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Ask Dr. Editor

Getting your book read when you’re a humanities scholar

Part 2: Strategies to extend your monograph’s reach.

BY LETITIA HENVILLE | MAY 15 2020

Question:

What can I do to get more people to read my published work? (Anonymous, history)

 

Dr. Editor’s response:

In Part 1 of this two-part series, I discussed what the research suggests about how humanities researchers can help readers to find their journal articles. I suggested that, to get your humanities article read and cited, you should write clearly, like the best writers in your discipline; publish openly, to reach as many readers as you can; and tell people online about the work you’ve done and its connections to things they care about.

This month, let’s turn our attention to scholarly books.

If there is scant research evidence supporting best practices for getting a journal article in the humanities read and cited, there is an even smaller evidence base for monographs. There are many challenges assessing the citation patterns of scholarly monographs in the humanities (see Sula and Miller 2014), and especially in determining the patterns within monographs’ own lists of works cited. As a result, what research there is in this field tends to take a high-level approach (e.g. Hammarfelt 2011; Kousha et al 2011), rather than digging into the details of writing patterns and styles.

So, rather than turning to the literature for the below recommendations on how to get your monograph read and cited, I spoke with Heidi Tworek, assistant professor of history at the University of British Columbia.

Dr. Tworek — a scholar of the history of communications, media, and information — developed a communications plan after the publication of her 2019 News from Germany, which went on to win book prizes from the Wiener Library for the Study of Holocaust and Genocide and from the Business History Conference of the American Historical Association and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. I am indebted to Dr. Tworek for sharing her expertise here.

Step 1 for developing a communications plan: Determine your audience and scope

At the core of all plain language writing principles is that the audiences’ needs are more important than the writers’. In your communications plan, too, you’ll need to start by determining who your audience is. “This will dictate everything that follows,” says Dr. Tworek.

Is your book primarily targeting other scholars? If so, are you just thinking about your own field, or do you want to also reach researchers in other disciplines? What about undergraduate students — might your book be included in any syllabi? Or are you imagining your book also being read by non-scholars?

Once you’ve listed the different audiences you hope to reach, your next question to answer is: How much time are you able to invest in working towards reaching them? “You’ll want to match your communication strategies to the amount of time you have to invest in helping others to hear about your book,” Dr. Tworek advises.

Step 2: Work with your publisher

University presses have limited capacity to support authors of newly published books. They can set a price that is affordable for a broad audience, and can help to get your book reviewed — but “a lot is on authors to make things happen,” says Dr. Tworek.

You may need to double-check that your press has sent a copy of your book to the journals in which you want it reviewed, or contact journals to see if they might want to review your book. Similarly, you should look up the deadlines of any prizes you think your book has a chance of winning, and ensure that your book is in the hands of members of those prizes’ review committees well in advance of the deadline.

Step 3: Work your network

As with your journal article, you should talk about your book on your social media platforms of choice. In addition to whatever celebratory posts you might want to make when your book is published, you should also ensure that you write about the content of your book. What’s interesting and new about your topic? Why should people who aren’t necessarily interested in your niche sub-field still care about what your book discusses?

You may also wish to contact scholars in your field, to have them request that their academic libraries purchase a copy of your book. With university libraries regularly facing tighter and tighter budgets, you may need a faculty member to advocate for a library to prioritize purchasing your $120 hardcover. Keep your email short, and focus on how your colleagues might benefit from getting their institutions to purchase your book.

If you’re thinking about course adoption, think about when people in your discipline decide what they want to teach. If your courses start in September, August is too late to mention your new book in an email. “Your book is more likely to make it to paperback if it is being used in classes,” says Dr. Tworek, “so be strategic about when you email other faculty.” Your communications plan might be organized as a schedule, with month-by-month goals and priorities.

Step 4: Get talking

Think about the media that you consume in your down time. Are you a fan of the LA Review of Books? Do you get a daily email from The Conversation? If so, think about how you might contribute to the broader conversations that are happening in your preferred publications. Then, craft a pitch for an op-ed or short essay in one of these venues.

But beyond writing about your writing, Dr. Tworek encourages scholars to literally talk — specifically on podcasts or YouTube channels. In history, podcasts like You’re Dead to Me and The Memory Palace are popular, but Dr. Tworek encourages scholars to look beyond their disciplinary boundaries: her 15-minute interview on a popular YouTube channel has over 9,800 views. Rest assured, you don’t have to start up your own podcast or your own YouTube channel; instead, go where an audience is already established, and contribute your perspective to topics in which they’re invested.

You can cold email the book review podcasts associated with magazines to see if they’d like to interview you: your book may not be reviewed in the New York Times, but you might be an appropriate guest for the NYT’s Book Review Podcast, or for the New Books Network.

In short: think expansively and creatively, do your research, and then advocate for your book.

There’s no single template for a communications plan for a scholarly monograph, just as there’s no single template for a journal article in the humanities. Your plan will need to start with your decisions about who you want to reach and how much time you’re able to dedicate to the process.

ABOUT LETITIA HENVILLE
Letitia Henville
Ask Dr. Editor is a monthly column by Letitia Henville, a freelance academic editor at shortishard.ca. She earned her PhD in English literature from the University of Toronto. Have a question about academic writing or editing? Send it to Ask Dr. Editor at shortishard@gmail.com or on Twitter @lertitia.
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