ask a scatterbrain: book series vs. general sociology

A reader asks:

Given the choice, is it better to have a book published by a publisher who would place the book in a series (edited by scholars from a related discipline, not sociology), or one who would place it in the general sociology list?    Assuming the presses are quite comparable in terms of reputation and the contract terms are similar, etc.  — which would you choose and why?

5 thoughts on “ask a scatterbrain: book series vs. general sociology”

  1. I’ve been told that “general” is often better, because the book doesn’t get pigeon holed. However, I’ve seen some truly outstanding series.

    Here’s some random thoughts:

    – Is the series edited by people who will likely develop it into a well known part of the catalog? Or will the series fizzle after one or two titles?

    – Has the series produced some high quality titles?

    – Will the editors get you high quality reviews that will help you make it into an excellent book?

    – Has the publisher dedicated the time to publicize that series?

    – What does your target audience think of the series? For ex, Cambridge has an excellent series in networks, which is usually not a “booky” area.

    If you get positive answers to most of the questions, then series is fine.

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  2. In my particular case, I don’t think the series mattered much at all. It was a way for the editor–who wanted the book–to categorize it in a way that let him “sell” it to the press’s board. Speaking personally, I don’t think I really notice the series one way or the other. What matters is whether the press will market it to generalists.

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  3. I’d recommend that you focus on the specific series editors. Do you think your interaction with them will improve the final manuscript? Do you think that they will function as capable advocates for the book and your future work after publication? If you think so, go for the series. If not, there is nothing to be gained above a stand-alone monograph format.

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  4. My significant disclaimer is that I know almost nothing about the academic book market. But I do know something about mainstream book publishing, and my instinct is that the answer to this depends not only on the virtues of the series and its editors, but also on a realistic appraisal of the potential reach of your book.

    For a book that has the potential to break out to a relatively wider audience (even still within the confines of academia — so, say, one that might get picked up in non-specialized courses), I can see how the “pigeonholing” Fabio talks about would be a concern. This is for two reasons: people who could assign (or review, or cite, or read) your book might not think of it as relevant to their topic when it is; and for books that are already high-prestige, I think there’s an added prestige benefit to seemingly transcending disciplineary categories.

    But for how many academics is that a realistic concern, rather than wishful thinking? And if it’s not, and the alternatives are having a press put NO resources into promoting your book vs. having a series bring some publicity and review-garnering efforts, however limited, then I would think very seriously about being part of the series.

    And now let me repeat that this advice reflects things I’ve observed in the non-academic publishing world, and might not really fit the tradeoffs authors face in academic publishing.

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  5. My own sense of this is that what you are trying to accomplish from the series is the same thing that you are trying to accomplish from the press. That is, you want people to associate your work with other works produced by that press/in that series. If the series has great works that everyone has read in it, this is your way of affiliating your book with these. Same with the press, although I think we have discussed here before that–outside of the top few–there is little consensus about which presses are considered higher status than others.

    That would mean that if you are in a tippety-top press, the series is not important unless it brings you a new audience outside sociology. If you are not one of those few top presses, an esteemed series is an excellent way to catch the attention of people in your field.

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