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The perils of one-at-a-time

November 2nd, 2010

It came up again.  Yesterday I had lunch with a Jesuit who wants a contract for a scholarly book.   He said that he had been advised strongly that it was absolutely verboten to make inquiries with more than one press at a time.  When I asked who had advised him of this, he mentioned a colleague.  I assured him that although his colleague means well, it is actually normal and expected in publishing to make inquiries at all relevant publishers before deciding where to submit a scholarly book, usually by submitting a short inquiry, and following up if requested with a prospectus and sample chapter.  He asked where I heard this, and he was surprised when I said “The editors themselves.”  My information comes from directors and editors at (in order of my visits to their offices or their booths) Northwestern, Chicago, Johns Hopkins, NYU, Columbia, Oxford, Georgetown University Press, Cambridge, Duke, Princeton, Cornell, Harvard, MIT, and Yale.

Multiple inquiries are fine, including letting multiple editors see your prospectus and a sample chapter or even two.  Then the custom is to rank the interested presses and make full submissions one at a time, but in certain circumstances even that is negotiable!  If you  have questions about this interesting process, send them to Booklab.  I’ll be happy to post answers on the blog.


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