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How Not to Get Published

Dee Mortensen

You’ve done all the hard work. You’ve spent many late evenings polishing your prose, you’ve hunted down bibliographic entries and footnotes like a bloodhound, and you’ve received enough encouragement from friends and family to finally finish your dissertation. Congratulations! Now let’s cover what not to do to get your book published.

1. Take a shotgun approach: Guess at the leading publishers in your field. Fail to do your research to identify a select group of presses who are likely to want your manuscript, are able to publish it well, and may be able to actually sell it. Forget the positive—and permanent—impact your publisher will have on your academic career and future professional success.

2. Ignore the online submission guidelines posted by the press: Fail to provide a one-page cover letter that states your purpose for writing. Assume familiarity with editors you’ve never met, and be sure to use a generic salutation like “Dear Sirs.” Allow your cover letter to ramble for two or more pages before making a clear statement about what’s at stake in your book and why it matters. Say that there’s no other book like yours, or that it fills an important gap in the literature. Invoke an anniversary, however obscure, as a reason for a publisher to rally behind your book. Fail to say why you’re interested in publishing with the press. Make spelling and grammatical errors. Disregard the importance of proofreading. Neglect to use letterhead and a professional-quality printer. Include only an outline of your table of contents. Send an interior chapter instead of your introduction. Fail to identify the size of your manuscript or mention whether any illustrations are required. Ignore copyright restrictions on the use of images or previously published text. Better yet, instead of sending a finely crafted proposal in advance of your manuscript, send your unrevised dissertation, complete with university seal, committee signatures, literature review, and weak conclusion.

3. Make a pest of yourself: Two weeks after your submission, demand a quick response from editors, especially by telephone. Bombard them with multiple e-mails, inquiring whether your submission was received. If you fail to get an immediate response, call or e-mail every staff member at the press to find out what has happened to your submission.

4. Eschew academic publishing protocols: When asked to send a full manuscript for serious consideration and rigorous academic review, submit the same text to multiple presses and let your editor find out that you’ve done so when she contacts scholars in your field to provide their expert feedback. 

5. Assert your ego: Get defensive and churlish when readers point out flaws in your argument, flag gaps in your logic, or ask for revisions. Set a short timeline for accomplishing your revisions even when they require extensive rethinking and rewriting. Cherry-pick which revisions you care to make and let others—especially editorial assistants and copyeditors—clean up your careless and incomplete work.

6. Call a lawyer: Have them scrutinize, renegotiate, and misadvise you on your contract, especially if they have no expertise in publishing or copyright law. Request changes that are beyond the ability of your publisher to provide. Keep the movie rights to your book. Forbid electronic editions or translations, restrict worldwide distribution, and otherwise limit the long-term publishing opportunities you and your publisher might earn on subsidiary rights.

7. Ignore your editor: If she contacts you to ask for an update on your manuscript, maintain silence. After all, you’re already busy writing your next book.

Dee Mortensen is editorial director at Indiana University Press.