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I am a PhD candidate in the very early process of writing my dissertation, and I'm presenting my first chapter at an international humanities conference soon. I received an email from the managing editor of a well known University Press that was impressed by my topic and wants to meet to discuss possibilities. How common is this?

Is it quite common for University Presses to solicit meetings with PhD students? Or is this a rare opportunity? His interest was so unexpected (because I always assumed you approached editors if you wanted to publish) that I'm not sure if this is a promising opportunity.

So how often do managing editors of University Presses solicit authors that are ABD?

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    Honestly, this sounds like a flaky publisher. Are you sure they don't just sound like a well known university press? (Cambridge Scholars Publishing is an example that readily comes to mind. I have the impression they scrape conference web sites and contact anyone that's listed.) – Julius Jun 28 at 15:34
  • Baylor University Press is one of the top publishers in my field, but yeah... that's why I found it unexpected -- unless he is unaware that I don't have my PhD yet. Or is this an actual thing if publishers are very keen on a topic? – LaAir Shoemaker Jun 28 at 15:43
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    I imagine this depends wildly by field. But publishing in the humanities definitely is different than in the sciences, and is often based on just a chapter or two of advance writing, so it's at least plausible that they see you as a good catch to snag early. – kcrisman Jun 28 at 18:22
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I'll note that the question was changed (not by the OP) to focus on books. I'll answer that first.

I think it is unlikely that publishers, often represented by senior (acquisitions) editors, to solicit books from students, but very common for them to talk to professors about book ideas. In some cases, the professors might send them to students who have some interesting work. Some of my books were solicited, but I'd established a reputation by then.

Book chapters are a bit different. Beware that some predatory publishers are on the prowl among the unsophisticated to get materials for less-than-reputable publications, but really good publishers will do this also.

In my opinion (note: opinion), the best such books have been suggested by some senior researcher who has some, but not enough, material for a book and has convinced a good publisher to help put it together, perhaps by going on the prowl for submissions. But here, the senior researcher, not just an editor has some control over the book, which should guarantee both success and quality. In such a book, the sponsoring professor or researcher will probably write the introduction and have one or more of the major contributions. The contributions may all be recent or the intent may be to bring an historical consolidation of some topic.

Other meetings of publishers and doctoral students are more likely to be just informational, with no commitments being made. The publisher is saying "We Exist - consider us for your next paper". The discussions will be informational in nature, mostly: This is what we want to print (or not). But you wouldn't' get any commitment to publish even a completed paper at a conference if the journal has any credibility. The paper will still need to be reviewed by subject matter experts with an eye to improvement.

That said, it is good to establish such relationships with journals, even if they are very tentative.

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    This does not sound like the humanities model at all. In the humanities your dissertation becomes a book and then you get tenure (sometimes you need an extra article or two and at top department a contract for a second book). This is not a solicitation for a textbook or an edited volume. – StrongBad Jun 29 at 1:47
  • You've stated elsewhere you're a mathematician/computer scientist. I'm worried your experience in those fields might not be as applicable to the humanities. – Azor Ahai Jun 29 at 5:05
  • @StrongBad, where can you go from "dissertation" to "tenure" in one step? – Buffy Jun 29 at 9:42
  • @Buffy it is not really one step. Most humanities dissertations need to be heavily revised to make them a book. It often takes them a couple of additional years to get it good enough. The key is the entire research output considered by the T&P committee is the book that was their dissertation. – StrongBad Jun 29 at 12:30
  • @StrongBad, not one step and several years. Normally at least seven in the US. And I would wonder about the quality of a place that requires research, but only seven years old. I'm very surprised by your statements, but have no contrary evidence. But, also, I admit to being influenced by my own history. My daughter is a Philosophy prof with a degree from U Minn. I don't think that was her experience, though her dissertation was pretty significant. – Buffy Jun 29 at 12:35
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I interned at a university press, and it was common to go through conference programs and identify interesting topics/papers written by PhD candidates/early-career scholars. It sounds like it's a little early in the process for you, but it is definitely worth taking the meeting.

  • Thanks Morais. Your experience is very insightful. Generally speaking, from your perspective, at what point in a PhD candidate's dissertation, do editors take ABD's seriously and invest interest? – LaAir Shoemaker Jun 28 at 20:37
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    @LaAirShoemaker they will invest an hour chatting you up if you have a conference paper, a couple hours if you have a sample chapter/book proposal, maybe a full day if you actually have the book. If you have something to show them, they will read it until they see they are not interested. – StrongBad Jun 29 at 1:39
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In the humanities this happens all the time especially if you have a well known supervisor or are at a good program. While top presses try and entice senior academics to write a book for them, they want first crack at the book that comes out of a humanities thesis. They know you are motivated to write the dissertation whereas a tenure professor is likely going to be flakey and also want some money. Spending 15 minutes and a couple of emails networking with a student is totally worth the editors time.

Being approached doesn't mean much. It most definitely isn't a contract. It means your book is probably on topic for them. It means when you have a sample chapter written (or a book proposal), they will read it. At that point they might either blow you off, give you feedback of how to make it more appealing to them, or tell you to send them the book when it is done. Even if they eventually ask you to send them the book, that doesn't mean much and is not a contract.

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This isn't common. It's common knowledge in publishing that for books to sell well, the authority of the author is of huge importance, and as a PhD student you're not likely to be an authoritative author.

My guess is that the acquisition editor is either unaware that you don't have a PhD, or (rather less likely) is making contact with you so that when you become an authoritative author in the future, you'll keep them in mind.

Having said that, there's no drawback for you to go ahead and meet them. If they are indeed aware that you don't have a PhD, but are willing to collaborate with you anyway, so much the better for you.

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    University presses in the humanities figure they can sell enough copies if you will teach a class that includes the book. If you get a friend/colleague and your supervisor to teach it also, the press is golden. – StrongBad Jun 29 at 1:26
  • @StrongBad yes, but given that he OP is a PhD student, he's not likely to be teaching a class for which he can set the course textbook (unless the situation is dramatically different in the humanities compared to the sciences). – Allure Jun 29 at 1:37
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    The humanities are different. These are not textbooks. That book is going to be the entire dissertation and likely enough to get the OP tenure. By the time the book comes out the OP will have a teaching job. Most publishers almost break even on these types of books just through bundling contracts with libraries that sell a couple of hundred. Throw in 100 more from teaching sales and they will offer you a contract for your second book and even pay a little bit upfront. – StrongBad Jun 29 at 1:45

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