After last week's post clarified whether your work is worth publishing as a monograph, this week's reflects on how you might convince a publisher of that - especially if you have very little to offer on your CV yet. When I started to contact publishers for my own "Being Muslim and Working for Peace" in 2010, my publication list was meagre: one refereed article on a different topic in a local South Asian journal, two German book reviews, and a string of conference papers. I had just enrolled for my PhD and started working as a lecturer at a not-well-known university in Germany. Even though I could boast my Associate status at Oxford and a splendid record as a student, there was little in my CV to reassure publishers that I know what I am doing. A good student is not necessarily a good writer and author.

Fundamentals: Some uncomfortable questions before you write any book
Proposal: Landing a book contract with little (yet) to offer
Review: Your book's first honest readers are its reviewers
Letting go: From author to published author
Technicalities: You thought you were done? Your book post submission
Marketing: How to find and engage readers for your book

In other words: I knew my proposal had to be as convincing as possible, since my juniority and lack of experience would likely play against me (indeed three publishers rejected me outright for not having a PhD yet). Moreover, an open access version of my dissertation is available online in university repositories - even though the monograph differs significantly, this could easily scare away marketing departments. In this context, my mentors told me that the hardest step will be to get publishers to even look at my proposal. Once a press wanted to see the whole manuscript, I were in - since I had something worth saying and well written. But it won't be easy to get my foot in the door. I thus concentrated on three strategies: projecting my book as an academic monograph rather than student work, showing that I am willing to walk the extra mile if necessary, and mentally preparing for rejection.

I might be a student, but my book isn't a thesis. I made this very clear in my proposal by detailing the deep structural changes I made and intended to make, by calling the project a "first monograph" throughout, and by demonstrating in my cover letter itself that I familiarized myself with book publishing as a trade, knew technical terms and market expectations, and were willing to learn and take advice. I argued that I am obviously a fairly young and not yet widely published author without a PhD and acknowledged the risks this brings with it - but also expressed my hope that the manuscript will be judged on its own merits rather than those of its author.

I am ready to work harder to compensate for my juniority. To demonstrate this, I emphasized the time I had already invested in major changes to the dissertation version, proposed an online supplement to the book which would increase the visibility of my work (quite like this series I should say), and above all did my market research. I also highlighted whatever networks I had, showed that I knew who would be good reviewers in the field, and of course who would be people interested in reading my book.

I will keep on trying. Even with all preparations, I got 14 rejections throughout three rounds of pitching my proposal (my criteria were presses that operate a review process, market in India as well as Europe, and have a significant presence in my own book shelves, indicating relevance to my field). SAGE got the proposal in the second round, took a while to answer - and finally informed me they would like to see the full manuscript around eight months after I began contacting publishers.1 The majority of publishers did not even read beyond the cover letter: four had taken on too many projects already (especially small and specialized ones), three never publish non-PhD-ed authors, and three did not reply at all. Of those who read the proposal, four said it would not fit their list, or couldn't be done by 2012, or were too specialized for them. In other words: my proposal got a one out of three chance to even get looked at, and within that a 20% chance to succeed.

That is the economic reality of book publishing, especially as an unknown author with a first book. So start pitching your proposal early and keep sending it out. Since I learned most about the process from the two colleagues who showed me their own proposals, I decided to put my package (minus the sample chapter - for that you have to buy the actual book) online below. It is surely not perfect, and your arguments might turn out entirely different since your book will be different - but it worked for me, in the end. I will be back next week with comments on the writing of the book itself...

  • 1. I actually received one tentative offer in the first round, but from the Karachi-based office of a large university press - after consultations with my mentors, I decided not to go for it given the potential political ramifications.
SAGE-Proposal.pdf134.82 KB