All 3 entries tagged Monographs
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March 01, 2023
A brief narrative of the key points coming out of the healthy and hearty debate stretching over ninety minutes concerning academic monograph proposals.
This week (Tue 28th Feb) I hosted a panel discussion as part of the Accolade+ programme, with a focus on monograph publication. It was the sequel event to one held last June on the same subject, albeit this time featuring an entirely new panel. For the session I was joined in discussion by a most excellent foursome comprising:
- Marcos Estrada: Department of Global & Social Studies, King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals (KFUPM), Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
- Rupert Gatti: Open Book Publishers, Director, Cambridge, UK
- Valérie Hayaert: EUTOPIA SIF Fellow/School of Law, University of Warwick, UK
- Yvonne Budden: Scholarly Communications Manager, University of Warwick Library, UK
Each panellist brought some unique to the table from international perspectives through rights management and publisher specific knowledge, and a whole lot more in between. Personally, I felt the panel neatly complimented each other in the breadth of knowledge and variety of insights they brought to the session, and was delighted as a real conversation emerged over the ninety minute session.
After exploring some issues contrasting the subtle but distinct differences between UK based and internationally based publishers, we moved to explore an important key question: why go to all this effort to publish a monograph at all. A number of points were made alongside identifying while in some subjects, the print format monograph retains a unique and specific value, the idea of a book as a ‘digital research object’ means something more. Something which has the potential to reach a far greater number of readers than ever before, all to the advantage of the author, their career and their disciplinary contribution alike. It was highlighted that – especially for open access (OA) books – when contrasted with the average ‘sell-through’ of the research monograph being around 200 copies, online, OA books can achieve hundreds of downloads monthly. Unquestionably a significantly beneficial in terms of visibility and career esteem for the publishing scholar.
The panel moved on to explore ideas around the clarity of any monograph proposal, starting with the underscoring the importance of the author being clear about its unique selling point (USP). We touched too on ideas of publishing and any text’s potential marketability being a crucial element to identify for commercially configured presses. Although one panellist identified their dislike for any commercial publisher requirements in authors identifying ‘competing texts’. It was proposed such an element was a reification of the regretful communication of academic publishing which continues to maintain a hegemony over monograph dissemination praxis. Hence, one theme strongly espoused from the panel was the importance, value and impact from publishing via an OA press, be they commercial, scholarly or institutionally based. Certainty, in terms of readership and hence in the longer-term impact and recognition of the work, OA makes a strong, coherent argument for helping any author achieve the career esteem they desire.
Panellists raised a related issue with the importance of authors achieving compliance with any funder requirements . This was followed with a healthy debate around issues of self-plagiarism and reuse of work published by authors elsewhere within a subsequent monograph. The thesis it was agreed is a document constructed and addressed to a very limited and restricted readership. It was characterised as an examination object, something designed to primarily demonstrate the depth and appreciation of the authors knowledge, and original contribution, to defend and demonstrate their expertise and learning. By contrast the ‘mutation or evolution’ of this work into a monograph, requires a transformation of this text into something new, addressed within a more persuasive mode of address and targeted at a much broader readership audience. Importantly when considering self-plagiarism, the importance of retaining author rights when publishing materials in short form – say in an edited collection – was highlighted as being a valuable consideration.
The panel proposed how making use of any local rights retention schemes, or adding clauses expressing their rights over their work during any contract negotiations were vital. These, it was suggested, would help ensure authors retained maximum control over the expression and reuse of any prior work utilised in later monographs. One handy tip was made concerning depositing a version of the text in the local OA repository, and thus having any future publication agreements would be subservient to those of the already available repository version.
The panel returned at this point once more to considerations of the prospective book’s USP, and how while it might include work published in one form or another elsewhere, the sum of its parts would be greater, in terms of making a substantive claim to a contribution to knowledge. Naturally, in constructing the work, here was where ensuring any previously established rights over portions of the text, e.g. previously published elsewhere, which might have been transferred or acquired need to be acknowledged and respected. This illustrated why retaining author rights is so vital, although as was noted, while expressions can be copyrighted the same was not true for ideas. Hence, rearticulating an author’s ideas in a new way, would not form a self-plagiarising or rights breaking addition to a monograph. When agreeing to a publishing contract, the panel suggested strong and effective negotiation between an author and a publisher was important. Where any particular publisher seemed intransient though, then it was advised it would be best to ‘move along’ to another, more accommodating publishing house.
A crucial question suggested from this debate arose: how to go about achieving the evolution of the thesis text to monograph. The panel highlighted how this was where support, advice and insight from the author’s colleagues would prove invaluable. As one panellist stressed, even colleagues from outside your discipline – including specialist librarians and knowledgeable editors-in-chief  – can make a vital contribution in advising the author in drafting an effective, engaging and appropriate proposal. The panel considered how there is no ‘one size fits all’ proposal, and how each publisher will respond to any submitted proposal would be just as varied. Which they discussed was why being able to learn from these varied prior experiences can serve to inform, refine and ameliorate any would-be monograph author’s preconceptions and strategies in drafting their proposal.
One especially strong theme represented by the panel was the importance of recognising the client/service relationship between author and publishers. Whilst commercial publishers are, regretfully, focussed on what can enrich their shareholders, scholars should remember the power is theirs. The panel argued that research, and its outputs, should not be shaped by commercial interests, but by the passion, knowledge and growing wisdom of those scholars working upon it. If authors are preparing to embark on what may be a multiple year journey to publication, then they need to stand their ground, trust their heart and seek to publish – in essence – what they wanted to publish.
In a related point, the panel considered how this might require publishing a ‘stand-alone monograph’ rather than a contribution to an established series: which might be more challenging prospect for some. Especially, it was noted, where publishers are swayed by cultural, social or historical events and more receptive to ‘flavour of the month’ proposal themes. Naturally, it was advised that savvy authors could use such biases to their advantage by skewing their work to fit such favoured themes. However, the panel cautioned once more against distorting a monograph extensively simply to achieve a publication contract.
There was some focus on the ideas of publishing with ‘significant’ publishers vs lesser known ones. The panel agreed that yes, on a basic reading the career capital of publishing with a ‘major’ publisher might offer greater personal validation. However, it was suggested disseminating your monograph with a publisher willing to publish it outside an enclosed, commercial milieux because this is an author’s preference, would also pay dividends. In this latter respect, being able to justify an author’s rationale for publishing with their desired publisher to hiring committees, promotion boards and the like, was highlighted as an excellent route in demonstrating self-actualisation and validation as a discerning scholar. Hence, why an author chose a publisher matters, the panel suggested, more than whom they decided would be their publisher.
The panel also touched briefly on matters of affect as it pertains to impacts on establishing and maintaining publisher relationships. The panel suggested that, unlike journal articles, simultaneously approaching a small number of publishers with a monograph proposal was a valid option. Provided that is, authors are totally transparent about this strategy in all of their dealings with the publishers. The panel noted any lost labour time for their editors or reviewers which occurs where authors decide to take up a – hitherto unknown – other contract option, would be a rapid way to gain a poor reputation in the publishing field. The panel remarked how it was not unknown for the same peer-reviewers to be contacted about a text from different publishers, and for them to whistle blow on the author’s multi-pronged approach!
Moving on, the discussions touched on ideas of allowing publishers to shape your proposal, and as had been discussed previously it was suggested this was something to be approached with extreme caution if not overt avoidance. Again, reiterating their earlier comment of ‘follow your heart’ one panellist, underscored the importance of seeking to publish what authors wanted to. The panel opined how adapting texts to suit the mores or perceptions of specific geographical audiences – e.g. the US – for reasons of marketability were also inadvisable. Although, they countered if these specifically were the major audience the academic wanted to touch with their work, then some regional modification to the proposal might make for a desirable aspect. The panel noted these comments were in contrast to reviewer feedback, which at a later stage would help to enhance and improve the authors text. This though was something which would occur after a scholar had a contract with their publisher.
The question of how advanced in should an author be in transitioning their thesis text to a monograph format ahead of their proposal’s submission was raised. The panel’s view was that once more this was a matter which would vary between publishers. It was suggested some commercial publishers would be happy with a sample chapter and strong proposal. Alternatively university-based presses it was thought were likely to want the whole monograph essentially in a final draft form before they were willing to take it on as a publishing project. As in all publishing matters, the panel advised checking websites and speaking to past authors about their experiences with specific publishers as a route to significantly help clarify options for prospective authors.
Looking ahead to the latter stages of publication, the panel also touched briefly on the art – and costs – of professional indexing. Again, it was noted this could be a service which some publishers offered, although for others this would be an add on cost. However, where authors worked for wealthy institutions, such costs may well be covered locally or from their own research funding.
Finally, as chair, I asked each of the panellists for their key advice for prospective monograph authors. Yvonne stressed it was the importance of talking to everyone you could about their experiences, insights and advice. Rupert reiterated the importance of always that how the author should remain in a controlling, commanding position throughout the proposal and publication process in terms of of how and where your work is published. Marcos resonated with these points adding, how crucial it was for authors to always retain sight of the uniqueness of their work, their voice and their scholarship throughout: from proposal to revision to publication.
I would of course like to express my thanks to all four of my panellists, and of course my audience for keeping the questions, comments and observations coming thick and fast. My apologies we couldn’t get into every single point – I suspect we might have filled the entire time discussing the nuance of rights, reuse and self-plagiarism alone! I hope there will be some highly energised follow-on conversations to come out of this panel, and naturally am more than happy to chat with any of the delegates (or panel) at length. Hopefully, we’ll see some or possibly all of the panel back when this session returns in 2024.
 Specifically here the UKRI’s 2024 policy for all their funded researchers. If you’re looking to publish a monograph from next year in the UK, it’s something with which I’d strongly advise authors familiarise themselves.
 The phrase ‘published’ of course has a discrete and highly-variable character from publishing house to publishing house. The panel’s advice here, was check any contract carefully, alongside speaking with the commissioning editor if the author was unsure how any prior distributed or disseminated work would be perceived.
 Look, if I’m going to chair and write this report, let me have a least a single tiny moment of self-aggrandization and valorisation, okay? But seriously, I do enjoy talking over all aspects of the publication processes with our fellows.
 This being a theme I often discuss myself in my workshops and lectures.
 Having, as an editor, been on the receiving end of such behaviour I can ensure you it significantly declines the professional reputation of the author. And the academic publisher community isn’t that large a world…
 Strong might be the wrong word here – as we touched on the idea of how interesting or appealing a proposal might be, or how thematically it might fit within a publishers target demographic better as being reasons for it being commissioned by them. Hence, simply being a good proposal might not be enough.
 Valérie had unfortunately had to depart after an hour to teach a class. However, I suspect she might have had some key points about the differences between disciplinary traditions and monograph publication approaches and experiences. But, obviously, speak to her to be sure!
June 16, 2022
Following the panel discussions around creating a monograph proposal for early career academics, we share some insights which emerged from the speakers.
Last week I ran a session with three very generous panellists  talking about their experiences publishing a monograph from an early career perspective. My thanks naturally to all three of them for generously giving up their time to share their thoughts with our Accolade audience. I was very interested to hear what they had to say, since, personally, my first monograph has remained an idea on the back of a piece for far too long! As with previous panel sessions in Accolade, the idea was that questions were driven mainly from the floor – although I had a number of topics which I was keen to explore myself for when the audience prompts slowed down too!
I thought following this event it would be useful to blog a little of the wisdom which emerged. Although, as a mild caveat for what follows, be aware given the contrasts in the scholastic trajectories of the panellist there may be a few contrasting opinions within. And doubtless if we spoke to three more academics, we may find some more.
Give yourself space and time to both develop the proposal and refocus on what it is you really want to say. Don’t leap straight into it right after your viva, but let the ideas percolate for some time. Although one speaker advocated writing a book alongside your PhD (if you’re a glutton for punishment and increased work levels!) as a way to get a first monograph out far faster.
Finding the space and time to develop the proposal and write the book is almost certainly going to be a challenge. Especially if you move into a frantic post-doctoral position, or are on one of various short-term contracts. Ideally, try to identify or carve out a good chunk of time when you can devote to focussing on your proposal and book development. How you do this will depend on your lifestyle and authorial habits though – you might want to timetable yourself once a week, or a few minutes every day. You might want to take a short sabbatical to ‘break the back’ of the work, or participate in a writing retreat instead.
The first steps in getting a proposal up and running are often having informal conversations with a few potential publishers. Some may follow up quickly with a more formal application process, while others will be more laid back and see the conversations as a chance to participate in shaping and developing your proposal to best suit their audiences and business needs. Conferences with publisher stands can be a good way to have a number of these informal conversations quickly. However, don’t be surprised if some publishers ‘ghost’ you eventually, even if early conversations were positive – move on to another, more receptive one instead.
Where Do I Go?
Identifying where to submit is important. Not only are some publishers valued more than others by some institutions, selection panels and accreditation processes, but it also matters in terms of reaching the right audiences. Which is why approaching a publisher who publishes a series of monographs which closely match your field and disciplinary peers can be a good approach to take.
That said, aim to work with a publisher where you can see yourself having a good relationship over a period of time. This is crucial because a monograph IS a long term and very personal project, and you will be dealing with these people and their organisation for an extended period of time. Hence, you might want to ask among your peer networks for advice and experience from those who have already published a book about those publishers and their editorial staff with which they have had more positive working experiences. Although hearing some of the horror stories can also be quite beneficial.
Only submit a formal proposal to one publisher at a time. You can have informal talks, as above, with as many as you like, but once it comes to a proposal you need to be engaging and submitting to one organisation alone. In terms of good and ethical academic practices, this is equivalent to the way in which authors should only submit a particular manuscript to a single journal title at any time. Breaking with these conventions is not advised, as along with tarnishing your professional reputation, you may find yourself souring any future relationships with a publishing house.
One good starting point is to always read the guidance on a prospective publisher’s site about how to go about submitting a proposal with some considerable care. Some publishers may be looking for sample chapters, others might prefer a proposal or outline instead, or indeed anything in between. If you are ready to make that formal approach – give the publisher what they stipulate, otherwise they are unlikely to respond favourably.
Legally speaking, the contracts you will be offered will vary considerably in content and clauses, and even at which point in the process they are signed. Some publishers will want to commit you to working with them sooner, while others may prefer to wait until the book is essentially finished. Do read any contract carefully and be ready to discuss any element of it which is unclear, ambiguous or about which you are less than happy with your potential publisher – BEFORE you sign it. However, remember once you have signed on the line, you will have entered into a legal arrangement. So always take time and care before you take this step to make sure you are entirely happy to what you are committing yourself.
Pitching Proposals & Drafting Chapters
In terms of how you make an attractive proposal, aside from selecting a publisher or series which resonates with your own field of interest, for commercial publishers a lot of it comes down to profit, marketability and sales . They will be looking at your book proposal to see if the finished product has a sufficient marketable value and potential audience who will be interested in buying it. Which means your original pitch or idea might not be the final one which is commissioned, so be prepared to redevelop it.
Like any academic writing, getting samples of other people’s work can help shape yours and fit them to a ‘successful’ formula - although be aware there’s no ‘exact’ perfect proposal. Hence, if you can, do try and get hold of other people’s successful book proposals. There will probably be a lot to learn about how they phrased and shaped their pitch to engage a publisher’s attention and interest. If you can apply some of these lessons in your own proposal, it will likely be easier then to attract interest in your own work.
Conversely, strive to make your voice authentic and representative within your proposal and monograph. Having that ‘authorial voice’ is crucial, not least in demonstrating that you’ve got something interesting and original to say. Always write the proposal and the monograph itself like the book you would want to read yourself. This will help make it more marketable, but also ensures it will more readily find an audience. It also makes it easier to make the pitch about why your work is an essential addition to the published discourse. At the same time, do write with a view towards meeting research assessment goals (e.g. the REF), if you want to be career minded and gain the maximum personal advantage from your work.
For those looking to publish beyond the UK, it is important to note that one country’s publishing cultural norms, practices or approaches are not the same as another. Hence, if you are pitching books to publishers outside the UK, or even in non-Anglophone languages, expect the process to vary considerably. For example, despite their geographic closeness even the UK and France’s monograph publication approaches vary to a noticeable degree! Be guided by others who have published internationally, and the advice offered on each publisher’s site.
Monograph endorsements, that is comments or quotes from academics, reviewers or other notable public intellectuals, can be an important thing to have when the book comes towards publication. If you know a significant academic in your field, it may be worth asking them if they’d be prepared to provide some positive text. It will depend on the publisher if they expect authors to find these quotes, or it may be a service they offer. As with all thing, find out when you make your proposal, as you may need to start approaching people long ahead of time – and to make sure they’ve had a chance to read your draft text!
Images are often reproduced in black and white, as it’ll be cheaper for a publisher in terms of producing the physical book. Notably, the quality of the reproduction can be lamentable, even for major publisher, so always check out similar books from them to get an idea for how any images will appear. If high-quality reprographic reproduction of images are especially important for your text, you may need to be more careful in the selection of your publisher, or even consider an online only publisher where colour and reproduction of graphics are less of a cost concern.
Getting permissions for third-party material (images, illustrations, extensive text extracts etc.,) included in your book is important, although some publishers will seek to obtain these permissions for you. However, you may need to be aware there will likely be fees for including some materials, as rights and commercial exploitation of them (which is what a book sold for profit is) means individuals and organisations expect to be compensated in turn. If you, your institution, funder or publisher are unwilling or unable to cover these copyright fees, then you need to be prepared to publish your book without them.
Open Access Books
Finally, and interestingly not something our panellists had much experience in, open access books are becoming increasingly important to scholars. Especially in terms of future research assessment regulations and funder mandates, publishing in open access will increasingly become the norm. The drawback is, for many of the commercial publishers, while they offer open publishing options, they come with ‘book processing charges’ costs to the author/institution in the thousands.
Wow – so much to cover in only an hour. As always if you’ve any thoughts, comments or suggestions relating to this topic, I’d love to hear more from you in the comments below – or drop me a line.
 My thanks to Esther Wright, Aidan Norrie and Clare Siviter!
 Coughs loudly and looks at his own work on Autonomous-Marxism and commodification of scholarly discourse. As long-term readers (or anyone who’s spoken to me) will know, I have strong opinions regarding the commercialised distortion of the academic public discourse. I’ll spare you all from re-iterating them but will direct your attention to the following note  for publishers who may be more willing to consider a text more on its scholarly merits than what it may do for their balance sheet's bottom line.
 Although there are many smaller presses who operate different models – e.g. freemium, patron etc. Hence, publishing open access is possible, without huge fees, but you may need to shop around. Find out more about this on sites like DOAB - https://doabooks.org/ , or have a chat with myself for some recommendations.
May 26, 2022
Don’t worry. Exchanges isn’t about to make a major pivot and set up shop as a full-blown academic publisher. No, the title in questions refers to a forthcoming panel discussion I’ve been asked to chair as part of the IAS’ Accolade programme (Thu 9th June). In a similar vein to the one I chaired a few weeks ago on strategic article publishing, this session sees a small collection of scholars coming along and talking about their experiences – this time focussed on monograph publishing. Specifically, the session’s title alludes to developing a monograph proposal, but I suspect conversations will drift wider than this to encompass the whole publishing journey.
Hence, my hope is that the panel will be able to expose the high and low spots of their publication journeys. I think crucially this will be complemented by an exploration of the initial steps – answering the key question of ‘How do I start?’ for the audience. Naturally, as a journal publisher myself, I’m going to be especially interested in hearing about their interactions with editorial and production staff alike. These might not be the focus of discussions -more’s the pity – but I suspect there will be a few insights or even revelations along the way!
Of course, like the previous panel my hopes are for the majority of questions for the panel to be raised directly by the attendees. I am understandably though also in the process of developing a battery of discussion points to prompt some initial debate. It’s always been my experience in running panels like this that you normally need a couple of ice breaker questions, and perhaps a closing one, to shape the session. Beyond these, I find the audiences are usually willing to drive the direction of conversations themselves. That said, as an experienced panel facilitator, I’m also prepared for a lengthy stony silence from the audience too which is why I like to have around a dozen back-up questions to hand.
Suggestions for any potential questions or topics to put to the panel ahead of the event, are of course always welcomed via all our regular communications channels. Personally, I’m very much looking forward to participating in these discussions, so here’s to a vibrant exchange of insight!