Many authors have similar concerns about publishing their work but do not always know what to ask when talking with a potential publisher. Please refer to the list below for help in understanding the publication process.

Process and Procedure

It is essential that you research potential publishers before sending out your inquiries. Look at your bookshelves and visit bookstores. Are there any presses that predominate? Which press has published your colleagues’ or mentors’ work? Have you established any initial relationships with potential editors at professional conferences? Arrange a wish list of presses that publish in your area and send them an initial query. Keep in mind that presses tend to specialize in certain disciplines and can do very little with projects that are clearly outside the realm of their publishing program.

When to submit your materials depends on your current goals. Some authors want to send a one-page letter of inquiry well before the manuscript is completed, simply to gauge interest in the project before continuing work on it. Others may want to wait until the full manuscript is done or almost done so that they can be ready to send the manuscript soon after being invited to do so. From an editor’s standpoint, both approaches are acceptable, but you should always specify in your letter or proposal when you expect to finish the manuscript.

Editors receive a large amount of mail, and they also travel frequently on business. Therefore, it can often take up to two months to receive a response from an editor after you have sent your proposal. Keep in mind, also, that many presses, including the University of New Mexico Press, will not respond to unsolicited queries unless they are interested in the project.

Many presses have written guidelines for proposal submissions, and you can ask your potential editor for those instructions. Most of these documents will suggest providing the following materials: a one-page cover letter outlining the main thesis of the book and its importance in the field, three to five pages of details about the project (including complimentary or competing titles), an annotated table of contents, the probable length of manuscript and its completion date, a copy of your CV, and a representative writing sample. The proposal should be as long as it takes to cover all of this information thoroughly.

For information about the University of New Mexico Press’s submission guidelines, please visit the Prospective Authors page.

There are several steps that must be completed in order to publish a book at a scholarly press. At most university presses, including the University of New Mexico Press, the basic process is as follows:1. Submit a letter of inquiry or a proposal2. Send a complete manuscript, which will then be reviewed internally by your editor and externally by peers in the field of your manuscript3. Respond to the reviews while your editor presents the project to the press’s editorial committee for consideration4. Negotiate the publishing contract5. Prepare a final manuscript for editing and production according to the press’s formatting guidelines

While we encourage authors to send out preliminary inquiries to several potential publishers, it is common courtesy to send your complete manuscript to only one press. Once you send the full manuscript to the editor, the press will start a formal review that necessitates expending monetary resources on your project. That said, it is fair to ask for a review schedule from your editor prior to submitting the manuscript, at which point you can determine if the press’s timetable meets your needs or expectations.

The length of time for a manuscript to be reviewed can vary from press to press, and as mentioned above, it is appropriate for you to ask your editor how long the review stage will take. At the University of New Mexico Press, we generally ask our external reviewers to submit an evaluation about two months after they receive the manuscript. It may take longer than that if your manuscript is very long or complicated, or if it is a time of year when scholars are commonly busy or not in the office, such as around finals or over the holidays or the summer months. Also, do not be alarmed if your readers are late. Many evaluations arrive later than anticipated. Rest assured that your editor is doing all he or she can to get the reports to you as quickly as possible.

If the external reviews are supportive, your editor will submit the manuscript to his or her editorial committee for formal publication approval. If the reviewers feel the manuscript needs significant additional work, your editor may ask you to revise and resubmit the manuscript for further internal and external review.

For a first book, this is most often done after the press’s editorial committee has approved publication. In some cases, conditional contracts are signed prior to completion of the manuscript, but this is not typical for most new authors.

At the University of New Mexico Press, we generally estimate that it will take between eighteen months and two years from the time you submit the full manuscript for external review to the time the printed book will be ready. This time frame includes the review and editorial-committee approval process, your own necessary preparations for the final draft of the manuscript, the editing and design/production of the manuscript, and the printing of the final book.


Have a conversation with your editor early on to decide what type of feedback system works best for you and will also be acceptable to your publisher. The publishing process goes much more smoothly if all the parties are working efficiently together to compose and refine the work. If the manuscript is almost completed, your editor may ask you to send the entire manuscript for review and will wait until the peer evaluations are in hand before composing his or her own critique of the manuscript. If you are in the early stages of writing, your editor may ask you to submit materials throughout the writing process, perhaps a chapter or two a month, or your editor might ask you to make revisions to your completed manuscript prior to it being externally reviewed.

Some—but not all—projects do benefit from the inclusion of photographs or drawn artwork to support the chapter prose, but it is important to remember that illustrations should have a tangible purpose for their inclusion. These elements should provide the reader with pertinent information that your written content is unable to satisfactorily relate alone. Try to select vivid, relevant images and artwork that are professionally produced and will be clearly legible when reproduced in the finished book.

Most publishers, including the University of New Mexico Press, have their own specific house formatting style that they ask authors to follow, so inquire about the availability of a document that explains these guidelines. The instructions will also typically contain detailed information about how to provide illustrations (in format and resolution) that will reproduce well in the book. The most important consideration—for both text and illustrations—is to be consistent throughout, and the simpler the formatting methods employed, the better.

For the University of New Mexico Press’s manuscript and art submission guidelines, please visit the Contracted Authors page.

Ask if the press has a preferred endnote (or footnote) format—typically this information will be included in the formal manuscript preparation instructions that publishers provide to authors. For instance, the University of New Mexico Press prefers the Chicago Manual of Style format, but if there is a particular citation format preferred by the intended audience for your work, the press will allow you to follow that approach as long as you use it consistently throughout the manuscript. Formal, comprehensive bibliographies are mandatory elements for academic projects but can often be modified to something briefer and more accessible for works intended for broad, non-specialist audiences.

The average length for a typical project is under one hundred thousand words, or roughly three hundred entirely double-spaced manuscript pages in Times New Roman, 12-point font, including the notes and bibliography. Of course, certain topics and types of books will require a longer treatment, and many manuscripts are far shorter than that. You should discuss the length of your manuscript with your editor if you fear it is too long.

While submitting a manuscript that is shorter than agreed to in your contract will not typically pose a problem for your publisher, turning in more material than the press expects is a serious concern. Remember that your publisher has set their production budget and schedule based on the length of the work as discussed, and anything that substantially alters those plans could be disastrous. Always let your editor know right away when you suspect that the work is longer than anticipated.

Other Issues

Permissions issues can be the most complicated and time-consuming element of preparing a manuscript for publication. There is a lot of ambiguity in regard to what is considered “fair use” and what requires written release to reproduce. Before securing any permissions, have a detailed conversation with your editor about anything you think might require formal permission to reproduce in your book. While it is a good idea to do research on probable rights holders prior to your manuscript being approved for publication, you should not solicit permission from rights holders until after the manuscript has been approved for publication, and you should never pay reproduction fees for any material until after that point. At the University of New Mexico Press and most other university presses, it is the author’s responsibility to secure any permission releases and to pay any reproduction fees requested by rights holders.

For the University of New Mexico Press’s permissions guidelines, please visit the Contracted Authors page.

In addition to paying any permissions fees, many university presses will require that you be responsible for the creation of the book’s index and for proofreading the typeset page proofs. If you are unable to complete these tasks yourself, you may be asked to hire someone to do so on your behalf. At the University of New Mexico Press, proofreading is performed by in-house editorial staff as well as by the author, but indexing is always the author’s responsibility. If you would like the Press to hire an experienced indexer on your behalf, however, this can easily be arranged.

The majority of university presses do not require authors to provide a subsidy in order to publish their manuscript. However, any financial assistance you can secure by way of a publication grant or other resource would be a great boon to your press. Therefore, it is definitely useful for you to research potential funding sources for your publication of your book. Many universities have funds for first books from their faculty, and some professional associations offer publication grants. If you received a research grant for your work, ask the funding source if some of the grant funds may be earmarked for publication costs.

Once you sign a contract and submit the complete manuscript to the Press, your editor will prepare it for editing, design, and production. From here, you will begin working with the production staff, who will be responsible for managing your book as it goes through the editing and production process. It is during this time that the book is formatted, copyedited, typeset, proofread, and finally sent to the printer. You will see your book twice before it goes to the printer, and at each point you will have a different set of responsibilities. The first time, you will receive a copyedited manuscript, and it is your job to carefully review the edits and answer any copyediting queries. The second time, you will receive typeset page proofs, and it is at this point that you (or someone you have hired) will index the book and proofread the final pages. The book is sent to the printer shortly thereafter. At the University of New Mexico Press, it takes an average of ten to twelve months from initial manuscript submission to delivery of printed book in the warehouse.

Authors are encouraged to submit initial suggestions for cover art and to offer any opinions or thoughts they have about design considerations as early in the production process as possible. The book will be professionally designed according to press standards.

Because most presses focus their publishing program in certain areas, they generally have deep knowledge of the marketing opportunities in those disciplines and will know the major marketing avenues for your work. That said, the press supplements its knowledge with the author’s own more-specialized marketing knowledge. Almost every press, including the University of New Mexico Press, sends their authors a marketing questionnaire once the book is approved for publication. Take this document seriously, and answer the questions as thoroughly as possible. In the event that you want to add something later on, you may contact your editor or someone in the sales and marketing department (you should be provided with the appropriate contact information when you receive the marketing questionnaire). The single best thing you can do to help your press promote your book is to spread the word about it. We have found over time that authors are the best salespeople for their own books. The press will provide you with promotional materials that you may distribute to friends and colleagues, and you should bring those items with you any time you give a talk about your work or go to a professional conference. If you have a website, create a direct link to your book on the press’s website. The press’s marketing department will be able to provide you with other useful ideas, too.