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Faculty & Staff: Purchasing Books in the Age of AI

Identifying Quality Books from Traditional Publishers

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Navigating Traditional Publishers

This guide was created to help librarians and anyone else who may be interested in purchasing quality books in a rapidly changing publishing world.  I am a librarian working in the Academic field, but for many years I worked as an adult services librarian and cataloger in a public library.  During that time, I saw many examples of professionally published works, who employ editors, and self-published works, who may or may not employ editors.  Good editing is critical to producing quality material, and very few writers - traditionally published or self-published - can edit themselves as well as professional editors can.  

Now a third option has entered the arena, reshaping the literary world in ways no one could have predicted.  In November 2022, ChatGPT (Chat Generative Pre-Trained Transformer) stormed onto the playing field, becoming a game-changer in many ways.  ChatGPT is an AI-driven natural language processing tool fueled by Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology.  In a remarkably short span of time, AI-generated content started appearing for sale on major platforms where libraries make their purchases.  This content can be nearly indistinguishable from content authored by humans.  AI-generated content is both written and edited by artificial intelligence, and while AI-generated content can be high quality, there are some serious drawbacks to using it.  So what can we, as purchasers and collection development librarians, do to ensure we continue to purchase quality materials?  Here are some tips to navigate the vast sea of published content.

-Allison Sills, Instructional Librarian

It can be difficult these days to distinguish between traditional publishing houses, who employ editors for their content, and self-published authors, who may or may not use an editor.  If you run across a publisher you don't recognize, you can check the sources below to find out more information.

  • Look for the "Big Five." There 5 major publishing houses you probably already know by name.  They are Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.*  The top 5 educational publishers are Cengage Learning, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill Education, Pearson Education and Scholastic.**
  • Check out Literary Agent Directories.  Many literary agent directories comprehensive information on literary agents and the publishers they work with.  Examples include QueryTracker, and Manuscript Wish List.
  • Check out Writer’s Market Guide.  Writer's Market is a well-known and reputable resource that provides detailed listings of literary agents and publishers.  Writer’s Market offers information about the types of books they publish, submission guidelines and contact details. (Writer's Market appears to have been discontinued after its bankruptcy and subsequent acquisition by Penguin Random House in 2021.  You may still find published versions at your local library with information accurate up to the year of publication.***)
  • Check out Publisher Websites.  Once you’ve chosen your genre or subject matter, visit the official websites of the publishing houses that specialize in those.  Publisher Websites will list their submission guidelines, catalogs of their books, author profiles and more. 
  • Check out Industry Magazines and Publications.  Publisher’s Weekly, The Bookseller and Writer’s Digest are industry publications that often feature articles, interviews and news related to traditional publishers.  Articles may include information on new books, trends n the publishing industry and notable book deals.
  • Check out your local Bookstores and Libraries.  Visiting your local bookstore or library is a convenient and free way to find traditional publisher information.  Not only will they have books, but they may also have Writer’s Market Guide and trade publications you may not want to purchase yourself.  Take special note of books that align with your interests and genre.
  • Check out Literary Conferences and Events.  Attend literary conferences like Author Advantage Live (has a virtual experience!), Romance Writers of America Annual Conference, SleuthFestWorldcon and North American Science Fiction Convention.  Visit book fairs, author events and even comic book conventions.  These events will often feature panel discussions, workshops and presentations by industry professionals.  At them you can talk to professionals in the publishing field in person.  And they may provide new insights into the industry and help you find potential publishers for any work you wish to create.*

If you can't find any information on a listed publisher, that publisher may be an independent or self-publishing author. 

*“How to Find Publishers” AuthorMag, 22 April 2022, Accessed 21 June 2023.

**Smith, Olivia. "The Biggest Educational Publishers" BookScouter, 17 April 2022, Accessed 21 June 2023.

***Meeks, Terrisa.  "Writer's Market Online Died and No One Noticed.", 25 Oct. 2021,  Accessed 27 July 2023.

It can be hard to tell by just looking at a publisher’s name if they are traditionally or self-publishing authors.  Self-published authors frequently list their own name, or some variation, as publisher.  But sometimes, self-published authors create new names to list as a publisher that sound traditional.  If you are having trouble finding a publisher by the methods on the previous tab, research the author.  Researching an author can provide valuable insights into their background, writing style and body of work.  Here are some steps to help you conduct research on an author:

  • Check out the Author’s Website.  Visit the author’s official website.  Many traditionally published authors maintain websites that provide information about themselves, their work and their books. 
  • Explore the Author’s Social Media.  Many authors are on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram or X (formerly Twitter).  Look over their posts to get a sense of the persona they create online.  You may find insights into their writing process or book promotions and events.
  • Check for Literary Profiles and Bios. Check out the profiles and bios of the author on sites like Goodreads, Amazon or a literary database like Teaching Books.  These profiles often include biographies, book summaries and reviews.
  • Look for Author Interview and Q&As.  These can be found in literary magazines, book blogs, podcasts or even YouTube channels.  Interviews allow you to see into an author’s inspirations, writing techniques and their perspective.  It will allow you a broader view of the author that may shine a light on the publishing method.
  • Look at an Author’s Previous Works.  What other works has the author previously written?  Look for books, short stories or articles to get a sense of their writing style, themes and storytelling approach.  What are their strengths or recurring styles.
  • Investigate Awards and Accolades.  Has the author won any awards, nominations or literary recognition?  Prestigious awards or notable mentions can provide insight into the quality or impact their writing has had.
  • Look at Reviews and Critical Reception.  How have their words been received by readers and literary critics?  Read reviews and critical analyses to understand themes or aspects that resonate with readers.

“Research the Author.” Reading Rockets, 24 July 2013, Accessed 21 June 2023.

Both traditional publishers and self-published books have awards.  Here are some, but certainly not all, notable literary awards and bestseller lists that can help you discover quality books from traditional publishers:

Literary Awards:

  • Pulitzer Prize: Recognizes achievements in various categories, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and drama.
  • Man Booker Prize: Honors the best novel written in English and published in the UK, open to authors from around the world.
  • National Book Award: Recognizes outstanding books in categories like fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and young people's literature.
  • Hugo Awards: Awards excellence in science fiction and fantasy writing.
  • Women's Prize for Fiction: Celebrates fiction written by women and encourages gender equality in the literary world.
  • PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction: Honors the best works of fiction by American authors.

Bestseller Lists:

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In the list below, you'll find some fantastic resources to stay informed about quality books.  These websites and podcasts offer valuable insights, reviews and recommendations on many aspects of the literary world, both traditional and self-published.

Visit Bookstores!

Visiting bookstores can be an excellent way to find quality books from traditional publishers. Here's how visiting bookstores can help in your search:

  • Curated Selection: Bookstores, especially independent ones, often have a curated selection of books chosen by knowledgeable staff who have a passion for literature. They carefully select books from a variety of genres and publishers, focusing on quality and reader appeal. By browsing their shelves, you can discover books that have been carefully chosen for their literary merit.

  • Staff Recommendations & Knowledge: Bookstore staff members are avid readers and are usually well-informed about the latest releases, bestsellers and notable books. They can offer personal recommendations based on your interests and preferences. Bookstore staff members are usually well-informed about the publishing industry.  They can provide insights into the reputations of different publishers, the quality of their books, and any notable trends or developments in the industry.  Engaging in conversations with bookstore staff can lead you to hidden gems and introduce you to new authors and publishers.

  • Publisher Displays: Bookstores often have dedicated displays or sections highlighting books from specific publishers or imprints. These displays showcase books that the bookstore believes are of high quality, and they can serve as a valuable guide for finding books from reputable publishers. You can look for displays featuring established publishing houses or imprints known for their commitment to publishing quality literature.

  • In-Store Events: Bookstores frequently host author events, book signings and readings. Attending these events provides an opportunity to engage with authors, hear about their writing process, and learn about their publishers. Authors published by traditional houses are more likely to be featured in bookstore events, giving you an opportunity to discover their works.

  • Local Focus: Independent bookstores often have a strong connection to the local community and may prioritize showcasing books by local authors or publishers. Exploring these sections can lead you to discover quality books from smaller, independent publishers that focus on producing exceptional works.

Visiting bookstores allows you to immerse yourself in the world of books, engage with knowledgeable staff and physically browse through a curated selection. It provides a tactile and personal experience that can lead to serendipitous discoveries and help you find quality books published by traditional publishing houses.

"How can visiting bookstores help you find quality books from traditional publishers?” prompt. ChatGPT, 24 May 2023,