Publishing on publishing: an overview

In How to Do Better Creative Work, Steve Harrison recommends 13 books for people in his industry (i.e., advertising). Through a series of posts between August 2010 and June 2011 this blog has done the same for publishing. The resulting selection of 13 titles is given on the Monographer’s bookshelf page above.

The point of this post is to consider the list as a whole. What does it say about the state of publishing about publishing?

First, I should acknowledge some gaps. I have not included any texts on design or typography. This is not because of any lack of candidates – on the contrary, there is a plentiful supply. Rather, it is the result of a lack of expertise on my part: I simply don’t feel I have the specialist knowledge. Sorry. At least the list  includes Marshall Lee, Bookmaking which deals in part with these topics, amongst many others.

I have also excluded reference books. There are several useful books in this category, especially in the area of law, contracts, rights, and editing. They include Jones & Benson, Publishing Law, Owen, Clark’s Publishing Agreements, and Butcher, Drake, & Leach, Butcher’s Copy-editing. I also count Owen, Selling Rights in this category – though I accept not everyone would term it a reference book.

My reason for excluding reference books has nothing to do with quality: it’s simply that I wanted the list to focus – as Harrison did in his list – on books one might read through, from cover to cover. On that criterion Bookmaking should, strictly speaking, have been excluded – but consistency isn’t always a virtue. I wanted it in anyway.

A third deliberate exclusion zone comprises history. Publishing on publishing has produced many general histories company histories, and biographies. They include Feather, History of British Publishing, Carpenter, Seven Lives of John Murray, and Williams, Allen Lane: A personal portrait (a book on which Mr David Williams of The Running Head speaks so eloquently that one would think him virtually obliged to supply a guest post).

My reason for this lack is simply that I lack a feel for history. The older I grow, the less interested in the past – and the more interested in the future – I become. Let the dead bury their dead, I say. (At least there Monographer’s Blog has been consistent.)

So, caveats made, what does the list of thirteen say? I offer three observations.

1. There are many gaps. That is, many parts of the industry are not covered adequately in books about publishing. They include journal publishing, literary agency, management, finance, sales, marketing, and distribution. Page, Campbell, and Meadows, Journal Publishing (first published in 1997) is a well-written book, but such is the pace of change in that market it is really no longer usable.* I have read a number of titles on sales and marketing, without being much impressed. The most serious need is for a text on the supply chain.

2. Publishing on publishing is jaded. Some of the books on the list – notably, Bookmaking, Book Commissioning and Acquisition, Creative Economy, and From Pitch to Publication – are showing their age.*** We need books to replace them by authors who have started their careers in more contemporary settings. The same is true of many books that didn’t make the list.

3. No list has colonised this field. Routledge has a foothold; Facet are doing some interesting things; and Chandos (now part of Woodhead) has a more extensive list than most – but nobody has made the field their own.

Feel free to alert me to books you feel I have unfairly neglected.

* Perhaps it will be replaced by a forthcoming title announced by Routledge, namely Ball, Inside Journal Publishing.**

** In fact, Morris et al., Handbook of Journal Publishing has come along and filled this gap. It’s now included in this list.

*** Since I wrote this, I’ve taken Book Commissioning and Acquisition and Creative Economy off the list – thus the reading offered by the refreshed list is a good deal more with-it!

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4 Responses to “Publishing on publishing: an overview”

  1. […] Blog to guest posts, but somehow I’ve never got round to it – until now. In my post Publishing on publishing (2 Aug 2011) I wrote that I’d excluded from my series of reviews on texts on publishing any […]

  2. The ‘Handbook of Journal Publishing’ by Ed Barnas, Douglas LaFrenier, Sally Morris and Margaret Reich – to be published by CUP next year – is envisaged as a direct successor to ‘Journal Publishing’

    • Thank you, Sally. That’s welcome news. Feel free to tell us all more! And if you let me know when it’s published, we can organise a review.

  3. […] the ‘Bookshelf’.   When, after having compiled that list, I wrote an overview (‘Publishing on publishing‘), I commented:    Publishing on publishing is jaded. Some of the books on the list – […]

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