Monday, August 1, 2005

Publishing a Book as a Young Law Professor

A reader writes:

I am a new law teacher (just finished my first year).  I've been working on a research project that I originally intended to turn into a law review article.  I'm now thinking about expanding it into a book.  This raises a few questions on book publishing that I thought I'd run by the United States Central Authority for Advice to Young Law Professors (i.e., you).

(1)  Do you have any advice generally on book publishing for law professors?  E.g., I understand that most books are accepted based on book proposals, rather than finished manuscripts.  Is this correct, and if so, what makes a successful book proposal?

(2)  Are there relative advantages to different publishers?  E.g., the legal publishers like West and Aspen v. university presses?

(3)  What is the general view in legal academia about the relative prestige of book publishing v. article writing?  My initial impression is that books aren't valued quite as much as I thought they'd be, although that might be based more on the relative merits of treatises, case books and monographs than on the value of books generally.

Here are my brief thoughts, though I must admit to being more familiar with book publishing in the philosophy context, and so I invite readers to correct me or offer their own views in the comments, below: 

(1)  For junior scholars, it is often harder to get a book under contract with only a book proposal.  Usually, you need also to submit a significant portion of a manuscript or, alternatively, articles or draft articles that reflect what will go into the published volume.  If you have senior colleagues, either at your institution or elsewhere, who support your work and have good connections with various presses, it might pay to see if they can feel out a publisher about interest in the project in advance. 

A typical book proposal has four main components:  (1) an introductory section setting out the nature of the proposed book and what it hopes to accomplish; (2) a more detailed outline of the book (e.g., a sketch of each chapter), indicating, as appropriate, what has been written (or what is included with the proposal), and what still needs to be done; that might include indicating where material to be incorporated into the book has already been published; (3) a section on "market and competition," that is, who will be interested in this book (e.g., "tax scholars in economics and law," or "constitutional law scholars, political scientists, and historians" etc.), what other books are similar, and how your book differs, i.e., what it adds to the literature; and (4) a timeline for completion and delivery of the manuscript.

(2)  My impression is that West, Aspen, Lexis et al. do not produce scholarly monographs in law, as distinct from textbooks.  Scholarly books on legal topics are brought out most often by academic presses.  The leading academic presses in law are, it seems to me:  Harvard, Yale, Chicago, Oxford, Princeton, Cambridge, and maybe California (these are in no particular order).  Be aware, though, that in some subfields, there are other excellent choices:  e.g., as I understand it, University of North Carolina Press is an absolutely top publisher in the field of legal history.  Perhaps readers can note other examples in the comments.

(3)  Legal academia is still rather law-review-article-centric, and for a junior person, publishing 2 or 3 law review articles may be more feasible than producing a book.  Our tenure standards (and I doubt we are atypical) have a quantitative component cast in terms of articles, but don't even mention books, as I recall!  Still, it's hard for me to imagine that a scholarly book from a major press wouldn't redound to the credit of a tenure-track law professor. 

Comments are open; anonymous postings may survive, but signed comments will, as always, fare better.

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Tracked on Aug 1, 2006 7:51:34 AM


I hate to be boring, but I'd say highly risky, and better maintained as a hobby. Because

1. Books take forever, and for a young professor to seem out of it for years is risky,

2. Presses want things that academia doesn't, like public appeal;

3. It is hard to get a book contract as an unknown anyhow, and you'll waste your time trying.

So if you're, say, a PhD historian who already has a book contract, that's one thing. But for a JD with no publishing record, I'd say, don't do it.

Posted by: Anonymous Professor | Aug 11, 2005 7:33:21 PM

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