I assume most people reading this are at least somewhat familiar with the model of academic publishing, as they probably fretted heavily over it in their past careers. But I guess you might be curious as to what it looks like “from the other side.” If this helps those still involved in academia understand publishing, and perhaps even get published as a result, all the better.
At Berghahn, unlike larger university presses, we don’t have specialized acquisition editors. The company simply isn’t large enough to require them. This is not to say that we don’t actively seek out manuscripts, but that task is mostly undertaken by our publisher and the various series editors we work with. Luckily we are established enough in certain fields that scholars looking to publish often come to us.
The start of the process is the proposal. We have a specific proposal form we ask authors to fill out, which includes the information we need to make a reasonable assessment of the project: a detailed description of the book, what similar books exist already, and who is qualified to review the manuscript when the time comes. Additionally, many prospective authors will send sample chapters, or a lengthier prospectus.
My task, along with the publisher, is to determine three things based on the proposal:
- How interesting and innovative is the proposed manuscript? This is sometimes the hardest part of the process, and we will often contact experts and scholars we’ve worked with in the past for assistance.
- What is the market for such a book? Ideally, of course, any worthwhile scholarship would find a publisher, but as Berghahn is an independent company, we have to keep an eye on the bottom line. Even university presses, which usually have funding from the university they’re associated with, increasingly only publish manuscripts with some profit potential.
- Whether or not we are a good fit for the proposed book, in terms of the scope of our publications. I receive many proposals for books that are clearly aimed at a larger trade market, as well as proposals in disciplines that the press does not publish widely in. These invariably get turned down, because we don’t have the relationships to turn those manuscripts into successful books. If I could give one piece of advice to scholars (or any writers, really) looking to get published, it would be to research the publishers you plan on submitting proposals to beforehand. Make sure they are appropriate for your manuscript – the vast majority of proposal we reject are for this third reason; they are simply outside the scope of the press.
Once we’ve determined a proposal is worth pursuing, we’ll request the full manuscript from the author, and then submit it to peer review. I’ll discuss the peer review and revisions process in more detail tomorrow, as well as give you a peek inside my office.