Three years in the making of a useful text

May 28, 1999

Publisher Moira Taylor recalls the trials, tribulations and triumphs involved in the creation of The English Studies Book .

Rob Pope was an obvious choice as a textbook author because of his reputation as a passionate and experimental teacher and his track record as the author of a Routledge-published book, Textual Intervention . Textbooks are long-haul projects and require stamina and writing skills as well as teaching prowess. A typical response to Rob's first draft of The English Studies Book came from Susan Bassnett: "As an external examiner I was constantly impressed and often astonished by the extraordinary quality of the written work that student's on Rob's courses produced. He is an inspiring teacher."

Preparatory market research had already been undertaken by commissioning editor Julia Hall. My job was to keep the author "warm" through the difficult stage of advancing towards the first complete draft, arrange the review process and project-manage the book in-house to maximise its editorial, marketing and sales support.

This began for me in mid-1995 with Rob on sabbatical in cold wet Dunedin, New Zealand. As a New Zealander born and bred, I could understand why he wanted to scale mountains, walk in the bush and drink new-world wines rather than write a textbook, but somehow we had to arrive at a complete draft by March 1997 in order to publish in March 1998.

For me the first milestone was having enough material to begin a text design so as to assist Rob in imposing a structure that he could then follow, allowing interconnection between the book's parts. The first part would establish the historical framework in which to view the new English studies - valuable for students and hard-pressed teachers searching for ways to establish new courses. Part two would introduce major theories in old and new criticism and included worked examples, further activities and cues for discussion to encourage students and teachers to use theory and to play with it. Supporting this was the eclectic anthology of texts, ranging from early English laments to the latest rap poetry. And connecting with all of these parts was the dictionary of critical and literary terms.

Once Rob had established this structure the writing process became clearer and I could begin to set up readers for peer review. These came from all the potential markets, the United Kingdom, Europe, the United States and Australasia.

Rob delivered his first draft in late 1996, typically staying up all night to do it and falling unshaven into Routledge at noon, triumphant, exhausted and hungry. It was almost twice the contracted length of 100,000 words. It would have to be pruned drastically. Readers, warned, could assist in the cutting and were very cooperative. I could also begin the nightmarish process of acquiring permission to publish the diverse range of anthology materials.

The readers' reports galvanised Rob. First they were almost universally supportive. UK readers wrote pages of constructive comment that helped him to reduce, refine and focus his text. Most were amazed at the variety and quality of material. Although Rob was afraid it might alienate more conservative English teachers, as one reader said: "Even the traditionalists will respond positively to the flair, range and imagination."

The final revised script was delivered in March 1997, a year before publication. Because the book was not a straightforward "horse for a course" there was much discussion about how to pitch it to the market: introductory language and literature students, MA students, teacher trainees and even foreign students of English. The reps sold it into bookshops and to academics via campus calls. A four-colour leaflet was mailed to thousands of potential buyers several months before publication, and advance copies of the book were sent to organisers of introductory courses in English studies early enough to examine it and adopt it on upcoming courses. It was advertised on the Routledge website with a link to Rob's website at Oxford Brookes. Finally, the perfect launching pad was offered by John McRae, who was convening a conference, "Interfaces: language, literature and culture", for international teachers of English at Oxford in March 1998. Rob was a guest speaker.

First-year sales have been extremely encouraging. Already market feedback is accumulating and processes are in place for planning the book's second edition, which will update and adapt the content. The book is achieving its potential to deliver good teaching techniques and new raw materials for textual analysis. It also carries new insights to the present generation of English students, some of whom will become a future generation of English teachers. I think it was well worth the effort.

Moira Taylor is textbook development editor, Routledge.

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