I am an editor at Yale University Press, and I acquire books in religion in such fields as Biblical Studies, Jewish Studies, Early Christianity, and Middle Eastern Studies, among others. I’d like to share a few tips that I always give authors to help make their work stand out to publishers and in the marketplace. One of the most important aspects of publishing, even in an academic work, is that an author’s voice matters. From media profile to personality, the author’s identity is a key component of a book and should shine through on every page—whether it’s a page in the book or a page on the web. While we don’t publish memoirs or personal biographies, books that tend to do well and grab my interest are ones from an author whose voice and presence are felt throughout the book. If I’m reading a book in Jewish Studies I want to feel the author’s passion about his or her subject; why is the author invested in understanding Hebrew literature?; what makes diet and regimen so important and relevant to Jewish tradition and culture that we devote panels and books to the topic? The questions I ask myself when reading a proposal, such as how an author found the topic for his book or what drew an author to a certain kind of research, are often the same questions that readers in the marketplace will ask. Making your presence felt throughout your book can help capture the attention of the market and convince readers why your story matters.
My next piece of advice is to know your audience--a phrase that’s suitable for nearly every field, but especially important in book publishing. If you’re writing a book for students that you’d like to see in courses, imagine yourself on the other side of the classroom. Use accessible writing and topics. For example, not every student knows ancient languages so it’s good to transliterate when possible to open up a broader readership. As an editor specifically interested in books that can find course adoptions, I find some of the most successful proposals to be ones in which the author is engaging a clear audience and uses appropriate pedagogical elements that can enhance course materials.
I would also recommend that you make yourself familiar with the publisher you’re contacting. Your editor will be the very first audience for the book and the one advocating for you to their colleagues and the rest of the world. By knowing a publisher’s list you can understand what a press is publishing and whether your book is in their wheelhouse. A caveat to this suggestion is that publishers need to stay on top of trends and at the cutting edge so we want to find new and exciting approaches as much as top-notch scholars do. That said, some presses do have specialties and longstanding traditions in publishing certain areas. This background knowledge can be put forth in a book proposal to explain why your book fits with a certain publisher and why you think it could be the right publisher for your book. It’s always helpful to have a sense of the competing and comparative books so we can see where the book would fit on our list. In my experience, it’s best to be honest about your goals and motivations up front as an open dialogue with a publisher is best established at the outset. I always try to convey my hopes and expectations for a book up front and appreciate when an author does the same.
Though there isn’t a perfect formula behind having your book published, I hope you find these tips helpful when looking for a publisher that suits your needs as an author and as a voice trying to be heard.
Heather Gold is assistant editor at Yale University Press.