Resources for Exploring Think Tanks

The National Institute for Research Advancement (NIRA) has a world directory of think tanks that is updated periodically. The most recent is the 2005 edition, which can be found online at their site. The English-language version of the directory within the site can be accessed directly here. The University of Michigan library also has a list: Political Sciences Resources Think Tanks. Although Wikipedia has a good entry on think tanks, including a list, remember that Wikipedia has no professional editorial oversight and anyone is free to contribute to or make changes to its listings.


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Looking for a New Publishing Venue? Think about Think Tanks

Longer shelf-life and promotional efforts among benefits of being published by a think tank
A former HarperCollins Senior Editor, then the co-owner of an independent press that had a New York Times bestseller, and most recently a Senior Editor with his own imprint at a large independent publisher, Roy M. Carlisle left the trade publishing world in December 2007 after 30 years to become Communications Director for a think tank, The Independent Institute, which is based in Oakland, California and Washington, D.C.

Recently, we talked about think tanks that also publish books, and those organizations’ publishing opportunities for authors.

How many think tanks are there in the U.S., and how many of them publish books?

In the latest count there are 1,877 think tanks in the US, and the Independent Institute has been ranked 28th in that list for its quality of scholarship, thoughtfulness, and overall influence. A small percentage of think tanks publish books, including the Independent Institute. Our books are distributed by Independent Publisher Group (IPG), a very good distributor.

What does a think tank do?

A think tank is a non-profit organization that tries to get a message out to policymakers and the public, that tries to affect public policy. It has to get into the hands of Senators and U.S. Representatives, their staff; and senior policy staff at The White House, the Cabinet, The Pentagon, and many other departments in the government what the think tank wants them to read, including policy reports, newspaper Op-Eds, and books. People in Washington depend on the think tanks to provide them with this information because the think tanks are doing the research.

Think tanks have people affiliated with them who have titles such as Research Fellow and Senior Fellow. Who are those people and what do they do?

A Research Fellow does research or does research and writes. That person can be an employee of the think tank or can work elsewhere, such as a university, and be affiliated with the think tank.

A Senior Fellow has a contract with a think tank to do certain things, such as writing Op-Eds, contributing to the think tank’s journal, or researching and writing a policy report. It’s the think tank’s way of soliciting and supporting experts in a field who are researching and communicating information that supports the think tank’s mission. Most Senior Fellows are professors at universities.

Each think tank has a particular mission or set of missions involving issues that affect domestic and foreign policy. Some think tanks are liberal, some are conservative, and some are non-partisan. Do you have to be an academic – a scholar, a professor – to do research and write for or on behalf of a think tank or have books published by one?

No. A lot of think tanks aren’t built around scholarly work. They have a political or other agenda and people from many professions who are passionate about that think tank’s mission research and write for them. Some think tanks have a mix of academics and non-academics. Some of the think tanks who publish books aren’t limited to just academics, so they’re a good outlet for authors who aren’t academics.

How do think tanks’ book publishing programs, imprints, or divisions work?

Trade publishers think of books as ephemeral. Six weeks after a book’s release, they’re on to the next book, and they’re only concerned with sales quotas. Think tanks’ books have a much longer shelf life because the think tank’s publishing operation pays attention to it for much longer than a trade publisher pays attention to their books. A think tank will pay attention to a particular book as long as the issue the book is about demands it. A think tank is an active research and writing entity within a subject area of that book, so they’ll promote the book for a long time because they’re committed to that issue, that subject.

Some of the authors of books published by think tanks receive grants from organizations and foundations while they research and write, and also for an extended book tour.

Does an author have to be affiliated with the think tank to be published by it?

No, although many of them are.

What are some of the other advantages of being published by a think tank?

A think tank is actually a more than viable place for an academic author or a non-academic author who is a journalist or expert in a field to be published because the think tank has the luxury of doing a lot more for the book than a trade publisher. Think tanks solicit funding to produce and promote the book. They do far fewer books, but market them more heavily than trade publishers do. Authors speak at organizations, universities, and at bookstores, all coordinated by the think tank. The general public can buy the books directly from the think tank, at independent and chain bookstores, online at retailers such as Amazon, or wherever the author is speaking.

Organizations with an interest in the books’ issues buy the books in quantity to sell to their members or use as premiums.

An author whose book is published by a think tank promotes the book in all media – broadcast, print, and internet – just like any other author, but with far more support from the publisher when it’s a think tank because the goals and commitment are different.

That’s right. The think tanks that publish books do that very well.

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Nina L. Diamond is a journalist, essayist, and the author of Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers & Healers. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Omni, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and The Miami Herald.

Ms. Diamond was a writer and performer on Pandemonium, the National Public Radio (NPR) satirical humor program, for its entire run in Miami and select markets nationwide from 1984-1998. As an editor, she works frequently with other authors and journalists on both fiction and non-fiction.