Eric Schwitzgebel writes the blog The Splintered Mind, a romp through the world of philosophy, with a side interest in snails. He has a couple of posts about how to go about getting your book published, which are full of sensible advice. Here is Part 1 and here Part 2.

Think about who publishes the books you most use: among them will doubtless be the publisher you need. If that doesn’t clarify things, look at the book exhibit at conferences you go to, and if this or that press’ list looks good to you ask if the editor is present. Remember publishers want/need authors. Once you’ve made contact, and if some expression of even the mildest interest has been expressed, write an outline. This might seem unnecessary to you; after all you know what the book’ll be about, but doing an outline will force you to think about the structure and purpose of your book, and of course enables you to show the evidence to others. Putting things down on paper makes a big difference to your attitude towards it — I often claim not to know what I think about something until I’ve written it down — and this may of course be part of the reason for your resistance to the idea: once it’s on paper it’s no longer that potential work of genius, it’s just what it is. An outline isn’t a vast document; and after all, you’ll have to write the damn thing sooner or later. Showing the outline to an editor might even prompt useful feedback: these people live to be helpful.

Professor Schwitzgebel recommends sending your outline to a few presses simultaneously. OK, but we should bear in mind that it may be sent out to advisors whose time is limited. This is perhaps less true of a bare proposal than of an outline accompanied by a few sample chapters. Most academics are doubtless aware from personal experience just how much time can be eaten up assessing manuscripts for publishers: they do it basically for “the good of the subject”. And to release the self-same project to three or four publishers at the same time is to risk tying up limited resources and to court duplication. Better, I’d say, to go seriatim in submission.

The second part of his advice is mainly taken up with the contract. I think he exaggerates publishers’ reluctance to discuss and give guidance on contracts. As the author of an academic monograph you are probably in any case going to be dealing with a boilerplate standard contract, but there’s nothing stopping you asking for anything, including help. There may be a bit of reluctance to move off the terms of the standard contract, but if you really want to retain movie rights for your monograph on panpsychism a special clause can be added to the pre-set contract.

In his defensiveness about contract negotiations I suspect that Professor Schwitzgebel is falling victim to that diffidence that overcomes us all (almost all) when it comes to discussing money. Different societies at different times have different attitudes towards this sort of thing. As a young publisher I lived in an environment where it was not at all unusual for a dinner guest to ask you how much you paid for your house, or how much you earned. But of course that was in another country and besides the trait is dead.

So try to discuss finances as calmly as you might illustrations or structure. It’s important to bear in mind that your relationship with your publisher is fundamentally a mutually beneficial collaboration, not an arm-wrestling contest. Respect your publishers’ expertise in the publishing process, just as they respect your knowledge of the subject. Your interests ultimately coincide. Publishers might be regarded as in an existential struggle with competing publishing houses, but they need their authors more than their authors actually need them. An author can always try next door: a publisher with no manuscripts is a publisher with no future.

If like Professor Schwitzgebel you’re a philosopher, here is his ranking of the best presses at which to pitch your manuscript. The analysis is admittedly a bit circular, ending up more or less concluding that those presses who publish most of the books will tend to end up publishing most of the best books.