What to Do When You Get a Scholarly Book Contract

Jun 6, 2024Publications

Originally published at Ideas on Fire, June 5, 2024

Receiving a scholarly book contract is a monumental achievement for an author. After years of research, writing, workshopping, and revision, the validation of your work by an academic press is immensely gratifying. However, your publishing journey doesn’t end with the contract. In fact, the contract marks the beginning of a new phase filled with critical steps that will shape the final form and impact of your scholarly book. Here’s a guide on what to do after you get a scholarly book contract. 

Celebrate your achievement

First and foremost, take some time to celebrate this milestone. This accomplishment represents the culmination of years and sometimes decades of dedication, hard work, collaboration, and sacrifice. 

Share your news with friends, mentors, family, and colleagues who have been there for you along the way. They would love to help celebrate your awesomeness.

Taking the time to appreciate this success is essential for maintaining motivation and enthusiasm as you move forward in the publishing process.

Review your scholarly book contract carefully

Once the initial excitement subsides, it’s time to meticulously review your contract. Pay attention to key elements.

Note all deadlines for manuscript submission, revisions, permissions, and other deliverables. Make sure you understand the consequences for missing those deadlines and plan accordingly.

Confirm rights and permissions. Ensure you retain sufficient rights to use your work in future publications, conferences, or relevant projects. Some publishers are open to negotiating various rights and permissions, so if you want to do something like retain copyright of your work or be able to record an audiobook version down the line, you can always ask.

Understand the royalties process, including exactly how and when you will be compensated. Compare your royalties terms with others to get a sense of industry standards and ensure they are fair. Keep in mind that most scholarly books do not end up earning authors any royalties (or do so in very small amounts), but it is still important to understand your contract terms regarding this.

Check what marketing support the publisher offers and what will be expected from you in terms of contracted obligations. Given the shrinking budgets of scholarly presses, authors are responsible for a large portion of their book marketing, so make sure you understand how this works.

If you’re unsure about any contract terms, ask your recently-published colleagues and mentors to take a look at the document. I say recently published because scholarly book contract norms have changed significantly over the past several decades due to shrinking book sales and rising publishing costs. You might also consider consulting an attorney who specializes in publishing contracts.

Organize your manuscript

Once you’re satisfied with the contract terms and have signed, your next task is to ensure your manuscript is in impeccable condition. 

Review your manuscript with a critical eye. Ensure your arguments and subclaims are coherent, your stakes are clearly articulated, your sources are correctly cited, and the narrative flows smoothly across the chapters and examples.

Once the content is set, you’ll need to format the full manuscript according to the publisher’s style guide. This guide sets the rules for formatting elements like typeface, font size, margins, headings, and file names, as well as style elements like figure/table treatment, citation style, terminology, and capitalization.

If your book includes images, song lyrics, lengthy quotes, poetry, or other materials that require copyright permissions, ensure you have the necessary legal approvals in place. It is the author’s responsibility to secure and pay for image permissions, which can be a lengthy and complicated process, so don’t leave this to the last minute.

Enlist professional editors

While you may have gone through several rounds of self-editing and have also received peer review reports, it’s invaluable to engage a professional academic editor at this stage. 

A professional academic editor can provide developmental editing focused on the structure, argument, analysis, and narrative arc of your manuscript. Developmental editing ensures your arguments are clear and well-supported and can also help you respond to and incorporate peer reviewer recommendations.

Professional copyediting addresses grammar, punctuation, citation formatting, and stylistic consistency. A professional academic copyeditor can also format your entire manuscript according to the publisher requirements, freeing you up to focus on other parts of the process (as Ideas on Fire author Jennifer Lynn Kelly says, “Working with IoF has cut the time I will have to spend preparing my book for production in half”).

Prepare supplementary materials

In addition to the actual book manuscript, you may need to prepare supplementary materials. 

This can include putting together abstracts and keywords to aid in marketing and discoverability, writing an acknowledgments section recognizing those who supported your work (including funding sources), and securing high-quality image files for any figures. 

It also includes writing author bios and sourcing blurbs for the book from esteemed scholars in your field.

Hire a book indexer

Once you have a scholarly book contract and thus a publishing schedule, it is time to research and hire your indexer. A great index is a crucial book marketing tool and plays a large role in whether your book is accessible to diverse audiences who can read and cite it in their own work. 

Authors are responsible for finding and paying indexers—this is not something the publisher typically takes care of—so make sure you budget for a high-quality index

Consult colleagues, friends, and mentors to find recommendations for highly skilled indexers who are experienced in writing indexes for books in your fields. Indexers specialize in specific topics, so it’s important to find one who really gets your work and can write an excellent index tailored to your book’s unique audience.

If your book is interdisciplinary, be sure to find an indexer with interdisciplinary expertise. If they’ve indexed other books by your publisher, that can also save you a lot of time and hassle as they are already familiar with the formatting requirements and norms of your press.

Collaborate with your publisher

Clear and effective communication with your publisher throughout the process is crucial. Regularly update your publisher on your progress and address any concerns promptly. 

If you find you need to extend a deadline or something isn’t going as planned, be honest with them—resist the urge to disappear in hopes they won’t notice. Most are happy to adjust things as needed, but if you just disappear (or don’t turn things in on time and fail to communicate about it), it will jeopardize your relationship. 

Remember that publishers are working on many books simultaneously and changes to your project affects dozens of others.

In addition to ensuring the production timeline flows smoothly, your publisher will also provide valuable guidance on things like cover design, blurbs, and marketing strategy.

Create your book promotion strategy

Building an audience for your book starts well before publication. Your publisher can offer guidance on promotion and will have their own publicity plan for your book, but authors are also heavily responsible for book marketing.

Put together an academic book marketing strategy that fits your needs, resources, and goals for the book. This might include radio and podcast interviews, social media posts, an author website, conference presentations, and book tour events.

Remember that book promotion doesn’t have to feel “salesy” or uncomfortable—it’s instead about sharing your valuable work with audiences who are already interested in the topic and excited to celebrate with you. Even introverts can be great at book promotion.

Prepare for the launch

As your publication date approaches, focus on your book launch. Your publisher will most likely ask you to help encourage pre-orders through your networks and social media platforms. Pre-orders are vital for ensuring your book’s success, and publishers usually offer a nice discount for them—pass that discount along to your friends, colleagues, and networks to encourage them to get a copy of your book.

Consider planning book launch events, either in-person or online, to help spread the word about your book. You can also recommend your book to journals for their book reviews section or ask your colleagues if you can guest lecture in their classes about the book.

Receiving a scholarly book contract is a significant milestone in any academic career. By carefully reviewing the contract, refining your manuscript, enlisting professional support, and collaborating with your publisher on marketing and promotion, you can ensure your book makes a lasting impact in your fields. Embrace this journey with the same dedication that brought you to this point, and your scholarly contribution will resonate with readers for years to come.

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