After submitting your proposal, it’s time for the waiting game. It will go to peer review, then you will need to respond, then it might go before a board, all before it is time to organise the advance contract.
1. Peer Review
For most good academic publishers, after your book proposal is received it is sent out for peer review. Yes. Your proposal has to go through the peer review process. Fortunately, many editors ask for a list of potential reviewers, so you can stack the list with people who will get what you are trying to do.
As with any kind of peer review, there is the potential for it to go drastically bad — the proposal is sent to your supervisor’s arch enemy, and the comments you get back are probably less preferable than the peer review process illustrated below.
After I submitted my book proposal, the editor in charge of my project sent the proposal out to two reviewers from a list of about eight I had provided him. I was very nervous, expecting that the proposal would go to American professors who may expect a radically different style of writing than that which I have developed, or sinologists with quite different academic and political projects to me. As it turns out, the book was reviewed by one of my PhD examiners (from NZ), and another senior colleague I know well from Australia. This meant that the context of New Zealand and Australia was well-represented and both reviewers were broadly familiar with my work and the point of my work.
The downside of this was that there were very few recommendations for change, and the editor actually apologised for not having enough for me to ‘chew on’. I certainly appreciated the appreciative approach of the reviewers, but there is still a real danger that I face the scathing professors at a later stage (in the second review of the manuscript, or in public reviews of the book). The peer review process has the potential to iron out any issues with your logic or your approach prior to the full manuscript.
2. Response to Reviewers
After you receive the reviewers reports back, you will most likely be asked to write a response to the reviewers’ reports. The University of Minnesota Press were actually very clear about what they expected, and the editor gave me direct instructions as to the kind of thing he wanted (a letter addressed to him with 2-4 pages of response to the reviewers’ suggestions). Some of this was answering questions the reviewers raised, and some was elaborating how I would (or would not) take up their suggestions, and why. Some of these were great, including a suggested change to the title, books to read, other strands of work to connect with, and ways to highlight the importance of what I am doing. I detailed how I would deal with all those. This letter had references too.
3. Faculty Board
UMP then puts the proposal before the faculty board. I’ve no idea whether they all read it or not, but they do all vote, it appears. Here is the reply:
I hope this note finds you well. I am in touch with you today because earlier this morning the Faculty Board meet to discuss Guarding Life. I won’t hold you in suspense — the Board unanimously approved your project for an advance contract. Congratulations!
The press’ Faculty Board is made up of tenured faculty from the University of Minnesota, representing a broad range of disciplines, including history, American studies, gender studies, political science, anthropology, Asian studies, and English literature. The Board felt that your project even at this stage was very well written and thought out.
Whew. They also gave some suggestions about the wider impact of the project, and to make sure I broaden the topic to not just be mothers and babies, but the impact of waste for all. I really had no idea this was how it works, but I think one advantage we have as PhD-to-book scholars is that we HAVE thought it out, ALOT, over MANY MANY years for some of us! Really, the book has already been written and is in first or even third draft form. We know what the arguments are, because we have had to defend them. People writing proposals for new books are unlikely to be that far along their arguments — which, in my experience, can often emerge with writing.
4. Developing the Contract
After the proposal is approved, the editor is empowered to put together an advance contract. This involves giving a word limit (in my case 90,000, although I’m aiming for 80,000), how many figures you might include, how many images, and all up an estimation of what the pages would be for all these. The editor then sends a contract with the numbers included (I guess so if you submit a monster they can legally require you to cut it) and a promise of publishing and in what format. In my case, a commitment to a paperback version at least. There is then an agreement on royalties (don’t hold your breath — unlikely to get much of this, since most academic books don’t sell enough copies) and other legal aspects, such as having to get it indexed yourself. Oh, and a deadline. If you don’t get it in within a certain timeframe, they are no longer bound to publish it.
5. And then, the (re)writing…
This is the stage I am at now. I have re-read the whole PhD thesis and begun revisions.I am thinking of Stephen King’s advice to write first with the door closed, and the to rewrite with the door open. This is definitely a door open stage, that is, I am thinking particularly about the readers and how they will understand what I am saying, because I’ve worked through all the arguments in advance.
I will update you all on how I went about this in due course!