Rethinking the monograph

This spring we published the first title under our Creative Writing Studies imprintRethinking 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 and also the author’s own comment:

So what’s the next thing we should do to develop the form further? 



12 Responses to “Rethinking the monograph”

  1. It sounds like the “Quantum” series published by the University of California Press in the 1970s to 80s. Examples are: This is not a pipe by Michel Foucaut, The Noble Savage by Bryan Wilson, and Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco by Paul Rabinow. They had a slogan like, “Important enough to be a book, short enough to read in a single sitting.” No abstract though.

    • Thank you. And I’d certainly welcome more information on that series – particularly on the nature of the books themselves.

      I’ve come across many examples of shortish serious non-fiction books, including some in series, but few of them (and no series that I remember) have been genuine monographs (I’m using that term to mean something like ‘scholarship- or research-based books, written by a scholar for a specialist academic or professional audience’).

  2. Anthony, the three titles I mentioned are all pretty short books, 100+ pages, done on good quality stock, I’d say about 21-22 cm., written by leaders in their fields and reaching out to broader intellectual audiences. They were kind of essays and didn’t have substantial bibliographies. Foucault was a world-famous philosopher, Wilson was an Oxford sociologist (I have his book in hardback and maybe it never came out in paper–it also didn’t have illustrations like the others) and Rabinow is a Berkeley anthropologist and his book became a classic and established his reputation. UC Press still lists a few of the Quantum books on its website. Hope this helps. I urge you to look more deeply into this. Good luck. Jay Bernstein, Kingsborough Community College, New York

    • Thank you, Jay – this is very kind of you and helpfully informative. I will indeed look into this further. By the way, your use of the word ‘essay’ interests me – a publishing house in London has recently established itself to revive the essay form and I guess that’s part of the same idea that’s ‘in the air’.

    • I just looked up the bib record for This is not a pipe. It is only 66 pages with 11 leaves of plates and is 21 cm in height. It is on the painting by the surrealist Rene Magritte.

    • Thanks – I suspect that’ll be the easiest one for me to locate.

  3. Hey Anthony, are you accepting proposals? I have something in mind.

    • Thanks, Jay. We’re publishing two types of books: (a) books on teaching and learning in higher education and (b) books about creative writing, for readers in higher education. For the former, we’re not accepting new proposals – we’re publishing revised editions of existing product. For the latter, we certainly are. Details are available on the ‘for authors’ page of

  4. Thanks, Anthony. My idea fits into the category for which you are not accepting proposals but I’d like to keep in touch since monograph and mesograph writing can take a long time and one never knows what will evolve.

  5. The current press doing what you describe as monographs is Prickly Paradigm Publishers, a brain child of anthropologist Marshall Sahlins. I doubt he’s making any money on it.

    I was involved with a similar enterprise in the 1970s from Sage. They published several hundred monographs as you describe them in a variety of series on political science and sociology. The series were cancelled by the end of the decade because the economics didn’t work. While production costs are less, most other book costs don’t change but the income you can make on an 80 page book has a finite ceiling.

    The only exception to this was Sage’s “little green books” on statistical methods, which are still available from them. There are over 150 books in the series now.

    • Thank you. For any readers who, didn’t know of Prickly Paradigm, there URL (which I’ve just found) is

      We part company at one point.I don’t see how the example of 1970s applies today – it was a different context. Most notably, it was an age of print books rather than e-books. I’d welcome your views on that.

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