Academic Books: How to Choose a Scholarly Publisher

Scholarly book publishing impacts your field, your career (RPT), how you cultivate an audience as well as how you influence the broader world of readers and reading technology. This guide provides information on how to find the right scholarly publisher.


Your initial audience will include acquisition editors and editorial boards of presses, but your ultimate audience consists of other scholars, students, and the general public. According to research conducted by Xi Niu and Brad Hemminger and a separate study by Carol Tenpoir, Rachel Volentine, and Donald King, academic researchers search online and read a mixture of print and electronic resources. Same goes for students and general readers according to a University of Utah textbook survey and a Pew Internet & American Life survey.

Reading Habits

Daily: journals (print or online), web pages, email

Monthly: books

  • humanists and social scientists read books more than health scientists (Tenopir, 2012)
  • teaching-intensive academics utilize books more than research-intensive academics (Tenopir, 2012)

Annually: conference proceedings

Rarely: pre-prints

  • Read for pleasure, current events, and research
  • Prefer print, but depends on reading purpose
  • Get book recommendations from family and friends first, then bookstores, and librarians

Choosing a Press or Publisher. Look for Subject Match, Marketing, Quality of Books, and Negotiate the Publishing Contract

U of U faculty, by means of U Policy 7-003, own the copyright in traditional scholarly works. As rights holders, individual faculty members can negotiate the terms of a publishing contract. When presented with a publishing contract, remember that you are a professional writer and author even if your title is professor, librarian, researcher, or academic. As a rights holder and professional author, you have significant bargaining power. 

First off, don't transfer or assign all of your copyrights. There are five copyrights and you can choose which ones to give to the publisher. The most relevant ones would be to copy/reproduce and to publicly distribute. These two are needed to publish something, i.e. to make it public. And you don't have to transfer or assign them. You can establish an exclusive or even non-exclusive agreement where you retain rights and contractually provide permission to the publisher to engage in the rights surrounding your manuscript. If you plan on translating your work, then don't transfer your right to prepare a derivative work, i.e. adapt. 

  • reproduce
  • prepare derivatives
  • distribute publicly
  • display publicly
  • perform publicly

If publishing with a university press, watch for the copyright registration clause. The contract might say that the registration will be in the author's name, but this is misleading. If the press has asked for an assignment of all copyrights, which they normally do, then the press is the rights holder. Presses need all rights in order to list themselves as a copyright claimant in a U.S. copyright registration record. A registration record is needed for any copyright infringement lawsuit.

Look for and negotiate these other fair publishing contract terms as outlined by the Authors Guild Fair Contract Initiative

  • Ask for half of net proceeds for royalties on e-books and ask for quarterly payments
  • Establish a fixed amount of time instead life of copyright (which is life of the author + 70 years)
  • Both the author and publisher should decide on a manuscript's acceptability (not just the publisher), but the author should have final say
  • Strike non-compete and/or option clauses

The Book Division of the National Writers Union also has good resources and tips on negotiating. 

Presentation Slides

Get Help Choosing a Press or Publisher

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Allyson Mower, MA, MLIS
University of Utah, Marriott Library
295 South 1500 East, Room 5150E
Salt Lake City, UT 84112
(801) 585-5458

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