- Contemporary Publishing and the Culture of Books ed. by Alison Baverstock, Richard Bradford, and Madelena Gonzalez
What can scholarly writers learn from a collection of essays on book publishing compiled to serve as a textbook for postgraduate students in a 'publishing studies' course? Lots. We can learn, for example, how scholarly publishing occupies but one (relatively small) segment of a much larger enterprise. In a word: perspective. We can read about the options we have for disseminating our work—and how those options differ by size and type of publisher: expectations. We can understand the various actors involved in shepherding a book manuscript through to publication and distribution: appreciation. And we can intuit how scholarly publishing must acknowledge and address global forces affecting publishing writ large: transformations. Because savvy scholarly writers are more likely to encounter these topics via conversations with experienced colleagues or in the invaluable works by William Germano or Beth Luey,1 here [End Page 192] I highlight some of the lessons I learned from this volume that should interest scholarly writers.
Edited by Alison Baverstock (Kingston University London), Richard Bradford (Ulster University), and Madelena Gonzalez (University of Avignon), the introduction and fifteen chapters in this collection offer a smorgasbord of history lessons, typologies, case studies, insights, projections, and recommendations derived from literature reviews, surveys, personal communication, and experience. The contributors include writers, editors, publishers, consultants, and academics from all corners of the United Kingdom, plus one from Australia. As these lists imply, the volume presents diverse perspectives, but it is neither exhaustive nor exhausting. Rather, excitement and energy pervade the chapters: publishing is complex, and those involved need to stay on their toes to anticipate developments and trends. In her chatty introduction, Baverstock colourfully describes the contemporary publishing industry as a constantly evolving 'kaleidoscope of involvements' (3). Indeed. Although not directly represented among the contributors herein, librarians, booksellers, literary agents, and other key actors appear in subsequent chapters. Scholarly writers planning edited volumes could take note of how Baverstock spices up what is often a recipe for boredom by interjecting her own ideas, opinions, and experiences into the chapter-by-chapter summaries she presents in the introduction. In noting that 'the publishing industry plays such a significant role in what society has available to read, and has an important role within our culture' (2), Baverstock's sapid synopsis of the volume introduces some key questions for rumination on book publishing in the anglophone world in particular, including those surrounding access, diversity, and reading in the age of social media.2
Since scholarly publishing is but a slice of a much larger pie, many chapters unsurprisingly emphasize fiction and various trade genres, including food writing, travel writing, and children's literature. Per Henningsgaard's (Curtin University, Australia) chapter on types of publishing houses (chapter 2), despite the absence of section headings, provides a useful primer on contemporary publishing. Henningsgaard presents three intersecting typologies of publishing houses based on funding source, market segment, and size. As examples of 'dependent publishing,' university presses 'tend to be mission-driven, serving an audience or subject matter that (for one reason or another) they believe is underserved' (48). Scholarly monographs therefore find their champions [End Page 193] in university presses; and, as is the norm in non-profit publishing, production costs are typically subsidized by the parent organization. Scholars who are thinking about writing textbooks could benefit from understanding Henningsgaard's astute differentiation between the market segments of 'educational publishing' and 'academic and professional publishing.' (The third market segment, of course, is trade publishing; and news of developments in that realm—like the planned acquisition of Simon & Schuster by Penguin Random House in 2021—regularly makes international headlines because the stakes are so large.)
The opening chapter, 'The Structure and Workings of...