In Over the Transom, an occasional series on this blog, we’ll walk you through every step of the bookmaking process, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at just how much work goes into turning a good idea into a great book.
A message to all of the aspiring writers out there: Want to know how our editors here at the JHU Press decide which authors to sign up? Or just how a book gets published?
A manuscript has to first be accepted for publication—a feat easier talked about than achieved. Out of the hundreds of proposals crossing the desks of Hopkins Press editors every year, only a lucky few will end up on library and bookstore shelves. Much more than luck is involved, though, as our acquisitions editors carefully review, select, and develop viable projects that make sense for their lists and the publishing program of the Press overall. Some advice: Save paper, time–and your ego–and send your proposals to presses that are already publishing in that field. If you’re writing a book on, say, Native American history, take a look at who is putting out books in that field and send them your proposal. Want to know what our editors are editors are interested in? Click here.
Identifying a promising book idea is only the beginning, however. What’s next? The all-important peer review. The editor sends the manuscript to an outside, expert reader and asks them to vet the manuscript, discussing its quality of scholarship, how it compares with competing titles, and whether the reader recommends publication. Those comments are then sent to the author, who responds to specific concerns and suggestions on how to improve the manuscript. Take that report seriously; our editors, and certainly our review boards (see below), do. A thoughtful and reasoned response to a reader’s report goes a long way toward getting your book proposal approved for publication. With that response in hand, the editor is now ready to move on to the next phase in the life of the book: the approval process.
At Hopkins Press, an in-house editorial review committee takes a first look at new book projects. Made up of key personnel from acquisitions, marketing, manuscript editing, design and production, and administration, this group decides whether or not to send the project to round two of the approval process: faculty editorial board. This board of distinguished Hopkins faculty thoroughly reviews every book project and ultimately decides which books will be published by the Press. It is not until this last hurdle is overcome that a contract to publish is formally approved.
The steps outlined above are fairly cut and dry, but the acquisition of high-quality scholarship is far from an exact science. With intelligence, passion, diplomacy—and a little bit of fortune-telling—Hopkins editors have made an art of publishing award-winning, field-defining books that continue the Press’s long tradition of disseminating knowledge far and wide. Maybe your book could be next?