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In Focus: The Aid to Scholarly Publications Program (ASPP)

All about the granting program that most scholarly presses can't publish your book without

BY KEL MORIN-PARSON | AUG 07 2007

Getting the ASPP to work for you and your book

The ASPP is unique in Canada, and has been supporting Canadian scholars in their work for over six decades through the awarding of grants in aid of publication to book-length works of advanced scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. Although the ASPP is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), it’s run by the non-profit Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences (CFHSS, also known simply as the Federation). The program has had a long and illustrious history it was started in 1941 at the instigation of a handful of Canadian scholars-by tradition, Harold Adams Innis, Jean-Charles Falardeau and Northrop Frye among them-who felt that Canada needed a means of demonstrating concrete support for the dissemination of humanities and social sciences research generated by Canadian scholars. The fledgling state of Canadian publishing at that time meant that most ASPP-supported work was published outside of the country for the first several years of the program’s life, but as ASPP grew, Canadian scholarly publishing grew along with it. To date, the ASPP has supported nearly 5,000 scholarly books, with all but a few now published by this country’s top scholarly houses. The maturation of the program paralleled that of Canada’s intellectual community and the universities and scholarly publishers that helped nurture it.

Thanks to an increase in SSHRC funding received in 2005, the ASPP now supports 180 books a year, as well as five works in translation, with a subsidy of $8,000 per title; this is paid directly to publishers to help offset the costs of producing and promoting a scholarly book. The program also sponsors four Scholarly Book Prizes each year -the Harold Adams Innis Prize and Prix Jean-Charles Falardeau in the social sciences, and two prizes named for the late Raymond Klibansky in the humanities. These prizes are awarded to the best ASPP-supported books each year. As well, the program organizes sessions at the annual Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities (which, like the ASPP, is run by the Federation) on issues such as getting a scholarly work published and the marketing of the scholarly book.

So how, precisely, does the program do what it does? I will outline the process here in general, but would encourage everyone to check out our guidelines for more information.

One of the most important-and best-things about the program is that it accepts submissions constantly; there are no deadlines. This model reflects the realities of writing and publishing, which are ongoing activities. Submissions may be made by authors directly, or by qualified scholarly publishers on behalf of authors. Works must be book-length (at least 100 pages in unpublished form), and fall within the disciplines the program addresses-see the last page of our registration form for a complete list.

For the sake of simplicity, we will assume here that we are dealing with a work submitted directly to the program by an author. The ASPP is an authors’ program-subsidies accrue to specific works based on their merit alone, and authors successful in obtaining subsidies are free to take them to any publisher qualified to work with the program; authors do not need to have secured a qualified publisher before approaching the ASPP with a submission. Works submitted by qualified publishers go through the same process, the only difference is that editors are generally the primary contact with program staff, and certain presses are able to obtain readers’ reports themselves and submit them to the program.

An author applies by submitting a registration form along with a certain amount of preliminary material drawn from the text; the required material is outlined on the form itself. Each work submitted to the ASPP may be placed by the author into up to three different discipline categories drawn from the list included with our registration form, for example in sociology, anthropology, and pre-Confederation Canadian history.

Eligibility and evaluation

Every work submitted must be assessed for eligibility in meeting ASPP’s mandate. The mandate covers works of advanced scholarship that make a significant contribution to knowledge and are unlikely to be self-supporting. The ASPP supports monographs, collective works, and critical editions, and the typical scholarly work in these categories will usually qualify. There are provisos here, however; the program’s mandate is specific, and its funds are limited, and not every interesting and worthwhile work produced by members of the community will be appropriate for the ASPP.

Aside from certain categories of works that the program does not fund, such as textbooks, conference proceedings, and reference works, books that have some scholarly attributes but are essentially descriptive or non-analytical will not be found eligible. Analysis, methodology, a problématique-all hallmarks of the classic scholarly work in any humanities or social sciences discipline-should be elements of any work submitted to the ASPP.

Once a work is deemed eligible, the program will request two complete copies of the manuscript to be sent to the ASPP. Staff will then obtain at least two reports on the text from scholars in the relevant disciplines. Several members of our Publications Committee, which is made up of over 100 scholars from all the eligible disciplines, will examine the preliminary material and suggest possible qualified readers for the work.

When all reports have been obtained-a process that generally takes six to eight weeks, and may be longer if a third reader is required-the author is asked to examine and respond to them. While an author does not by any means have to agree with everything a reader says or suggests, engaging thoroughly and respectfully with readers’ concerns is the key to a strong response. Once an author’s response is obtained, a package is sent to a group of Publications Committee members drawn from the relevant disciplines.

The Publications Committee may make any of a number of recommendations-it may approve funding; recommend that a work be revised and resubmitted to the program; send it to the ASPP’s Management Board for adjudication (which means it may or may not be funded); or decline to fund. Authors who are successful in obtaining subsidies have three years in which to have the work published with a qualified Canadian scholarly publisher, which may then claim the $8,000 from the ASPP.

Kel Morin-Parson is the manager of the aid to scholarly publications program at the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

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