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Academic Coaching & Writing

V. The Dance of Deadlines: When is the Best Time to Pitch Your Book?

Oct 06, 2013 by Amy Benson Brown

When writers ask me “when’s the best time to pitch my book?,” often they are trying to figure out how much of the manuscript they need to have completed before approaching a publisher.

For academic authors, career stage is usually the most critical factor in deciding when to approach editors at university presses. If you are writing your first book and drawing on your dissertation research, editors generally prefer that you contact them when your revision is close to completion. For an overview of how book manuscripts typically differ from dissertations, check out these helpful guidelines provided by McGill-Queen’s University Press. And, for additional advice about how to smoothly launch discussions with editors, glance back to blog #4 in this series.

If you are writing your second academic book or have a track record of article publications, however, the situation looks different. You may well want to begin a conversation with an acquisitions editor earlier in the process of developing your manuscript. Editors sometimes like to collaborate with authors to shape a project in ways that advance key debates in the field. So, if you have some substantial publications under your belt, consider reaching out to publishers when you can provide at least the following three things:

  • A solid sense of your project’s rationale. (For a reminder about what constitutes a good rationale for a new book, glance back to blog #2 and blog #3 in this series.)
  • A plan for organizing the book
  • A sample chapter or draft of an introduction.

Senior scholars and authors working in particularly hot areas of research, by the way, often find they don’t have to initiate the conversation at all. Sweet, eh! Acquisition editors may well reach out to you at a conference or through email. Sometimes they want to float ideas for projects that follow the trajectory of your previous work, or they simply may be curious about where your new research is headed.

Whatever the stage of your career, if you want to reach a wider audience than most scholarly books do, you may want to consider another factor that can alter your timing. Publishing a trade or “crossover” book for a broad audience sometimes requires working with a literary agent. Professional agents can represent your interests in negotiations with respected commercial houses, such as Viking Press, Farrar, Straus, or Giroux.

Literary agents usually like to begin working with authors at a somewhat earlier stage of the book’s development. They tend to focus first on the importance of crafting a longer, beautifully written proposal that demonstrates the project’s potential for wide appeal. For more on how to tell if you need to work with a literary agent for your next project, stay tuned. The last blog in this series will tackle that topic.

Finally, the amount of support you have for finishing your project should also figure into your calculation of the right time to pitch your book. Consider, for instance, the following:

  • Do you have a sabbatical coming up?
  • Do you expect to receive a summer grant that will allow you complete necessary archival or field research?
  • Do you have the support of a writing coach or a peer writing group to provide constructive feedback and accountability to help you meet deadlines

Having these kinds of resources to support your progress may increase your confidence (and your editor’s) in the accuracy of your estimate for when a final draft will be ready.

Ultimately, the process of publishing a book is more like a dance than a steady march. Stepping out on the floor and finding your rhythm requires coordination of several elements—from institutional deadlines for promotion, to the timing of sabbaticals or summer opportunities for intensive writing, to the harnessing of other potential resources to make your timetable for finishing your book truly realistic.


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