Publishing isn't doomed 1

May 1, 2008

Once again, I read with wry amusement a number of academics telling academic publishing houses how best to do their job ("Publish and be ignored", 24 April).

When I worked as a commissioning editor for an academic publisher, I never felt qualified to academically critique the book proposals that landed on my desk. I didn't know if the authors should have quoted Foucault rather than Derrida in their seminal study Gr8 Xpectations: A Cultural History of Texting. My job was simply to understand the likely market for such a title and to use my experience to develop the proposal appropriately.

This experience came from years of analysing the success of titles after publication and all the variables involved. It was hard-won expertise - I witnessed fascinating books I had commissioned die horribly, and I got carried away by an author's enthusiasm for a project rather than calculating how many copies libraries, lecturers and students would buy. I soon learnt, painfully, that potential authors are often the worst people to estimate how well their book is likely to sell.

Just because Virgins of Venice unexpectedly catches on doesn't mean that a companion book on the Carmelites of Colchester will fly off the shelves. I admire the professionals who still work for academic publishers, as much as I admire academics, but I also respect their unique and different skills.

Stuart Hay, Walthamstow.

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