Rethinking the monograph
This spring we published the first title under our Creative Writing Studies imprint – Rethinking Creative Writing (RCW) by Stephanie Vanderslice. RCW is a monograph. Launching a new imprint has provided an opportunity for re-examining the products (by which I really mean genres) and processes involved. Behind RCW, therefore, lies a good deal of reflection and rumination – and, ultimately, some innovation too.
This post is designed to explain the (re)thinking behind the publication of Stephanie’s book. I have introduced many of the ideas in a series of separate posts below dealing with genre (11 March), workflow (13 January), design (16 December 2010), abstracts (7 June), and enhanced p-books (20 April). The purpose of this post is to synthesise these ideas using RCW as a prism.
The most important pieces of rethinking were as follows:
1. Replacing the traditional monograph form (c. 75,000 words) with that of a ‘mesograph’ – our term for a scholarly study of half that length. That such studies require less time either to read or write is likely, we think, to prove popular with both readers and authors.
2. Introducing a product matrix into the commissioning process. The matrix itemises (a) the essential benefits to be provided to readers by the book about to be written, (b) the features to be included in the book in order to produce those benefits, and (c) out-of-bounds criteria indicating what would not be acceptable in the book. The matrix is designed to keep everyone on the straight and narrow, as it were, thereby avoiding misunderstandings.
3. Redesigning the structure of monographs – in particular, moving items between front- and endmatter (for example, placing the index amongst frontmatter).
4. Including an abstract.
5. Enhancing the physical values of the book.
We have followed each of these steps with Stephanie’s book. Though we’ll have to wait to see what reviewers say, in our view the ‘mesograph’ extent (153 spaciously set pages) has produced a text that works on a bigger scale than a journal paper, yet which could be read in a day – perhaps even at a single sitting.
The product matrix – which we found we occasionally referred back to during internal reviews – helped to ensure the book came out the way we all intended: for example, it has a strongly international feel.
In the frontmatter, the table of contents is followed immediately by the index (compiled by Christina Garbutt) and then the abstract. As a result, the reader can access digests of the book on three different levels within the span of a few pages (pp. v-xi).
The front cover, comprising an image from a painting by Rika Newcombe plus minimal text (short title plus author’s name), is designed both to work as an online icon and as an attractive, craftsmanlike, cover for the subsequent print edition. Initial reaction has been positive – see, for example, the initial comment on http://creativewritingstudies.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/cover-designs-celebrating-the-work-of-rika-newcombe/ and also the author’s own comment: http://wordamour.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/rethinking-creative-writing-the-first-interview/.
So what’s the next thing we should do to develop the form further?