Timing the book proposal (what I learned at MLA)

I’m not really at MLA; A is.  I’m just here to provide childcare during her paper.  But I did go to Dr. Crazy’s blogger meetup, and met another blogger the next day, and then last night had dinner with some colleagues from elsewhere.  At dinner, one of the colleagues asked our companion about making contacts with university presses about one’s first book.   He laid out a timeline that might be useful for people (and which  he thought was universally understood, though I’d never heard it), so, here goes:

  1. Summer before a planned trip to MLA, investigate likely presses. (I.e., ones that publish in your field, maybe especially ones that publish books you like or engage with.)
  2. Early in the fall, write the acquisitions editor at target presses, briefly (!) outlining your project and mentioning that you will be at MLA.
  3. Some # of acquisitions editors will write back. Some of them might say, “thanks, but no.”  Others will say, “sounds interesting, let’s chat at MLA.”  Others might say, “sounds interesting, send me your paper or a chapter in advance of MLA, and then let’s talk there.”  Others might show up at your panel.

The advantage of this approach, as my colleague explained it, is that when you meet the person at MLA, they will know something about your work already, and can give you more practical/focused advice about whether the project is potentially suitable for the press.

This is obviously not the only model–I didn’t meet anyone at my press until after they’d committed to the book–but it might provide structure to the book expo experience, which can otherwise seem like a weird speed-dating exercise.

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