by Rebecca Tomlinson
3rd October 2019

The thought of getting published can be daunting. At Bristol University Press we want to make sure that research that has the potential to impact positively on the world is out there, so we are keen to support first-time authors and early career researchers on the journey to publication.

Here Rebecca Tomlinson, our Editor for Criminology and Criminal Justice, outlines some key things to think about if you are considering publishing your work.


Visualise the finished product

Before you start, imagine your book or article and your audience.


Be clear about your personal or company core aim

You, like us, are publishing with a purpose. What do you want your work to achieve? Do you want to effect policy, or do you want to complement or challenge the current literature or thinking?


Think about what type of book you want to write:

We publish across a variety of formats and it’s important to be clear from the start which is most appropriate for your work.

This is important for two reasons: firstly, the tone. Policy books, for example, have a very different tone and style to a research monograph. Our Shorts are 20-50,000 words long, so your writing must be concise. For more information on our publishing formats, see the publish with us section of our website.

Secondly, different audiences have different requirements. If the area you’re publishing in only reads journal articles, for example, then do you really want to publish a book? If your students do everything online then it’s important to think about online resources or a companion website (see below).


Additional content and online resources

Is there any extra content that can be created that would help your work achieve impact? For example, for books that have particular policy relevance we produce policy briefings that we publish alongside the books.

It may be that there is additional information from your project that we could publish on our website, for example appendices, images etc. Or would you be interested in creating a podcast or video to outline your findings to a broader audience? It’s all possible, if it will support the dissemination of your work.



If there are timing issues (e.g. for example a particular policy, vote, event) then you need to consider your timetable and whether it’s realistic.


Do you have any significant external requirements?

A lot of funding conditions, for example, require some element to be Open Access and therefore you need to think about this in advance.


Finding the right publisher

Once you have an idea of what you want to achieve, you will need to approach publishers. Don’t take a scattergun approach but carry out some research in advance so you find the right partnership.

Things to consider:

  • Are they experts in your subject area?
  • Are people you admire publishing with them or recommending them?
  • Are they aiming at the right audience (see above)?
  • Is the quality of their products high? Can you tell that it’s been handled with care rather than churned out?
  • Is their marketing and distribution effective? Do you see bespoke marketing for their books rather than the same generic emails?
  • Do they have a good reputation for responsiveness and author support? As your PhD is likely to be your first book then this is really important.
  • Do their values accord with yours?

By choosing the right publisher you’re giving your book the best chance for success.


Writing a book proposal

You increase your chances of a publisher being interested in your ideas by giving them all the information they need to form a judgement without too much to-ing and fro-ing. The less time the editor needs to spend requesting clarity and additional information, the more time they have to be impressed by your ideas.


Things to include:

  • The working title is really important so people know what they’re saying yes or no to. Choose a title that reflects the content… there is no need to be too clever here!
  • Aims and scope (originality, central arguments and themes);
  • Synopsis (short blurb, chapter summaries, framework, references);
  • Type of book (see information on formats above);
  • Audience (UK/international, courses/levels, academic/policy makers);
  • Competition (even if there’s no direct competition). Give convincing reasons why your book will sell and fill a gap. Situate your work among the literature and highlight how it’s different/better.
  • Copyright: are you able to use the material and is anything published elsewhere?
  • Include your CV to demonstrate why you are qualified to write the book

Find the Bristol University Press proposal guidelines here.


Tips for writing a successful proposal:

  • It needs to be clear and well structured. It’s likely you’ve been working on your PhD for a long time and know your research inside out – but no one else does!
  • No spelling errors or lazy cut-and-pastes.
  • Be realistic about your audience. Your proposal will look much more professional if it’s clear that you know who your audience are.
  • Convince the reviewer that they need to read your work. What contribution is it making?
  • Don’t just assert your views, back them up.
  • Get feedback and advice from colleagues before proposal submission.


What’s the publisher looking for?

The publisher needs to know that:

  • They can sell enough copies at a price that allows them to meet their financial requirements: We’re not for profit but we still need to make a profit so we can carry on publishing worthwhile and important books.
  • They can reach your audience effectively with a unique, reader-focused product.
  • Your book will add to the credibility of their list.
  • You have the right knowledge to write the book.
  • You write well and can structure a book: you can evidence this in the proposal.
  • You are reliable and will deliver on time.
  • You will be responsive to feedback. All feedback is supposed to be constructive and while you don’t have to agree with everything, you should take it on board.
  • You will help promote your book. Books where the author is involved in the marketing always do better.

The publishing process

Having selected your preferred publisher and written your book proposal you will need to approach them with your idea. The steps in this initial stage of the publishing process are outlined below.

  • Initial approach to commissioning editor. Find our contact details on the subject pages on our website.
  • Submit your proposal. You can expect a response from us within 2 weeks with feedback and possible requests for revisions from the editor.
  • Peer review & revisions. Your proposal will be sent to 3 experts in your area for their feedback. We ask for comments back within two weeks and it normally takes no longer than four weeks.
  • Discussion at publishing committee meeting. This happens every two weeks and is the moment where the Commissioning Editor presents your proposal to the team.
  • Outcomes – acceptance, revision, rejection. You can expect a decision from us in 6-8 weeks of submitting your proposal.


And we take it from there…


Read more about publishing with Bristol University Press here. If you would like to talk about more about projects, please contact the Commissioning Editor in your subject area.


Image credit: hannah grace on Unsplash