2019 was…

… the year of the book series. So I thought a little end of year discussion about book series might be in order.

Book series require a very particular kind of editorial work.

Editors have to have a good analysis of the field, they need to know what is and what isn’t already covered. And this field analysis is not just at the start when series editor wanna-bes convince a publisher that their idea is good. You have to keep up to date with what is being published. You also have to have a view of where the field might go – and where it should go. “We need less of that and more of this”, thinks the series editor.

Series editors have to understand what their series will do. Series need a purpose and a point of view. Some series are knowledge building – usually through monographs and edited collections. Knowledge building books not the same as trade books or text books; these are designed to support readers to understand and do something- think of methods or advice books, these are ‘trade’.

Series editors need to know their potential readers. This not only means who they are (researchers, students and/or professionals in a particular area ) but also where they are located. Once you know the who, what and where, the series editor can make sure that books will connect, ring true, appeal. Ideally, the series editor also wants to get authors from the range of target locations.

Book series editors have to have good networks. They need to know, or know how to get to, potential writers. Of course, sometimes series editors are approached by keen authors with ideas for a book. Occasionally the publisher will also get a proposal that they think will fit in the series. But mostly, series editors hustle. They get out and invite people to write. They hear someone present at a conference and talk to them about a possible book. They approach people they know and ask them what book they’d like to write. They suggest topics. They match-make co-authors.

It’s these things – place in the field, mission, readers and potential authors – that any book series proposal has to cover. A publisher must be convinced there is a need for the series, a market, a credible set of authors and enough ideas to make up an actual series, not just a couple of volumes.

So to my year.

I have one long standing knowledge-building series which I edit with two colleagues. Our series is not a huge seller, it’s quite niche – critical leadership studies in education. We don’t publish a lot, only one or two books a year as we don’t think there is the market for more. So series editing isn’t a particularly onerous task. As I write this post, there is one book in press (2020), two being written (2021) and another proposal nearing completion (2022). So there is a slow stream of books.

This year we had to have a bit of a think about whether we would, should, could continue with the series. A stocktake. Where were we up to and was it still worth continuing. Since we started, another publisher has begun a similar series. A competitor or companion? We had to ask ourselves whether there was there room for two of us. Would we just be duplicating effort? But it seems we still have ideas for potential writers and topics. So we decided to persevere for a bit longer. This series is not yet at its use-by-date.

Fanfare at this point. This year was the year I also said no. Well kind of. More accurately, I gave up on a new series. A publisher had suggested the possibility of an arts education series and I had asked two colleagues if they were interested. We had a couple of meetings (not easy as we live in three different countries) but I think none of us were really up for the work involved. So at this point this series is a no go.

9781138339149But letting go was not simply about that series. No, it was also because 2019 was the year when a new (advice) book series really kicked into gear.

The Insider Guides to Success in Academia.  Helen Kara and I collaboratively edit this series. As the series title suggests, it’s designed for doctoral and early researchers. We’ve commissioned eight books already – and the first one is now published, hooray, two are in press and another two are being read before being revised. We expect to have five books published by this time next year. And there are another three already under contract and several proposals on the way. (Cross fingers they all turn up, you know who you are and you know we’ll chase you up).

This series is more work than the first. For starters, there are just more books. But our editorial process is also pretty hands on. Helen and I hunt out authors and topics and look at proposals, as you’d expect. But we have also introduced a “beta reader” stage where three people read a penultimate draft and give feedback. And we feedback too. Because beta-reading isn’t a process usually done by our publisher (although it is by others) Helen and I have to manage it. We find the readers, get the manuscript out and back in. And then we give the combined feedback to authors. But beta-reading is not like a reviewing process, it’s more informal, and everyone knows who has written the book and who has commented.

9781138362598Helen and I are in relatively frequent contact about book series issues. We talk largely by skype, even though we live only a few train stops away from each other in the Midlands. It may seem silly for us not to meet face to face, but we are both busy women. We do occasionally manage to meet halfway, and we also meet with our publisher once a year.

Helen and I are both really pleased with this series. It’s our great pleasure to help these new books into the world. They are, like most of this series, new approaches and/or on important topics much less well travelled.

And I guess that’s ultimately why we do this series editing stuff. It’s certainly not for the money – like all academic books the royalties for series editing in no way take account of the amount of time we spend. But there is something very satisfying about shaping a series. It’s a creative process – a kind of curation of a collection which together makes a more substantive contribution than any one book could do on its own.

A good series does have an identity. It stands for, and as, a particular point of view on a field. So in its own distinctive way, editing a book series is another way to contribute to the wider scholarly conversation.

Roll on 2020 and all those new titles!

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, book series, co-editing, editing, Helen Kara and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 2019 was…

  1. David says:

    Great advice on series editors.


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