How to Choose a Publisher

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David McNutt | IVP Academic

This summer, our family got a pet. We had held off for a long time—much longer than our kids wanted us to—but we finally thought that the time was right. Before we made a choice, though, we did some research about what kind of pet would be the best fit for our family in terms of our schedule, the pet’s habits, costs, and more. 

Choosing a publisher is a bit like choosing a pet. You’re going to be living together, so you should try to find out in advance if you’ll be a good fit. 

Sometimes, I find that authors know that they want to be published, but they don’t give much thought to which publisher they want to publish their work, especially if they’re a first-time author. But chances are that you’ve done years of research for your project, so you can afford to spend just a bit of time researching potential publishers. 

There are several factors you might consider when choosing a publisher (e.g., standards within your discipline, institutional expectations, audience, affordability, and personal goals), but I want to focus on one that’s particularly important in Christian publishing: theological fit. 

I find that, within Christian publishing, theological differences between publishers are sometimes overlooked, and a theological fit is often assumed. But it’s worth asking: Are you publishing with a press whose mission and identity resonate with your theology and that would be willing to publish and support your work? 

How do you know? Sometimes, it’s quite easy to discern where a publishing house falls on the theological spectrum. In some cases, a press might have denominational ties or histories that reveal something about its theology. For example, Augsburg Fortress is the ELCA publishing house, Westminster John Knox is related to the Presbyterian Church (USA), Plough Publishing House has Anabaptist ties, and Ave Maria Press is a Catholic publisher. In addition, some multi- or non-denominational publishers have publicly available statements of faith and other documents that might clarify their theological positions on a variety of issues. 

Even when a press doesn’t have either denominational ties or explicit statements of faith, you can still find out something about their theologies. What has the press published over the past five years? What are their bestselling books? Who are their bestselling authors? All of these are indications of what a publisher values and supports. 

Here’s a practical tip I often recommend to prospective authors when they’re considering where to publish their work: look at the books on your bookshelf. Now look at the place that most people ignore: the bottom of the spine. What do you see? Are there particular presses that show up frequently? That could be a strong indication that a publisher is important in your field and might align with your ­theology.  

To be clear, you shouldn’t expect a publisher to agree with you (nor you with them) on every point of theology. Indeed, many presses intentionally publish a variety of theological positions. But you should have a clear idea of where your potential publisher stands within the theological spectrum and what stances, if any, they take on issues that might be particularly important to you and your work. 

Of course, at the end of the day, it’s not just you choosing a publisher. A publisher also needs to choose you, and there will likely be several hoops for you to jump through before they do. But spending just a bit of time finding out more about your potential publisher can help to ensure that there’s theological resonance between the two of you. 

After much discussion and reflection, we ended up choosing a bunny, Cocoa Bean. So far, he’s been a good fit for our family. I hope that you find the right publishing home for your work, too.

David McNutt is currently writing a book, tentatively titled The Analogy of Creation: Karl Barth, the Arts, and a Theology of Creativity.

This article was first published in Didaktikos: Journal of Theological Education. Print subscriptions are free to US-based theological faculty. Find out more here.

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Didaktikos is a vocational journal for professors who teach in biblical studies, theology, and related disciplines—particularly at the graduate level and in service to the church. Didaktikos is published four times a year.

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