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How can I propose and publish an edited volume?

How can I find a publisher for an edited volume? What should I include in a proposal for an edited volume?

Although they can be a great way to bring together valuable expertise on a topic, edited volumes can be challenging as a marketing and sales proposition, especially if based on a conference/symposium, which may make some presses and editors hesitant to acquire them. Traditionally, libraries were the major purchasers of edited volumes, but with shrinking library budgets and diminished library sales, the sales potential for edited collections has continued to decrease. For this reason, it is an especially good idea to do some exploration to determine if a given publisher regularly publishes edited collections and to have a conversation with an acquisitions editor about whether the press is actively acquiring edited collections. In the same way that you might examine recent press catalogs (typically available on press websites) to see whether a press regularly publishes titles in your field, you can also look to see if they routinely publish edited collections. As with any project, making sure that the subject of your edited collection is a good fit for the editorial profile of a given press will be a good starting place.

You will want to consult the press’s submission guidelines and/or an acquisitions editor about what they would like to see from a submission, but much of what you will need for the proposal of an edited volume will be similar to what you would provide for a standard book proposal:

  • a strong statement about the book’s purpose, its scope, and its contribution;
  • a sense of the academic field and the book’s contribution to it, as well as the market of similar books that have been published in recent years;
  • a list of contributors, their affiliations, and their essay subjects;
  • robust essay abstracts that give a good sense of the material that will be included and the organization of the volume;
  • two or more completed essays that can be put out for peer review along with the proposal. An editor may even want to see the entire manuscript.

Common problems with edited collections are that the contributions are uneven and the included essays are only loosely related to a broad theme or themes. You can strengthen your submission in several ways. Edited collections generally benefit by having a diverse range of contributors from different backgrounds and affiliations. It is typically helpful to make the case that gathering the works of this group of scholars together covers more ground or is more inclusive in its interpretation than would be possible with a single-author monograph. If the essays speak to one another, flow logically from one to another, and/or are organized in tight thematic groupings, these qualities will also enhance your case. If you can show that your topic is one that might be assigned in regularly taught courses, then that would also bolster the rationale for publication. In short, you want to be able to credibly and accurately show that your collection is more than just a collection of conference papers, that it instead represents a coherent and unique contribution to your field, and that the format as a collection of essays enhances the volume’s ability to deliver its information and message effectively.

For more information, see “What makes a good edited volume?” on the Ask UP site.

—University of South Carolina Press, November 2021