Sometime ago Barbara and I had a week in Kuala Lumpur working on our new writing book for doctoral researchers. I blogged about it at the time. Barbara is currently in the UK for five days before going on holiday in France and Italy. We are now talking and writing again and are already two days into the process.
Five days is a pretty brief period, and because I’m actually at home, it’s much harder for me to clear my diary of work commitments. So not only do we have a very little window to write together, our collaborative time is also punctuated by me rushing off to do things I can’t put off. We spent our first two days in London. This was in part so I could go off to a research council workshop one afternoon, but also because we really needed to speak to our publisher.
We finished our ten days writing in Malaysia by inventing a new title and angle on the book. Immediately after I got back to the UK, I emailed the new idea to Philip-the-publisher to see what he thought. He then ran our proposed new title past his colleagues in the UK office and those in New York. We knew that he would do this, and we sent him our new idea so that he could.
Checking out our new approach was not just about making sure that Philip wouldn’t be surprised when we sent a manuscript which wasn’t quite what he was expecting. Technically, of course, if you change your mind about your book and deliver something different from your contract without consulting there is always a risk that it might be refused. However, we didn’t think that this was our issue. Getting the go ahead at an early stage was to make sure that the publisher and the rest of the company team agreed that our somewhat different book was something that they could sell. There was no point in us thinking we had a great new take and organizing all the contents around the new title if the publisher thought it was dreadful and in their judgment it wouldn’t sell at all. We didn’t – and don’t – want to waste our time writing a book that won’t get onto people’s shelves! Philip-the-publisher and his colleagues had to agree that the new idea we’d come up with was worth pursuing.
There are knock-on effects from changing your mind about a book mid-stream too. Once a book is contracted, it becomes part of an in-house production schedule: the contract for its out-of-house copy-editing, design and type-setting is timetabled, and the book title and table of contents are handed on to in-house marketing. Marketing always starts early, so it’s important to get any post-contract changes into the system so that what people see online and in catalogues is what they actually get. And, of course, because a particular book is under contract, any other people with similar proposals might be refused. Changing tack always affects other people and their work.
But most importantly, the reason we wanted to talk things over with Philip-the-publisher is because we think of him as our very knowledgeable partner. He has worked with us on our other books and is also responsible for all of the books the company publishes in our field. He knows his stuff, as well as us, and we value his opinion. So it wasn’t at all surprising that we booked a time with him as soon as we knew that we would both be in London this week.
There were consequences of scheduling this meeting. Our first day, with Barbara just off a very long flight from Australia and me down from the Midlands on the train, was pretty pressured. We had to book into our hotel rooms and immediately recall where we were up to. No time to relax – we also had to think through the implications of our (now approved) new title and angle. We had begun to think about potential design possibilities for the book when were in Malaysia. We didn’t want the book to look either like the conventional text-book, or a standard monograph. We now had to firm these ideas up so that we could discuss the possibilities for variation. Fortunately, we had seen one book which was a bit like what we wanted to do, and so we had a concrete model we could refer to.
Getting clear on what we are now realistically able to do, getting the go-for-it was crucial. Barbara and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time generating material that couldn’t be incorporated into a text. And in asking for a variation from the standard style we were also flagging up implications for the production process and its cost. We knew that we needed to agree this possibility early, rather than have it come as a shock to the publisher and/or a potential disappointment to us.
So that was our agenda. And yes, the meeting with Philip-the-publisher went well. Very well. After day one, we have approval to develop our ideas further, working not only with our new title and angle, but also on new ideas for presenting our material. Write on…