Speaking volumes to the shelf-interested

Getting it Published
December 14, 2001

There is, I assume, only one William Germano. A shame, because any aspiring author who reads this book will probably want him as their editor. However, illicit cloning aside, they will have to settle for his considered advice on the page, rather than in person. That is pretty good to be going on with. He is committed to ideas but clear-headed about business, inspiring but not unrealistic, wise in the ways of publishing and witty about writers' foibles. And - a good sign in an editor - he writes well himself.

Germano's obvious reader is a junior faculty member in social science or humanities in a US university, chasing tenure, trying to negotiate that complex path between a collection of files on the hard disc and a nicely printed and bound volume with an ISBN and a price in a catalogue. But tenure is not the only reason, nor are these the only readers. The point of scholarly books, says Germano, is that they are still the best way to contribute to the "big, noisy conversation" about ideas. With that conviction comes a sense that he has a rare understanding of authors' needs as well as the imperatives of publishing. As a former editorial director of Columbia University Press and now vice-president and publishing director at Routledge, so he should.

He has produced a book that is entertaining as well as useful. It is also admirably comprehensive, taking in the entire process from finding a publisher - or an editor - dealing with reviews of your proposal, and reviewing a contract, to delivering your manuscript and understanding what happens to it on the way to print. And there is advice on negotiating the pitfalls that may appear if you want to edit a collection or an anthology, or produce a book dense with film stills or song quotations.

On every count the advice - which applies as well in Britain as in the United States - is concise, pointed, and encouraging. It is all easy enough to explain: this is not rocket science, after all. But it is a pleasure to find it explained so well. Some mysteries remain. How come, bearing in mind Germano's advice on titles (describe the subject: lure the reader) Routledge brought the world's readers Donna Haraway's Modest Witness@Second Millennium: FemaleMan©Meets-Oncomouse™ ? We will never know, though it certainly conforms to another piece of German(o)ic wisdom: "a copy editor cannot make a badly written book sound like a work of great prose". Come to think of it, that one has a particularly hideous cover, too. Ah well, maybe there would have been a happier result if this book had been around at the time.

As it happened, I sent a proposal off to a university press just before this book arrived in the mail. I am optimistic, as authors are: but I still wish I had read Germano first.

Jon Turney is head of the department of science and technology studies, University College London.

Getting it Published: A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious about Serious Books

Author - William Germano
ISBN - 0 226 28843 9 and 28844 7
Publisher - University of Chicago Press
Price - £22.50 and £9.50
Pages - 191

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