Finding the Right Publisher for Your Second Book

by | Feb 25, 2020

How is publishing your second book different than your first and what should you look for in a press?

Almost all book publishing advice out there focuses on your first book, and with good reason: your first book is often your tenure book so the stakes are really high. But what about the one after that?

Second books are some of my favorite manuscripts to work on with clients because by book two you’re often past the anxiety of tenure and feel freer and more focused to really write something true to yourself. So what do you need to think about when shopping for a second book publisher? Here are three things to consider.

Tip #1: Think beyond your first book publisher

Assuming you had a good relationship, the press that guided you through the arduous and emotionally intense process of getting your first book out into the world probably deserves your undying gratitude and by all means keep talking them up to anyone who will listen. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best press for book number two.

Second books often depart substantially from first books in audience, topic, field, and/or writing style. Because publishers cultivate specific audiences in particular fields and not others, your first publisher might not be a good fit for your new direction.

If your first book was based on your dissertation, it was probably pretty narrowly focused and hopefully you found an awesome publisher in that field. But if your research has shifted or broadened, look into which publishers have cultivated the audiences you’re writing for now.

Tip #2: Keep “first look” contracts in mind

Some academic presses include “first look” clauses in book contracts, which means they have the exclusive right to publish your second book if they decide they want to. This is NOT a guarantee that they will publish your second book, just that they get to have first consideration once it’s ready. If they decide to pass, you can shop the book proposal around to other publishers that would be a better fit.

Be sure to check your first book contract to see if you’re bound by one of these clauses. If so, you’ll need to pitch your second book to that press. If they think it’s a good fit for them, that can be fantastic because you already are familiar with their process and your working relationship can just continue. All cool.

If you do have one of these clauses but you suspect that press would not be a good fit for your second book, talk honestly with your acquisitions editor about that. Explain how your second book is different and why it might not fit with the press’s audience and lists. Chances are your acquisitions editor will agree with you or at least explain how it could in fact be a good match. Acquisition editors are trained to have keen eyes for fit and genuinely want to publish books they know will succeed. So they’re absolutely your friends in this. If they don’t think your second book would work for their press’s audience, they’ll tell you. And they’ll appreciate your honesty with them on this topic as well.

Tip #3: Be bold with your second book goals

Because your second book is not usually your tenure book (although there are, of course, exceptions), you have more freedom to play. You’re no longer judged by the stern eye of a tenure committee (and a dissertation committee before that). So you can get creative. Want to include more stories and rich description? Go for it. Curious about an unconventional structure? Try it out. Want to write a book people beyond the academy would actually find interesting and buy? Here’s your chance.

This creativity and boldness should also extend to your publisher. Research publishers that love diverse formats. This doesn’t just mean trade presses, although that’s also an option to consider. Many academic presses have gotten creative with the types of projects they take on. Here’s your chance to find one that fits your current goals.

To recap, when choosing a press for your second book: think beyond your first publisher, keep “first look” contracts in mind, and be bold and creative with your goals.

For more help with academic publishing, check out Ideas on Fire’s editing and indexing services as well as our extensive free resource library.

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