Listen to the Experts: How to Publish and Market your Scholarly Book

May 28, 2021
Megan Perram (she/her) - PhD Candidate in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta

Congress 2021 blog edition 

At Congress 2021, there are multiple resources to supplement your scholarly work. One of them was the “Publishing and Marketing your Scholarly Book” panel hosted by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Canadian editors and marketing specialists from the country’s top scholarly presses, Pamela Holway, Stephen Shapiro and Erin Rolfs, guided their audience through the publication process beginning at how to write an effective book proposal and ending with demystifying the marketing process after your book is published.  

Stephen Shapiro, Acquisitions Editor for the University of Toronto Press, led the first presentation on how to effectively begin the process of publishing a scholarly manuscript. Shapiro insists that utilizing your networks is key: “Your best source is really what's around you.” Look into the publishers you encounter in bibliographies, engage with potential networks at conferences, and do your research into what types of content a potential press typically publishes. All these avenues will help you connect with an acquiring editor that will be best suited to take on your project. 

Shapiro’s most critical piece of advice is to know when to approach a potential editor: “You want to wait until you know what you think the book will be. But not wait so long that the book cannot be anything else.” Finding your narrative arc is key, however, the Acquisitions Editor cautions that being too far along in the writing process does not allow for collaborative flexibility.  

The panel’s second speaker, Pamela Holway, Senior Editor, Acquisitions at Athabasca University Press, led a discussion on the significance of Open Access publishing. Open Access is a push-back against the knowledge gatekeeping through high journal access fees that dominated academia for years. Holway points out that Open Access can be misattributed to lower-quality research, countering that her press “safeguard[s] our quality as viciously as the next press.” Although Open Access publishing is laced in misconceptions, it really comes down to accessibility for Holway: “I think the main advantage to this [Open Access] is that it increases the reach of publications, which is important to scholars.” 

Erin Rolfs, Marketing Director for McGill-Queen's University Press, completed the panel with an intriguing discussion on the marketing life of a book. Her most enlightening insight was a description of how the marketing process becomes a system of parts, all working together to make a book successful. This includes finding the most alluring way to pitch a book to audiences, assigning a book to a “season”, and working under tight deadlines imposed by vendors: “whether it's a library buyer or an indie bookshop, we are telling them to get ready for this book.”  
For the audience, the most engaging portion of the panel came during the question period. A persistent query from those of us gathered in the virtual room was how to turn a dissertation into a book manuscript. The panelists conclude that it comes down to knowing your role as an expert and tailoring your work to speak to an audience of peers. Holway notes: “it is that shift in voice from student to established scholar that I think is hardest for people to pull off.” It is when an author can situate themselves as an authority that a book truly comes together.