I have a manuscript that is a derivative of a mathematical work in the public domain. It is a diamond in the rough which was unpalatable due to its prose. The new manuscript is a modernized and polished up version with added historical context and footnotes.

I'd like to get a publisher to produce an inexpensive paperback version, and hopefully an ebook version as well. Dover immediately came to mind since I know they have a hand in the market for public domain content, as well as inexpensive original content (for example, Robert Ash's books, which are nice.)

Unfortunately, they have been stringing me along with emails for a half year now without ever saying yes or no.

How does one go about seeking alternative publishers of this sort? I've tried a few indexes, but I couldn't figure out how to spot the publishers that serve this sort of niche. The goal is to make an inexpensive print version and/or electronic version.

In case it is helpful to know what I have in mind for 'inexpensive', the figure I have in mind is: no more than $12 USD.

Advice is appreciated: thank you.

4 Answers 4


Although it's based on a public domain work, your derivative work isn't in the public domain itself unless you want it to be. From the sounds of it you've made significant changes and additions, so your edition of the manuscript in question is copyrightable.

You quite often see this in modern editions of classical music, for example, where the music has been in the public domain for centuries, but the typesetting, fingering, introductory notes and annotations make the edition copyrightable.

As for publishers, if you think there might be academic interest you could try academic imprints or university presses. If the manuscript has a connection to a modern research topic you could try contacting academics working in that area. If the original author is notable, even in a small way, you might find a small press with a local connection to them, or even a museum or historical society.

If you don't have any luck finding a publisher, or if you just want a copy for yourself, then there are always print-on-demand services like Lulu and Createspace. Good luck!

  • 1
    I don't have any concerns about its status as a derivative or its copyright status. I'm just casting about since the obvious choice (Dover) is dragging its feet. Thank you for chipping in with your recommendations though.
    – rschwieb
    May 17, 2018 at 19:50
  • 1
    Another main concern is picking something as far away from print-on-demand as possible. I don't want people to choose not to read the book "because it's manufactured by a shady publisher" or "I would never go to an internet site like that". So far I've been leery of getting caught up with a site like Lulu. I've gotten email ads from them before and I thought it was just creepy. I felt like Dover would have provided that credibility.
    – rschwieb
    May 17, 2018 at 19:53
  • I've read negative things about Createspace, too, unfortunately.
    – rschwieb
    May 17, 2018 at 19:56

If you don't care not seeing your book in libraries, if your goal is only to have a paper print and an electronic version and the availability of your work in online store, you may give an chance to online auto-editing services like Lulu. Well, the print version is not cheap, but you may distribute the e-book for free.

  • Apparently Lulu will publish books that are in the Public Domain, but will not distribute them. See here: connect.lulu.com/en/discussion/33340/…
    – robertcday
    May 17, 2018 at 9:22
  • 1
    @robertclay : you're right. Maybe this limitation does not apply to other print-on-demand publishers ? May 17, 2018 at 9:58

That's a very interesting question. Can you publish 'public domain' works? Yes you can - so long as you follow the rules. The main ones seem to be: the work must really, really be in public domain and it must be differentiated.

One specific publisher for you: StreetLib. Read their very helpful page about publishing Public Domain material here: Publishing Public Domain Books.


I found publishersglobal.com is useful for searching publishers by category. I don't know if that will help or not. You can probably search on academic publishers.

Also, Createspace has been merged into Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) so just look at KDP if you are contemplating print-on-demand and ebooks. The benefit of KDP is that your books are available on Amazon, so that makes people more comfortable that they are legitimate.

  • Thanks for taking care to address that point... although I myself do not have any impression that being sold on Amazon is a measure of legitimacy. I've seen some things that look outright illegitimate (not that Amazon is at fault.)
    – rschwieb
    Oct 10, 2018 at 17:31
  • True, Amazon does not equal legitimate. It would have been more accurate to say that buyers are generally more willing to go to Amazon because they are familiar with the site, as opposed to Lulu or another site. Oct 10, 2018 at 17:38

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.