24x7 Editing

Assessing market goals

Category : General
Date : October 31, 2013

For three summers, graduate student Peter Wade labored in the main library at Mount Athos, the famous theocratic republic of Orthodox monks. Through a fluke of kinship, he has been given unparalleled access to this cache of treasures and has made a discovery that caused quite a stir at a recent annual convention of historians of science. His revelation: that a brilliant monk named Loukas, studying the unique flora and fauna that thrive on the Halkidiki Peninsula – at the easternmost promontory of which Mount Athos is situated – arrived at scientifically accurate theories of heredity and evolution decades before Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel.

Drew Hanson – an acquisitions editor at the University of California Press – hears Wade’s presentation and approaches the dias afterward. Wade’s dissertation has already been completed and accepted by his committee, and editors from Yale and Harvard are courting him with book deals. The next morning, Wade and Drew meet for breakfast and commiserate over the conundrum facing the first-book author in twenty-first-century scholarship. On the one hand, Wade sees Brother Loukas as a case study the challenges the hegemony of western culture over the history of science in the late pre modern era- he wants to “take on the establishment” and believes that the book, properly revised, could get reviewed nationally in the media. On the other hand, he’d like to find to tenure-track job within that same establishment, and the rigors through which his dissertation committee just recently put him have made him think twice about his brasher aspirations.

Drew observes that undermining Western bias in the history of modern science sounds like a career-long battle, in which the Brother Loukas story may be but the first volley. Drew draws three concentric rings representing three possible audiences that Wade might reach with this first book.

The inmost circle-historians of science, perhaps fifteen hundred worldwide-could be reached without much revision. The book would get good coverage in the relevant scholarly journals. Wade would be surest of his tenure prospects and could undertake future research projects with greater intellectual freedom. In University of California Press parlance, the result would be a special interest title.

The middle circle extends the narrative’s appeal to scholars in related disciplines-biologists, medical specialists, scholars of Byzantine culture, and so on-plus a smattering of educated lay readers. To reach this audience of three to five thousand, Wade would make his book more accessible, most likely a straight intellectual biography. The book would be reviewed widely, and the resulting press could work for or against Wade’s tenure aspirations, depending on the politics of his department. At California, we’d call this a midlist title.

The outermost circle would embrace the segment of the educated general public interested in the topic, as many as ten or twelve thousand readers. Wade would need to imbue the biographical narrative with vivid character descriptions, a compelling plot, and colourful evocations of the subject’s cultural milieu. This ambitious rewrite might expose Wade to negative comments by conservative reviewers in the specialized journals, but it might also open many doors. UC Press would get fully behind the book as one of its front list trade titled.

A few weeks later, Wade decided he’d like to attempt a revision of the manuscript that shoots for the middle ring, the midlist plan. He’d be inclined to sign a contract with California if-all other terms


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