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How To Publish an Open Access Book

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Assumptions are dangerous, yet I will dare to make one here: if you are reading this post you are probably already convinced that publishing your research in open access is the way to go. This text, thus, is not going to be about the whys of Open Access; rather than preaching OA ideology to the (hopefully) already convinced choir, I will try to give authors some practical tips about things to think about and to do when publishing their books in the open access model.

Choosing Your Publisher

With the ever increasing number of open access publishers it is important to choose the right one. Navigating through this bustling and sometimes confusing landscape of “respected” and, as Beall calls them, “predatory” publishing houses requires patience, diligence and cautiousness. It does not make it any easier that the open access model, while fairly popular when it comes to journals, is still very much in its experimental stage when it comes to books.

Find your needle

While looking for your needle in the haystack of OA publishers, make your first step by going to the DOAB website ( The Directory of Open Access Books, a service of the OAPEN Foundation, lists OA books from publishers around the world (at the moment they have over one thousand books registered from 35 publishers).This directory only includes, as they claim on their website, “(…)publishers who publish academic, peer reviewed books (…) provided that these publications are in Open Access and meet academic standards.” Clearly, this list is not exhaustive and should not be treated as the only source of information on the subject. However, it is invaluable in the stress it puts on two things that all OA oriented authors should keep in mind: peer review procedures and licensing policy. Let’s then start with the first one.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Open access still struggles with its somewhat “shady” reputation. Seen as “vanity press” by some and as “Plan B: if all ‘normal’ publishers reject me” by others, open access is not an obvious option. Be sure, then, that the publisher you choose uses all standard academic procedures to ensure it only publishes high quality work. The first thing to ask a potential publisher would therefore be: do you do peer-review? If the answer oscillates somewhere between no, sometimes, and if we have to, then I would strongly recommend to run as fast as you can, as this is one of “the ugly”.  Peer-review process should be standard, even more so in OA publications, and all good OA publishers play by this rule. Make sure to ask what kind of peer-review it is, double-blind being probably the best option.

License to kill

Open Access publishers usually use some type of Creative Commons license, with probably the most popular being CC BY-NC-ND. If those letters sound like a Sesame Street riddle to you rather than serious copyright regulations, then you should familiarize yourself with all the different types of CC licenses.  Different types regulate what others can and cannot do with your text, the choice depending on how much control you and your publisher want to have over your book.  For a detailed description of each license please see the Creative Commons website at or, for a more entertaining version watch the video made by Florida Virtual Campus. It is simple, informative and has nice cartoon characters. It is shown from the point of view of a faculty member who wants to put together some open educational resources and needs to know how Creative Commons works.

 To Pay or not to Pay

Different OA publishers use different business models, with the author-pays paradigm being the most popular. Even if the publisher you initially choose does charge so called Book Processing Charges, this should not discourage you.  There are more and more grants available, designed specifically to encourage open access publications, in fact in many countries, if the research you want to publish was sponsored by government money, it is required to be published in OA. For a thorough overview of the OA practices and funding policies in Europe see OpenAire’s report “Implementing Open Access Mandates in Europe”, available  at

 Preparing For Publication

Once you choose your publisher preparing your book to be published in the open access model is not really all that much different from the preparations one has to undertake in the case of a traditional print model. There are, however, certain specific aspects connected with the OA model that should not escape your attention.

Make them an offer they can’t refuse

Both form and content are crucial when submitting your book proposal. Before you start putting it together, consult your potential publisher and ask if they have some specific guidelines or book proposal forms they want you to fill in. Not only will it save your time (otherwise you might be asked for resubmission), but it will also let you see how the publisher works and what aspects of your future book are especially important for them. Your book proposal should not be extensively long, yet it should include all information that would help your publisher understand your project and appreciate its worth.

Make it work!

When you receive the good news that your book proposal has been accepted, this is when the real work starts. Be sure to get to know your editor, be in contact with him/her as much as you can and discuss the text together. Conversation and mutual understanding is the key to success here: the less you talk to your editor, the more you avoid meetings, the closer you get to not meeting your deadlines. Remember that your editor is your team mate and ultimately you have the same goal: creating a book you can be proud of.

Format it with style

Familiarize yourself with your publisher’s house style, from the very first stage of the manuscript preparation, you need to know how to format it. Some publishers have their own in-house styles; some use Chicago, APA, Oxford, etc. Knowing this from the very beginning will help save you lots of time and frustration. You do not want to be asked to reformat all endnotes when you thought you were all done.

Most publishers offer their open access books in a pdf model accessible through their websites. There are, nevertheless, different ways of doing it: some chose to divide books into chapters as separate pdfs, some will have your book as one file. If you wish to enhance your text with videos or sound clips, you should be able to do so in the Open Access model; that would, however, require a discussion with your publisher and their technical team.

Do not steal

For any visual material you put in your book  you will need permission, this question sometimes might be handled by your publisher, but in most cases you, as the author, will be asked to handle copyright related issues before you submit your final manuscript for publication. You will need to figure out who own the copyright to a particular picture you want to include. In many cases it will be a museum: in this case you should contact them directly, asking what their procedure regarding use of images is. As those policies vary greatly, depending on the institution, never assume anything, just ask. Make sure to let them know that you want to use the images in an open access book, as some institutions have stricter policies when it comes to the use of images in the OA model.

Spread The Word

One of the reasons you chose to publish in open access is probably the fact that this way your text has a chance to reach a wider audience. As much as this is true, your book, just because it is sitting as a pdf file on your publisher’s website, will not automatically attract a mind-blowingly large readership. It needs help from your publisher’s marketing department. Participate actively in the promotion of your book, ask what the plan is and help develop it, be it through press releases, reviews or interviews. Ask about your book’s visibility, where one will be able to find it, whether it will be listed in abstracting and indexing services, in open access books directories and, if your publisher also provides a print on demand option, where one will be able to buy the book.

Once you successfully complete all the steps of your open access journey there is one last issue to face. Not all publishers offer a print on demand option. You might never touch your book, smell its pages, put it on your shelf. That, even in the twenty-first century, with its omnipresent digitalization, might be hard to swallow. I will, however, yet again assume that you had thought about that before embarking on the OA adventure and that you have come to terms with the somewhat incorporeal nature of its products. Remember that your OA book is out there. For literally EVERYONE to read. That, I guess, should give its author(s) a very tangible sense of accomplishment.

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  1. This is a really thoughtful and insightful article. As a new OA monograph publisher, Chartridge Books Oxford is endeavouring to develop a really high quality list, I believe peer review and discoverability of an author’s work post-publication are vital issues – after all, if nobody reads an author’s book, what is the point I writing it?. One point not mentioned in the article, however, is that the OA publisher should also make the author’s work available as an ebook that can be read on all ereaders (and not just a print on demand printed book).

  2. Dear Dr Melinda Taylor,
    Thank you very much for your comment, I am glad you liked the article. You hit the right note here, indeed the question of whether the book will be available in ebook (epub or mobi, as opposed to just pdf) form should be something that all authors should ask about. To the best of my knowledge, it is not yet a given for all OA publishers, some do not offer this option at all, some choose specific books that they convert into e book formats.

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