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Publishing Academic Research: Choosing Quality - Book Publishers

This guide provides information about strategic publishing, publishing agreements, Open Access and ERA specifications.

Why are you planning to publish a book?

Writing or editing a book is a major commitment of your time and resources. If you decide to take on this activity, you need to make sure that it will count towards your academic performance or another goal, and build your reputation within your discipline and at JCU.

Choosing a quality publisher is an essential component of good publishing practice.

There is no definitive list of quality publishers. Rather than relying on a single list of publishers, it is essential that you use multiple sources to comprehensively investigate any publishers that you are considering submitting your manuscript to. Information on this page will assist with this process.

If you are not able to get a contract with a quality publisher, it might be necessary to re-consider your intended topic. Use the feedback from publishers to help you identify publishable topics in your area of expertise.

Selecting a publisher

Publisher profile:

  • Have you (or your colleagues) heard of the publisher? If you have, do more investigation to verify what you have heard is correct.
  • Have any books published by the publisher been nominated or won awards? This would be a strong indication that the publisher is of a high standard, and likely to provide genuine editorial support.
  • Does the publisher actively promote their services e.g. have you had the opportunity to discuss publishing opportunities at a conference exhibit?
  • Can you easily identify and contact the publisher, or is the publisher website just a web-front?
  • Did the publisher contact you? Quality publishers are unlikely to approach you, so beware of broadcast emails which offer publishing opportunities.

Publishing process:

  • Review the instructions for prospective authors.
  • Does the publisher clearly specify how the quality control of your manuscript would be managed e.g. type of peer review or editorial support?

What else has the publisher published:

  • Does the publisher only publish works of a quality standard, or do they publish works of variable (or any) standard?
  • Is the publisher publishing quality? Are you comfortable with having your name associated with this publisher and what they have published?

Experience of others:

  • Find colleagues who have published with the publisher and ask about their experience.
  • In ResearchOnline@JCU, do an advanced search by "Item Type: Book" and "Publisher" to find JCU researchers who have published with the publisher.
  • Look for recently published books by the publisher, particularly books that are in your area of interest, and ask the authors of these books about their experience. This suggestion can give you a reason to introduce yourself to a colleague.

Discipline matters:

  • Some publishers are better regarded amongst some disciplines than others. How is the publisher regarded in your discipline?
  • Does the publisher specialize in particular disciplines? Do other books published by the publisher align with the topic of the book you are planning?
  • Check discipline based repositories e.g. Top books in REPEC to see the publishers of these books.

Unfamiliar publishers

If you are not familiar with the publisher, search on the name of the publisher and one of the terms in the image below. Do this several times using different terms - you want to be absolutely sure that the publisher is not associated with these negative terms.

  • What does the publisher say about themselves?
  • What have others said about the publisher?

Do many libraries have books by the publisher?

Library staff select the books that are included in library collections. This means that library catalogues are also an authoritative list for evaluating the status of publishers. If a lot of libraries hold books by a publisher that you are considering, this is another indication that it is likely to be a quality publisher.

Use Trove and Worldcat to see aggregated lists of the holdings in a range of libraries, or the JCU Library Catalogue to check the holdings in our Library.

Is the publisher a member of a recognised industry or other initiative?

As with library catalogues, membership lists for industry and other initiatives can also help you to verify the validity of a publisher when used with other criteria explained on this page. Examples of membership lists are:

Publishing your thesis as a book

Publishing your thesis as a book will result in two substantially different documents. A focus of your thesis is to demonstrate your academic ability. In contrast, the purpose of publishing a book that is based on the knowledge generated from your thesis research would be to create an interesting read which appeals to academic and other readers.

If the publisher understands this, there should be no problem with making your thesis publicly available in ResearchOnline@JCU. Your thesis could also be a 'taster' to help promote your book.

Suggested further reading:

University presses and commercial publishers

This comparison provides broad generalisations to assist with evaluating a publisher. For example, it would be impressive if the publisher:

  • Sends manuscripts out for peer review and provides strong editorial support.
  • Provides an affordable Open Access option in which author(s) retain copyright ownership of the work.

In this comparison, use of the terms 'university presses' and 'commercial publishers' both refer to publishers of scholarly, academic works. University presses are commercial operations which are an extension of their parent institution, but do not include publishing services within other sections of the university e.g. libraries which issue ISBNs. 'Commercial publishers' are non-university press publishers. Both can qualify for ERA: for more information, see the boxes in this LibGuide titled ERA eligibility - books and book chapters and Commercial publishers.

University Presses Commercial Publishers
More likely to embrace Open Access Most still have traditional publishing models
Many allow author(s) to retain copyright ownership Author(s) usually required to sign copyright ownership to publisher
Manuscripts are evaluated by peer review Manuscripts may be evaluated by peer review
Minimal editorial support other than coordinating peer review Quality publishers provide editorial support that greatly improves the manuscript

Primary goal is distribution of new knowledge, including in niche topics. May even be able to run at a small loss which is offset by building the brand of the university.

Primary goal is profit, so less likely to take chances on publishing books about niche topics

More likely to trial new formats and technologies e.g. audio, video, interactivity

Many are still only publishing text formats
Increasingly offering free download, or purchase of print copies Only available for purchase, in print or electronic format

Can rely on a high ethical standard because the publisher would not risk the brand of the university with unscrupulous publishing practice

Full spectrum from very poor to high standing in ethical practice

Understanding and negotiating publisher agreements

You should already have a good feeling about the publisher by the time you get to this stage. Don't sign any documentation or agree to any details until you have a good feeling about the publisher. It can be difficult or impossible to reverse these commitments.

Things to look for in a publishing agreement:

  • Is the agreement well written and easy to understand? If no, this is a serious concern given that it is a publishing agreement.
  • Are you sure that you understand what you will be agreeing to if you sign the agreement?
  • Will you retain copyright ownership and other rights in a non-exclusive agreement, or does the agreement require you to sign all rights to the publisher in an exclusive agreement?
  • Will you be able to meet the specified milestones and timeline?
  • What support does the publisher commit to providing e.g. an editor and a separate proof-reader?

See the Understanding Publishers tab for more information.

What can you expect from a quality publisher? *

Ideally, you will have a good feeling about the publisher from the time that you start (or before you start) negotiating the publishing agreement.

Is there real engagement with the publisher? Do you feel that they have a strong commitment to publishing your work, and that yours is not just one of many manuscripts being processed?

The publisher may ask you to draft a couple of chapters which are then discussed at a meeting of the publisher's board. If you get to this stage, it is a good sign. Hopefully, you hear that you have a contract after the publisher has evaluated your chapters.

Once you have a contract, support you could expect from a quality publisher includes:

  • Key contact at the publisher
  • Editor
  • Project manager
  • Proof-reader
  • Cover designer
  • Indexer (may be outsourced with you paying for this service; the publisher should be able to recommend a good indexer )
  • Publicist

An index is the mark of a good book. Books with no index should raise concerns for you when choosing a quality publisher.

A quality publisher will know the market better than you do, particularly beyond your academic audience. So, be prepared to be flexible and amend your ideas when you work with the publisher e.g. the publisher may ask you to broaden the scope of the manuscript from what you initially proposed.

*Thanks to Elizabeth Tynan for the information in this box. Liz is the author of Atomic Thunder: the Maralinga Story published by NewSouth Books. Liz is the recipient of the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences’ (CHASS) 2017 Australia Book Prize and the 2017 Prime Minister's Literary Award: Australian History.

Does the publisher enable Open Access?

Checking whether a book publisher is part of an Open Access initiative gives you another option for checking the validity of a publisher as well as seeing whether it would be possible for an open access version of your book to be made available.

The Australasian Open Access Support Group (AOASG) maintains a page which records open access ePresses in Australia and internationally as well as other developments in open access monograph publishing.

Open Access initiatives in book publishing include:

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