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Notes 59.2 (2002) 288-300



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What Music Scholars Should Know about Publishers

Michael Ochs


To a great extent, music scholars rely on publishers of music books, and at the same time, publishers need scholars. Yet how a member of one group views a member of the other runs the gamut from close collaborator to acrimonious adversary.

For the most part, scholars' requirements from publishers are simple and well-known. They need user-friendly textbooks for their students, reliable information from published material to help them in their research, and outlets for the products of their research. What publishers and editors need from scholars and other potential writers—as well as what publishers do, why they do it, and how they do it—are less well-known quantities. My purpose here is to acquaint readers with the view from the publishers' side, with the hope that a better understanding of these matters will help scholars, music librarians, and publishers function as happily and effectively as possible. Of course, university presses, commercial book publishers, publishers of music, and small private firms differ in financial aspects and in the material they choose to publish, but the needs, practices, and procedures that follow are fairly universal. Much of this article applies to journal publishing as well, and readers should have little trouble adapting these principles to their needs in this area.

Publishers' Relationships with Music Scholars

Among the roles assumed by music scholars, four are especially important to book publishers: (1) reporting on their own research, (2) evaluating material for publishers prior to publication, (3) teaching college students, and (4) reviewing published books in journals and elsewhere. Although Notes readers have taken on all of these functions, they are most likely to engage in writing—and using—reviews, so I will devote additional space to this activity. A few words on each of the relationships engendered through these roles should allow scholars to gain some idea of how they themselves are viewed by publishers. [End Page 288]

It is unfortunate that a publisher's formal interaction with a scholar often begins with the scholar trying to convince an editor to accept something for publication. Scholar A trying to convince Editor B that Manuscript C or Proposal D has merit is not the best way to start a relationship, especially when it is B's job to be skeptical until the value to the publisher of the proposed book is beyond doubt—which it may never completely become. A less frequent but equally important scenario has Editor B trying to convince Scholar A that writing a book or a textbook that B wants is worthwhile for A to undertake, given the demands on A's time by other duties and interests. Both of these situations can result in disappointment or even anger when one of the parties says no. The actual proposal process from the publisher's point of view will be discussed later.

Once a publisher and a scholar have signed an agreement to produce a book, the scholar becomes the "Author" (always spelled in the contract with a capital A), a status that combines aspects of being the editor's colleague in a thrilling adventure, partner in a business undertaking, expert to be treated with deference, and neophyte who needs to be taught the realities of life outside the ivory tower. The editor, who is always less knowledgeable about the subject matter of the text than the author, must nevertheless be able to criticize the style and content of the writing objectively and in ways that the author finds acceptable, even agreeable. For the book to turn out well, the relationship between the two principals must be one of mutual trust and respect, and it is the editor's job to make sure it both starts out that way and remains so. This means that the editor must make every effort to hear and satisfy the author's concerns while patiently explaining why the publisher must do this and cannot do that.

A second role taken on by the scholar is one bestowed by an editor...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-150X
Print ISSN
0027-4380
Pages
pp. 288-300
Launched on MUSE
2002-12-04
Open Access
No
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