research the books they publish to see if yours would work well on their list. Many publishers have series on particular topics headed by an academic editor with whom you can often get in touch informally to see if your proposal would be a good match. If you’d like to reach a more mainstream audience, you can also opt for a non-fiction trade publisher. Major trade publishers might require you to have an agent before submitting, but smaller publishers often accept proposals on spec. Avoid predatory or vanity publishers at all costs – they don’t offer peer review and make money from author fees rather than selling books.

Publishers vary in terms of what you need to submit, so check online for specific information. Generally, the process involves completing a proposal form where you outline the subject and scope of the book, and explain why the book is necessary, what insights it will offer, and why you should write it. You might want to get in touch with the commissioning editor for an informal discussion about your proposal. Check other books from the same publisher to see how they’re described. You’ll also have to provide a table of contents and synopsis of each chapter with estimated word counts, and explain whether you will need any illustrations. Think carefully about this, as you may have to pay for images yourself. Make sure the book is focused around one or two central arguments and clearly show how each chapter contributes to these overarching ideas. The publisher may ask for sample chapters or the full manuscript, if you have one, and you’ll need to provide a deadline for submission of the complete manuscript. Make sure this is realistic!

You’ll also have to show you understand your target market. Carry out some market research in more depth: identify around five competing or comparable titles and pinpoint what makes your book different. Next, determine exactly who you think will buy your book. Your primary audience will likely be academics. If your work is interdisciplinary, it will of course appeal to more readers – but make sure you can pin down the precise benefits to each field. Is it a general introductory work aimed at undergraduate students, or a more advanced book suitable for postgraduate courses? Would your book appeal to practitioners or specialist groups? Would a general reader with a broad interest in your subject buy the book? The more relevant detail you can supply, the better.

Once you’ve worked up a crystal-clear proposal, send it to colleagues and friends and test out your pitch to see if your argument is understandable to specialists and non-specialists alike. Then, you’re ready to send it to the commissioning editor, who will let you know the next steps – usually, your proposal will be sent to two or more peer reviewers to assess whether the book should be published. The peer review process can take a while, but once the reviews are in, you’ll probably be asked to give a response, which is a way of addressing any concerns raised by reviewers. Your editor will give you an idea of what to focus on when drafting your response. Think carefully about the reviews, offer to make changes if you feel it suits your project, and politely make your case if you disagree with a particular suggestion. At this point, a decision will be made internally regarding your response: if everyone is happy to go ahead, the publisher can offer you a contract.

If this is the first time you’ve encountered a publishing contract, it can be daunting. You might want to ask someone else to read it, or join the Society of Authors and take advantage of their contract vetting team, who will explain what rights you have, what’s omitted, and what kind of income you can expect. The contract should cover the rights granted, royalty rates for different formats (usually hardcover, paperback, and eBook) and what these are based on (i.e., cover price or net receipts), what editorial services will be provided, and if you will be responsible for producing your own index. You can also negotiate a contract: you might ask for an advance, particularly as an independent researcher, or a higher percentage of royalties. If done respectfully, the worst that can happen is that a publisher declines, and you can decide whether to negotiate further, find a different publisher, or accept the initial terms.

Acquiring a book contract is often a lengthy process, but a good idea. A clear sense of your book’s argument and contribution to scholarship, and a well-researched target market will make all the difference in finding the right publisher for your book.