Main Sections

Section 5-4

Identifying print publishing partners

Even if a project is primarily digital, scholars and community partners may consider the publication of a print book, a series of articles, or another kind of written artifact. For many early career scholars, a monograph is crucial for tenure and promotion; and for community partners and participants published books can be an important part of leaving a legacy or reaching the widest possible audience. 

There are a number of different ways to publish written work. They can be grouped into four categories: self-publishing services (SmashWords, Kindle Direct Publishing, IngramSpark, and many others); university presses (nonprofit scholarly presses); trade publishers (for-profit companies); and library publishing services.

Working with a self-publishing service or app offers the greatest autonomy and the least support. Creators can handle the production process themselves or pay for these services. However, it is very difficult to get self-published titles into the book distribution system and from there into bookstores and libraries. One advantage of Kindle Direct is its connection with Amazon, which provides a retail outlet. In selecting a platform or service, project partners should consider what distribution options are available and desirable.

Working with a publisher offers a number of advantages over self-publishing. Publishers offer professional copyediting, design, and marketing services. They can produce and distribute both print and e-books, have ongoing relationships with retail and wholesale distribution systems that serve libraries and booksellers, and have marketing and publicity networks. Many also have connections to international networks and partner presses in other countries. However, publishers will determine the mode and design of works they publish, as well as the pricing, distribution, and marketing of them. Project partners should be clear about their expectations and discuss these with publishers prior to signing a contract.

If the decision is made to work with a publisher, working with a university press is a good choice. University presses are nonprofit publishers that specialize in the publication of scholarly work, and many also have publishing programs focusing on the history and culture of their region.

In the following video Teresa Mangum and Anne Valk, the series editors of the Humanities and Public Life book series at the University of Iowa Press, highlight the importance of establishing structures and opportunities for the people doing publicly engaged work to reflect, document, and publish in ways that embody the collaborative relationships and messy processes of engaged research.

PDF video transcript

The Association of University Presses (AUPresses) website’s Finding a Publisher page is a good resource for finding the right press. Things to remember about university presses:

  • Presses publish in specific subject areas. Your local university press may not be the best press to approach for the project.
  • They are nonprofit publishers that depend on sales and university funding. Even if your project is a good fit subject-wise, they may not have the budget to participate and alternate funding sources may be necessary.
  • AUPresses’ AskUP website is a great place to ask questions.

Trade or commercial publishers are for-profit businesses that specialize in many different kinds of publishing, but mostly fiction and nonfiction books. Some commercial presses specialize in publishing scholarly books and journals, while others, usually called trade publishers, publish for broad readerships. These publishers will only take on books that they expect to sell well and meet high revenue targets. You can approach for-profit academic presses with a proposal, just as you would a university press. However, in most cases you will need to hire an agent to shop your proposal to the larger trade presses. Unless the project is very important to a broad audience and/or involves a high profile subject or location, trade publishers may not be a good choice as a potential collaborator. 

In some cases larger libraries (both academic and public) may have their own publishing programs, offering e-book platforms like PressBooks and Manifold or print-on-demand services. These services may be available only to people affiliated with the institution, or they may function like commercial fee-for-service self-publishers, though the costs are likely to be lower. Library publishers are less likely than other presses to be connected to wholesale and retail networks. More information on library publishing may be found on the Library Publishing Coalition website and the Library Publishing Curriculum. The emergence of frameworks for scholarly communication, such as FOREST from Next Generation Library Publishing, offer a values-based library publishing model that could be adopted by public scholars and their partners.

One of the key tasks in collaborating on a publicly engaged project is to understand the values motivating the participants to do the work. In the sections that follow, we outline how taking a values-based approach using the HuMetricsHSS Values Framework and associated tools might help you work with publicly engaged scholars to develop a suitable publishing plan.

Section 5 Summary: What have you learned?

  • Libraries are sponsors of and partners in many publicly engaged humanities projects
  • Librarians have the knowledge and skills to help publicly engaged scholars and their partners navigate multiple formats and platforms, develop metadata to support greater discoverability and preservation, and decide whether and how to archive project outputs
  • If project partners opt to publish a print or e-book, librarians can help them decide which publishing services are the best fit for the project

This OER was supported by a grant from the Scholarly Communication Notebook.

Last updated 2023-04-21.