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Our team had a paper recently published in Energy and Buildings, and one of us (not the main author) received last week an email from someone claiming to be an editor with Springer.

According to this email, the editor was "impressed" with our paper and invites us to write or edit a book.

I have a nagging feeling that this is one of thousands of similar random emails sent to the authors of published papers. How can I know if this is a legitimate email, and whether it would be worth the effort? The email address comes from a springer.com domain, so it's probably not a random spammer.

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    Is the editor named in the email? Is (s)he listed as an editor in the Springer website? Is there contact information on that website, and does it match the address indicated in the email? All of these can help distinguish scams from legit mailings. Note that it is trivially easy for spammers to spoof the From fields of emails, but it wouldn't help a scammer to ask you to email Springer with your reply. If in doubt, you can send a polite response asking for more information to the contact address on the Springer website; if it's a scam then they'll disown it. – E.P. Sep 20 '15 at 22:02
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    One thing it can't hurt to be careful about is that the "From:" email address (displayed as the one that sent you the email) can be different from the "Reply-to:" email address (the one that's automatically filled in when you click "reply"). A good spam filter would pick up on that, but it can't hurt to check: if the email says it was sent by "editor@springer.com" but asks to reply to "random@gmail.com", it's perhaps not good. – user9646 Sep 21 '15 at 8:14
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Book editors sometimes send unsolicited e-mails to people who write well on topics that can attract an audience, so this could well be legitimate. There are a lot of scams, but generally from publishers you've never heard of. On the other hand, there's no reason to think these signs of initial interest will necessarily lead to an actual contract. If it interests you, it can't hurt to look into it. If it doesn't interest you, you can safely send a very brief reply or even ignore the e-mail.

Whether it's a legitimate e-mail shouldn't be too hard to figure out. If there's a return address from springer.com and someone claiming to be this editor responds to e-mail sent there, then it's probably legitimate (although in principle it could be a rogue employee or a hacker inside Springer's network or yours). If the e-mail asks you to get in touch in some unconventional way, such as a private e-mail address, then it's probably not legitimate.

Whether it's worth the effort depends on the circumstances. Springer publishes some truly excellent and important books, as well as others that are mediocre at best. Whether publishing with them is a good idea depends on your career plans and book ideas, as well as what you think of the contract they offer and their publishing practices. You should take a look at what else they have published recently in your area, as well as what has been published in series handled by this editor.

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    Book editors sometimes send unsolicited e-mails to people ... so this could well be legitimate. I must say I never understood the point of such emails, even the legitimate ones. If you ever have an idea for a book, don't wait for an editor to contact you; sit down and write it. If it's a good book, you will have no trouble at all finding a publisher for it. If it's a bad book, don't write it in the first place. The idea that you should change your entire professional plans for the next few years because a random editor you never met was "impressed" by a paper you wrote seems ludicrous to me. – Dan Romik Sep 20 '15 at 23:26
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    @DanRomik: Yes, I think editors are aiming for two scenarios. One is someone who already intends to write a book but doesn't yet have a publisher in mind. The hope is that preemptively building a relationship now may keep the author from considering other publishers. (This is bad for the author, except in the rare case when the author already knows this is the best possible publisher for the book. It's best to keep your options open until you know what else might work out.) The other scenario is an underconfident author who won't even try writing a book without external encouragement. – Anonymous Mathematician Sep 20 '15 at 23:50
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Perhaps this will be an unpopular sentiment, but I think that you might do well to consider whether this email is a scam of a sort even if it comes from the real Springer publishing company.

Suppose you write this book for Springer. How many copies would it sell? How much will Springer charge for it? Given the answers to these questions, will you make any money? (Short answer: any royalties you do receive will not remotely compensate you for your time.)

So what is your interest in writing such a book? Presumably, getting your ideas out there to the world. This brings me back to the first questions. What does Springer charge for an academic monograph? You might start at their shop website to get a sense of what they charge for similar works. (Short answer: usually >$100 for anything I want, and let's not even get started on the handbooks. Some of these sell for thousands of dollars--for a book!!!) So given these prices, how many copies do you think you will sell? (This is a perfectly fair question to ask the editor who contacted you, but be sure to ask for hard data about comparable books, not an off-the-cuff guestimate.) Are university libraries the primary market, or do they sell an appreciable number of copies to private individuals? How many university libraries have enough money left over from their Springer (and Elsevier, and Wiley, etc) subscriptions that they would buy this monograph. (Conjecture: probably only double figures in the US).

So now imagine that you write this book. Suppose it takes you a year of work (hint: this is a massive underestimate) and you receive close to zero financial compensation. Copies end up in at most a few hundred academic libraries around the world. Was this an efficient way to get your ideas out? Or is this not so very different from any of the other predatory publishers spamming academic authors in hopes of capitalizing on our naivite?

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    I agree it's silly to decide to write a book only because an editor from Springer or any other publishing house contacted you (see my other comment in response to another answer), but you seem to be questioning the legitimacy of the entire academic publishing industry. And why pick on Springer in particular? Yes their books are a bit expensive but I've personally learned a lot from many excellent Springer textbooks, and it's a fair guess that many authors who publish with them do think that this was an efficient way to get their ideas out. Your excessive negativity is unwarranted IMO. ... – Dan Romik Sep 21 '15 at 4:00
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    ...And I say this as a book author. I published with Cambridge University Press and am also making my book available to download for free, so I think I understand where your sentiment is coming from. However, you should keep in mind that putting out a professional, well edited, esthetically pleasing book takes work and expertise and costs money. Publishers need to recoup their costs on small volumes. So yes, there are predatory and exploitative practices and we should call them out where they exist, but that does not mean all publishers are scammers. – Dan Romik Sep 21 '15 at 4:01
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    The one valid point you make is that writing an academic textbook will generally not make an author any meaningful amount of money compared to the time and effort it requires. Doing it for the money is indeed a very bad idea. – Dan Romik Sep 21 '15 at 4:07
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    (-1) In this context, “scam” can only possibly mean something that does not come from the Springer publishing house, will not result in an actual book or requires the author to pay some cold hard cash. Much could be (and has been) said about the state of academic publishing in general but that's not a reason to hijack this question to air some views about that. – Relaxed Sep 21 '15 at 8:17
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    This is a rant about the price of books based on a decision to classify the whole academic publishing system as a scam, not an answer to the question. – David Richerby Sep 21 '15 at 8:46

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