I regularly get emails from people who want to break into publishing for the first time, who ask me “How can I get my book published?” As I indicated in my previous posts, almost always what they have in mind is not a work of scholarship for scholars but a trade book for a general audience. And so here is a weird fact about me: even though I have been publishing trade books for eighteen years, I’m not completely sure of the answer. But I know some things, and in this post I’ll indicate what those things are.
I absolutely know how one gets his or her first scholarly book published. I help my graduate students, and other scholars just starting their careers, do that all the time. There I’m an expert. But a first trade book? That’s a trickier proposition. The reason is one I’ve intimated before. Most scholars who publish a trade book do so after they have already published serious scholarship and so are to some extent a “known quantity.” In my case, when I published Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (my first trade book) I had already written and published three scholarly books, edited a fourth, and published a textbook and two anthologies of ancient texts. The publisher who asked me to write the trade book (Oxford) already had a pretty good idea of what they were getting.
It often happens that a publisher will ask a scholar to write a trade book. And often it is on a particular topic. So the publisher has an idea of a book and they approach someone to see if they want to write it. The other scenario that happens a lot is that a scholar who has already produced a scholarly book or two asks a publisher if they would be interested in a particular trade book. When *that* happens, the publisher typically will ask for a written prospectus – say 10-15 pages – explaining what the book is to be about, how the author will approach the topic, why it is the sort of thing that a general audience would want to read about, and so on. On the basis of that prospectus they decide whether they want to publish it or not.
In both cases, the publisher offers the author a contract. The contract can be…
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