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Ask an Editor: Previously Published Articles as Book Chapters

Ilana Gershon asked seven editors for their insights on questions that authors commonly ask. Five are press editors (Berghahn, Chicago, Indiana, Princeton, Stanford) and two are series editors. This month’s column explores the following question:

How many chapters of a book can be already in print as articles?

Fred Appel: There is no hard and fast rule here. But if you plan a book that has six chapters and five of these have already appeared in previous versions in scholarly journals, that may not make the greatest of impressions as the book could then appear as a collection of recycled material, rather than a new and unique contribution to scholarship.

Jennika Baines: I’d say typically no more than 20 percent of the manuscript, but this is something to discuss with your editor.

Berghahn Books: The proliferation of ebooks and the availability of single chapters has significantly changed the permissions landscape and means that book content is now encroaching on realms that previously belonged to journal articles. In short, chapters are increasingly as discoverable (and usable) as journal articles so the more they overlap, the harder it is to sell the book, and so the harder it is for the commissioning editor to accept the project. Above all, while it is a natural progression for an intellectual question to start out as an article (or thesis) and develop into a chapter or a book, development is key. The publisher wants to see that you are developing your thoughts and building your arguments so that your resulting publication is an evolved work that keeps up with the discipline(s) around it.

Dominic Boyer: That calculus varies editor to editor. For first books, I think most presses would like to see that at least 50 percent of the content is unpublished. Some editors stipulate more like 66 percent original content.

Alessandro Duranti: It depends on how long the book is and also on who the author is. An established scholar can afford to use more previously published material than a junior colleague.

Michelle Lipinski: Editors like to be contrarian, so here it goes: books should not have any chapters that are also articles. That doesn’t mean that you can’t draw from articles to develop a chapter. But book chapters are a completely different format. Book chapters are integral, working parts of a greater whole, which an original stand-alone article is not. Not everything will change, but the mode of presentation will, and you will have to pivot the article material and the style of presentation so that it aligns with the main thesis of the book, and the flow and structure of the surrounding chapters. It should be an original work.

Accepting the premise above, usually one or two book chapters that draw material from articles is fine, depending on the length of the book. There is one additional caveat—articles should not encapsulate the main argument of the book in miniature. You should absolutely save the beating heart of your book’s argument for the book alone. If readers can access the main points of your book in article form, why would they read the longer material?

Priya Nelson: This kind of question seems simple, but it is not simply a matter of naming a number of chapters or a percentage of the book. Certainly, don’t exhaust the audience by publishing every chapter. Focus on placing one or two articles in very good journals. However, we should all be thinking more about the kind of writing that sustains a book as opposed to an article. As teachers become more conservative about how many books they assign for their courses, every author should think of the book as more than an expansion of a kernel of an argument published already in a journal. A book needs to earn its length. That becomes a bigger—and more important—challenge as potential readers shift their practices of attention amid our highly visual, digital culture.

Fred Appel is executive editor and acquisitions editor for anthropology and religion at Princeton University Press.

Jennika Baines is an acquisitions editor at Indiana University Press, who acquires books in global and international studies, anthropology, Middle East studies, and Russian and East European studies.

Berghahn Books – answers were co-authored by Miriam Berghahn, Vivian Berghahn, and Chris Chappell, all press editors at Berghahn.

Dominic Boyer is a professor at Rice University and edits a series for Cornell University Press, Expertise: Cultures and Technologies of Knowledge.

Alessandro Duranti is a professor at UCLA and the series editor for the Oxford Series in the Anthropology of Language.

Michelle Lipinski is an editor at Stanford University Press who acquires books for their anthropology and law lists.

Priya Nelson is an editor at the University of Chicago Press where she acquires books in anthropology and history.

Cite as: Gershon, Ilana. 2019. “Previously Published Articles as Book Chapters.” Anthropology News website, June 27, 2019. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1201