Selecting Book Publishers

book-new1a.jpgOver at PropertyProf, our previous guest blogger Al Brophy (law, Alabama) has a very thoughtful post on selecting book publishers. For many of us, the choice comes down to the one publisher that will publish our book or nothing at all, but for those with choices, Al provides some sage advice. He writes: “[W]hen we you’re shopping a manuscript, if you’re interested in getting adoptions, it’s important to be sensitive to what presses typically charge for books.” He also notes: “Another factor besides price that is critical in adoptions is: how long a press keeps its work in print.” Both of these considerations are very important. Some academic book publishers price their books at obscenely high prices, all but guaranteeing that the book will sell only a handful of copies, mostly to libraries. The print runs on these books will be very small too, ensuring that once the few copies are sold to libraries, the book promptly goes out of print.

One thing I could never understand about academic book publishers is the extent to which they seem so uninterested in doing anything that will sell more of their books. A reasonable price, decent cover art, and a small bit of marketing can go a long way toward getting a book some sales. But sometimes publishers price a book at $50 and do no marketing, virtually guaranteeing it won’t sell. Perhaps the business model for these books is close to that of a vanity press. On the other hand, I think that it is great that some presses still publish books with an eye not always to generating lots of sales. An increasing number of academic presses are moving away from publishing more academic books and toward printing more general audience trade books. This is unfortunate, as the line between intellectual commercial presses and academic presses is quickly evaporating. Academic presses should be publishing books because they are excellent, not just because they are the most commercially viable.

Although academic presses should continue to publish books without always obsessing over commercial viability, they should at least try to give these books a fighting chance in the marketplace. There are many excellent academic books that could sell with a better price, a snazzy cover, and some good marketing.

So if you’re blessed with choices among publishers for your book, you should ask:

1. What is the estimated print run?

2. What will the estimated price of the book be?

3. Will there be a paperback edition of the book?

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3 Responses

  1. Matt says:

    Note also that the answer to these questions can vary quite a lot not just on the press but also with the series in the press or the editor. So, Cambridge University Press publishes lots of books that have (by accademic standards) high print runs and reasonable prices, but the books in their (excellent) Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Law series are rarely published in paperback and usually sell for around $75 or more. So, often one must look beyond just the press to the series w/in the press.

  2. Recent grad says:

    On a slight tangent regarding book prices:

    It is a real imposition to ask law students to plunk down $100 or more on an academic tome that will be used for three months and then relegated to the bookshelf.

    Ian Ayres (Yale) published an article in the NY Times last year in which he promised to return all royalties from his popular contracts book to his students.

    Of course, not all professors teach with a book they authored. This problem could easily be solved if more professors avoided assigning obscenely expensive casebooks and pointed students towards their Westlaw/Lexis accounts.

  3. M. Sean Fosmire says:

    A very important question 4:

    Will the publisher offer an electronic version?