The academic author’s costs of publication: Author copies

This is the fourth in a series of posts offering a quick overview of what costs you might encounter when you publish an academic book. Because yes; even reputable presses will ask you to cover some of the expense of publishing.

Let’s talk author copies

As part of the terms of your contract, you should receive a number of “author copies”—these are free copies given to you to distribute as you see fit. (Just don’t resell them, please!)

What you’re allocated here probably won’t be a huge number. Think carefully about who you’ll want to give these bad boys to. Your grandma, your husband, and the mentor who said just the right thing at just the right time? The number offered by your press will probably be enough.

When to ask for extras

If you have some strategic promotional plans in mind, you can—and should—ask your editor to dole out additional copies. Where would these go?

  • Maybe your colleague who eats lunch with the book review editor at Journal Fantastique every week.
  • The fellow who coordinated that great Author-Meets-Critics session at the last national conference. (Consider including a note saying you’d be happy to help out with such sessions in the future.)
  • Or even a colleague who teaches on the topic at a different school—you could send a note with the book offering to guest lecture when you come to town in a few months. (Thanks to Bill Frank for that great suggestion!)

These are all reasons I, as an editor, would be happy to hand over additional author copies. Just bear in mind that the number isn’t unlimited…and you can always buy additional copies after publication at a special discount. Expect to pay 50%-60% of the list price of the book. And no, you won’t earn royalties on these.

Score a lot of extras

What if you have a large promotional plan in mind—say, you are already working your way into the public intellectual market and want to be sure you’ll have stacks of books to give out to the folks at NPR and BookTV? Or maybe you want to deliver one copy of the book to each of your 200 interviewees. What then?

Ask your editor about a special sale.

Remember that print runs on academic books can be quite small—so if you know you’ll want 150 or 200 or more copies of your book and you’re not planning to distribute them in some way that would compete with your publisher’s market, you can probably swing a great deal by agreeing to pre-purchase a set, sizeable number of copies. Instead of paying $27.50 per book (your price with the 50% discount on a $55 hardcover), you may be able to arrange a cost-per-book that is closer to $20 or $18. Paperbacks can be had for less, of course. And again, don’t expect to earn royalties on these.

Your turn

What do you do with your author copies? Have you ever wished you had more (or less)?

Other posts in the series:

  1. Indexing: You or your publisher?
  2. Royalties: Whodathunkit?
  3. Wrapping up your book: Jackets and cover art
  1. Permissions: Who pays?
  2. Getting the word out: Publicity and PR

Stay tuned!

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The academic author’s costs of publication: Wrapping the book

This is the third in a series of posts offering a quick overview of what costs you might encounter when you publish an academic book. Because yes; even reputable presses will ask you to cover some of the expense of publishing.

Let’s talk jackets and cover images!

This is a tough area to generalize in because individual presses feel rather differently about the look of their books—and depending on their markets, they’ll be willing to do different things with a jacket or cover design.

For example, the average undergraduate core textbook (think, Intro to X) is expected to sell a zillion copies—and so the publisher will no doubt absorb the costs of artwork for the cover. On the other hand, the average monograph will likely have a cloth binding and may or may not feature a paper jacket on top.


Look at your publisher’s display table to get a sense of their approach. If you’re seeing a booth filled with unjacketed hardcovers, it’s a good bet they’re not planning to wrap your monograph in a dust jacket either.

Regardless of what you think you see, inquire whether your book will have a jacket if it is slated to be published as a hardcover. I know some presses routinely jacket their hardcovers, some routinely don’t, and some make such decisions on a case-by-case basis. If jackets generally aren’t included, you may be able to convince your publisher to add one to the mix—especially if you’re willing to throw down some cash for it.

Expect to pay in the range of $1000 – $1500 for a dust jacket. The cost may vary depending on whether the press has a designer in-house or if they contract this work out to a freelancer. If you have particular art in mind, this will also play a role. And by the way: don’t think for a second that a publisher who routinely jackets their hardcovers isn’t paying about this much to jacket each of their books. They probably are—but the cost gets rolled into the unit cost of the book, and paid for by adding a few dollars to its list price.

Cover images

If your book is going to have a jacket, or if it will be published in paper, you may be wondering about cover art.

As a general rule, the publisher will absorb the cost of artwork for the cover or jacket of your book. Bear in mind that this may mean your press will opt for a two-color cover with a simple graphic element rather than a full-color photograph.

If you’re convinced that a particular photograph will absolutely make the book, talk to your editor about including it—preferably before the design process gets underway. If you or someone you know has taken the image (and it is of quality composition and high-enough resolution for printing), it may be the perfect—affordable—solution.

If you’re angling for an image ripped from the headlines, shekels will be changing hands. The pain your publisher may feel at paying $500 or $700 for such an image can be eased if you’ve got some shekels to contribute. Possible sources of funds include prizes tied to paper or research competitions (make sure your winning paper actually relates, somehow, to the book!) and department or college faculty development grants.

Your turn

Have you contributed a photo for use on the cover of a book? What made the image appealing to your publisher? Have you ever helped offset the cost of a cover image? Where did you find the funds for that?

Other posts in the series:

  1. Indexing: You or your publisher?
  2. Royalties: Whodathunkit?
  1. Author copies: How many, how much
  2. Permissions: Who pays?
  3. Getting the word out: Publicity and PR

Stay tuned!

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The academic author’s costs of publishing: Royalties

This is the second in a series of posts offering a quick overview of what costs you might encounter when you publish an academic book. Because yes; even reputable presses will ask you to cover some of the expense of publishing.

Let’s talk royalties!

I can hear you thinking:

Wait just one minute! Aren’t publishers supposed to pay me royalties?!

You’re right, of course. And as you’ve no doubt also figured out, those royalties don’t often amount to much. (Think: nice night out on the town, including drinks and dessert and full-price movie tickets and the babysitter. Hopefully. Not: one-week vacation in balmy Costa Rica. You’ll have to start researching bugs in the tropics if you want that!)

But I mention it anyway because I know of several reputable university presses that have asked and will continue to ask their authors to “donate” royalties, or a portion of royalties, to offset the publisher’s costs.

I’m not entirely sure what you get in exchange for your donated royalties. A slight reduction in the list price of your book? A few extra author copies? The goodwill of your publisher and a tax write-off?

Whatever the case, this practice of asking you, the author, to forfeit a portion of your royalties is not as uncommon as it might once have been (especially in certain fields where the sales of books have dropped precipitously). So if your editor mentions it, try to rein in any possible shock and ask lots of questions about what you get in return. At a minimum, I’d think a nonprofit university press could give you a receipt for tax purposes.

Your turn

Have any of you here-to-fore silent readers been asked to relinquish royalties earned back to your publisher? If so, was it for all royalties in perpetuity or just on the first hundred or so books sold? Did you get anything in exchange, aside from publication of your book?

Other posts in the series:

  1. Indexing: You or your publisher?
  1. Wrapping up your book: Jackets and cover art
  2. Author copies: How many, how much
  3. Permissions: Who pays?
  4. Getting the word out: Publicity and PR

Stay tuned!

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The academic author’s costs of publication: Indexing

Most of the time we don’t think about authors having to bear any of the costs of publication—but even among reputable academic presses, there will be expenses borne by the author, not the publisher.

This is the first in a series of posts offering a quick overview of what costs you might encounter.

Let’s talk indexing!

Good academic presses want your book to have an index—yes; even books that are designed to be used in courses—because indexes make books more useful and a more useful tool will be more widely coveted by academic libraries. So plan for an index because whether or not you compile it, there’s a solid chance your publisher will add it.

Save money: DIY

You can volunteer for indexing duty. Ask your editor whether the press has guidelines they can share to help make this task easier (many do!).

I’ve also heard tell of people roping their graduate assistants into compiling the index. Use caution here. You might scar a young academic for life. You might also end up with an index that isn’t as useful as it could be because, well, you know that material inside out, but your GA may not.

And if you’d rather receive a thousand paper cuts from a freshman-comp paper than tackle the index, even indirectly? Well now, that’s when you can ask your editor to hire an indexer on your behalf.

Spend money: Let your publisher handle it

The advantage here is publishers hire expert indexers. These experts usually whip out indexes quickly and they have the temperament to do the job with exacting precision. I can honestly say that only in one case have I seen an author-compiled index that beat the pants off any professional index. It was filled with cross-references and sub-listings so you could find exactly what you were looking for. It was truly a thing of beauty. Moreso because it was so rare. [insert sigh of contentment here.] But I digress.

Another advantage is that the publisher will handle delivering all the necessary files to the indexer, and gathering them back in. There’s something to be said about not having to project manage this process!

For your professional indexing, expect to pay in the neighborhood of $3 per indexable book page. (Translation: that’s $3 per typeset page of actual text, not tables or illustrations.) A 200-page book with no illustrations and few tables could cost between $500 and $700 to index.

Usually you won’t see the bill for this until the book is already at press, so you will have time to save your ducats.

What to negotiate

It is doubtful that you’ll talk your editor out of an index altogether (see above).

You might be able to convince her to pay for indexing as an advance against royalties, but be forewarned: this will require a lot of convincing on your part, and your editor will resist, hard, unless you two have already published a few successful books together.

Something to consider…

If you’ve decided indexing isn’t for you and you’re paying off student loans the size of a small country’s national debt, therefore cash to pay for indexing is most definitely not in your budget…

Investigate whether your school offers faculty research or development grants. Often, these funds can be distributed to cover the costs of indexing, so it is worth a look.

Your turn

Have you done your own index? Was it a nice way to wrap up the project, or a pain in your tuchas? If you hired someone…did you or your publisher handle the details?

Next in the series:

  1. Royalties: Whodathunkit?
  2. Wrapping up your book: Jackets and cover art
  3. Author copies: How many, how much
  4. Permissions: Who pays?
  5. Getting the word out: Publicity and PR

Stay tuned!

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Ready to write for a general audience?

Now and again, I talk with an author who published an academic book successfully—meaning to good reviews and reasonable sales—but is looking for something more for the next project.

It happened again last week. (And just to set the record straight, in case he’s reading: this post shouldn’t be taken as commentary on our conversation!)

And then I happened across a discussion of “platform” in a newsletter meant for general writers—you know, the sorts of people who contribute articles to the local lifestyle magazine, or who write about personal finance for not-CPAs.

So not being one to ignore the seemingly-random ways disparate threads actually pull together to make a nice cozy blanket, I’m officially hijacking Hope Clark’s explanation of platform for your benefit.

What is Platform?

According to Ms. Clark,

Platform [is] any venue you could measure in terms of followers, readers, or fans…. an audience someone currently reached, professional memberships, alumni connections, subscribers, viewers or even Facebook friends. It [is] a tangible number used to convince a publisher that serious sales [are] possible.

A hundred Facebook fans is okay, but you catch an editor’s attention if you have 10,000 friends instead. Two hundred Twitter followers might look good amongst pals, but a publisher might do a double take if that number was more like 20,000. How many people subscribe to your blog or newsletter? How many members are in your professional organizations?

How useful is your ASA or APSA or ASC or insert-your-academic-organization-of-choice-here membership… really?

Let me interject here: your professional organization is an important venue for promoting and selling your book. But if you’re an academic, your professional organization may not matter to a trade publisher.

  • There may be thousands of members of the American Sociological Association, but we both know that not all of them are going to care about the same topics—so the number of members isn’t a good reflection of exactly who will be interested in this particular book
  • Trade publishers look to academic associations for “icing on the cake” sales, but they butter their bread by selling “to the trade”—i.e., to bookstores and Educated Lay Readers (who may or may not even exist). If your audience really is comprised of academic association members, do yourself a favor and look for an academic press that will prioritize marketing to these folks.

How many people make up a good platform?

Ms. Clark also offered up some specific numbers:

An acceptable showing in book sales is more like 5,000…. Could you presell enough copies at that level?

Traditional publishers are looking for people who can sell their books at that level, especially nonfiction. (emphasis added)

If you haven’t already published an academic book, you may not be aware that 5000 copies is a lot of books to sell in the academic world, but it’s probably on the low end of what’s necessary to allow for an economically viable trade book. (Here’s more on the subject of academic book sales.)

And as Clark points out, a traditional trade publisher wants you to be able to presell that many books. As in, there should be backorders rolling in from the moment your trade book is announced; that 5000 isn’t meant to be a lifetime of sales stacked up over 5 years.

Ready to leap into the trade publishing waters anyway?

I read these sorts of things and am reminded, yet again, that publishing in academia really is a whole different kettle of fish compared to general publishing. That’s not to say academics can’t or shouldn’t write books for a more general audience. But if you’re interested in pursuing publication outside the halls of academe, you’ll be better off if you have an understanding of what’s expected on the other side.

And oh yeah. You might want to start building up your platform right away… I hear it’s getting more important every day!

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Internal vs. external review, and multiple submissions

What’s the difference between internal review and “external” or “peer” review? Is it okay to have several presses review my manuscript simultaneously?

Internal review is casual dating

When I receive a manuscript for internal review, I’m seeing if it is well-written, thoughtful, cohesive. I’m deciding whether I think it has the chops to get good reviews from your peers—now and post-publication. I’m probably also making sure that it is indeed a good fit with my publications list.

For many presses, internal review is just what I described: a first look, to follow-up on the impression we had from your proposal.

Strategic dating and multiple submissions

You face constant pressure to publish, so it simply isn’t in your best interests to send your proposal to one press at a time, waiting to hear a “yes” or “no” before sending it to the next on your list of possible publishers.

This may also be true when a press asks to see the manuscript itself. And as long as the press’s interest is in the early stages (they’re just “taking a look”), there’s no harm in multiple submissions.

But in the name of honest—and strategic—communication, I’d suggest you let all those potential publishers know that several presses have your manuscript in-hand.


We’re a little competitive. If we know you’re talking to our arch-enemy, we may prioritize our internal review in hopes of landing your project before the competition makes up its mind.

Peer review is going steady

When I get in touch with Dr. Eminence and ask if she’s willing to read and offer her unvarnished (anonymous) opinion on your manuscript, we’ve crossed into the realm of external/peer review.

In general, a press that is ready to “send your manuscript out” will want exclusive review—monogamy.

The reason? It takes time and energy to line up reviewers. There aren’t actually that many people who are both qualified to comment on your manuscript and have the time to do so. Plus, it’s awkward to call The Perfect Reviewer, ask him to read a manuscript, and hear that note of confusion as he says,

“Umm, I’m already reading that manuscript for Press X.”

Try not to put your editor in that position!

Be honest… and communicate!

Now, this isn’t to say that swinging a multiple submission at the peer review stage is impossible. I know a few editors who don’t object to this at all.

But be sure to discuss your need/desire with all your potential editors before you let more than one of them send your manuscript out for peer review simultaneously.

(And by the way, I would not recommend that you attempt to have more than 2 presses peer-reviewing at once. That’s just too many cooks in the kitchen, and someone’s bound to get burned.)

Communicating honestly with your editors will go a long way toward preserving your relationship into the future–just remember that it is entirely possible that your ideal editor may say no to your proposed deal.

Your turn

What has your experience been with multiple submissions and peer review?

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Sounds of Silence

It’s been quiet around here, hasn’t it? All I can say is… travel out-of-town will really rack a schedule, no?

We’ll be back to our regularly-programmed schedule as of tomorrow, but in the meantime I wanted to offer a few quick updates.

First, regarding the Heifer International Challenge: I’ve just processed a donation of $50. That’s $20 for a share of a llama and $30 for some honeybees. It works out to more than my initial pledge-plus-comments but (a) accounts for notes I received via Facebook and (b) HI is working to help rebuild in Haiti so perhaps the bees will wind up there.

Second, did I mention the great conversation I had with Bill Frank, an independent specialist in book publicity, back in December? I’ve got great notes from that conversation to inform some forthcoming posts. Lots of good ideas and information for those of you who have already unleashed your books (or are about to). Plus, Bill may be contributing now and again in 2010. Yay!

More to come…

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The Mythical “Educated Lay Reader”

Having read a ton of proposals over the years, I’ve come to cringe whenever I encounter the phrase “educated lay reader.” As in, “my book will appeal to social scientists and educated lay readers.”

I don’t think Mr. Educated Lay Reader exists.

Or at least, not in the way these proposal-writers imagine.

Our friend ELR is called up in an effort to convey that the audience for a book on, say, the criminal habits of rural teenagers, is going to be large. And profitable. Ergo the publisher would be foolish to not consider this particular project for publication.

But who is ELR anyway?

I’ve recently encountered, in several different places, a piece of advice that I think is worth repeating: visualize your ideal reader in great detail. Don’t let yourself rely on generalizations such as “political scientists” or “people interested in social inequalities.” Really give this person some flesh and bones.

What does she look like? Where does she work? What does she like to eat? Does she watch television? What magazines does she read if any? What time is it when she gets to sit and read? For how long? Does she get her books at the library, at the bookstore, at Costco? Does she have a family? When she’s not working, what does she do? Is she a home brew master, a runner, an outdoors enthusiast, an opera fan? At the end of a long day, what kind of book does she like to grab from her bedside table?

If you have a hard time picking someone to visualize here, you might consider your spouse or even that nice editor you met at the conference last fall. Given the choice, does he spend his weekends and evenings devouring books firmly grounded in social anomie theory or is he out hiking or skiing with his family? If your partner wasn’t your partner—and regardless of whether or not he’s an academic—would he read your book on a plane?

Do you see what I mean?

There are lots of well-educated people readers out there.

Most of the publishing folks you know can be counted among their number. So can most of the academics you know. But a lot of books have a specialized focus and are written for a specific purpose (that is, to get someone tenure, or a promotion, or to challenge a research paradigm). And it isn’t fair—or accurate—to expect those books to appeal to Every Single Person who has a Brain and likes to Read.

Do yourself a favor. Forget the educated lay reader.

Visualize your ideal reader. If you’re an academic, she’s probably trained in the same field you are, but if you’re stretching (and you should be), she’s not a specialist in your subfield. She may not use your methods or be a devotee of your preferred theories. But there’s enough of an overlap between your research agenda and hers that she’ll be interested—if you write with her needs in mind.

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Should academics “really know how to write”?

Over at The Monkey Cage, Andrew Gelman recently said (and yes, I’m paraphrasing him a bit):

As average political science writers, we just don’t have the skills and experience to write as smoothly as most journalists… who really know how to write, so their stories really flow.

I do think that there is a divide between what the average ‘educated lay reader’ looks for in a book and what academics need to find in a book. I tend to think that the best academic books circle one core question such that they can add depth and nuance to a discussion in a way most general nonfiction books can’t—and frankly, probably don’t want to.

And fair enough: journalists like Tom Friedman or Eric Schlosser probably do have more finely-honed skills because writing is their primary job.

But writing is an academic’s job, too.

Isn’t academia based on the triumvirate of teaching, service, and research, often with a heavy emphasis on research? What are you supposed to do with all that research if not somehow disseminate it? The average academic conference presentation doesn’t often reach a critical mass of people—so there will be writing involved.

Why not deliberately approach your academic writing as though you are telling a story?

You may be an academic, but surely, in addition to the heady academic tomes you consume as part of your scholarship, you also do some guilty-pleasure reading… right? With that in mind, I’d like to offer a suggestion. When you sit down to work on your next paper or book, think about what you like to read for pleasure—and why.

Maybe you’re drawn to mysteries because you enjoy the twists and turns of figuring out what happened. So if your subject is partisan realignment, what about tackling your writing like a mystery about the parties? Who might have done what, when, why? Which characters and events are red herrings that serve to distract the scholar’s attention from what’s really going on?

Maybe you enjoy novels with good character development, especially where the characters become more interesting as a result of their interaction with other people in the book. So perhaps your analysis of what works—or not—when it comes to state legislative reform could cast one prominent kind of reform in the lead role, and examine how it interacts with other reforms and changes as a result of those interactions.

Telling a good story isn’t about undercutting your scholarship.

Of course there are academic conventions you can’t ignore for the sake of a good story. And yes there are moments when a table or figure (or several!) has to be included even though it winds up feeling like a logjam in the midst of your narrative.

But why not try approaching your work like a journalist or a novelist? First, sketch out the plot before you delve into the serious writing. Then every time you run into a necessary academic convention or a vital table, look for a way to integrate it into the story while honoring your overall plot trajectory.

Go on; give it a try. You’ll probably still get three stars.

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The Etiquette of Giving Gifts

I’ve been thinking about gifts lately. (Go figure.)

In particular, I’ve been thinking about why it feels… awkward… sometimes to receive a gift, as an editor, from an author. Or to be more precise, from a would-be author.

In my experience, gift-giving between authors and editors isn’t reaching epidemic proportions. If it happens at all, it tends to happen on the occasion of major, feel-good life events. Think weddings and newborns. Much more rarely, it happens at a turning-point on the path to published glory.

It isn’t always awkward…

I recall one especially warm and fuzzy moment when a former author shared a CD with me; she liked the artist, and this particular album was perfect for soothing newborns. In a similar vein: I no longer recall whether my son’s cherished lovey was a gift from one author because her little one loved something similar so much—or if it was just coincidental that both our kids grew obsessed with the same kind of lovey.

I associate such tokens with certain authors, and I enjoy the way those authors float into my consciousness outside the bounds of our work together.


Once in a while, a would-be author sends something my way. I always accept it with gracious you-shouldn’t-have thanks. But always, a part of me sighs and thinks, “Really. You shouldn’t have.”

Because if you aren’t already one of my authors—if we haven’t published a book together in the past, if your manuscript isn’t already in production, if your manuscript hasn’t unequivocally passed review—then the token is a little harder to accept.

A gift in such circumstances—be it a bouquet, chocolates, or an item with more staying power—can suggest a new level of intimacy in an otherwise all-business relationship. Unfortunately, such intimacy may carry expectations (perhaps unconscious ones), and those expectations cannot always be met.

What I’m trying to say is…

I’ll reassure myself that you, my would-be author, sent the gift with the absolute best of intentions.

That you understand as well as I do that your manuscript must still be evaluated by your peers, and that I still have hoops to jump through with my publisher.

That no matter how much we like each other as people, there are still things outside either of our control that could put the kibosh on my getting to publish your book.

Receiving a gift from a would-be author gets awkward because I haven’t figured out a polite way to accept it while also saying,

“I sure hope you write the kick-butt manuscript we both want you to write—because if you don’t and it gets poor reviews and I have to reject your manuscript for publication, I’m afraid you’ll feel like I betrayed your trust somehow and that you’ll regret having given me this little gift.”

When in doubt, remember that this is a business relationship.

If you’re so moved, send a card filled with heartfelt good wishes on the pending nuptials, the new baby, for the holidays, or even about your excitement to be working together on the book.

If you’re so moved and you’ve already got one book firmly in the bag with this editor, send something a little more tangible.

But at the end of the day…

There’s no obligation to send a card or gift, nor does a card or gift create an obligation.

* * *

NOTE: Don’t forget to leave a comment on last Wednesday’s post before 12/30/2009 at midnight. For each comment made, I’ll donate an extra $1 to Heifer International. (I jumped on a bandwagon circulating among some trade publishing folk because I liked the idea and really like the organization.) And hey, the cash isn’t coming out of your pocket. ;-)

ALSO: I plan to take a brief end-of-year hiatus… so may you all have a lovely week and fun NYE celebrations. I look forward to connecting again in 2010!

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