Friday, January 8, 2010

Know Your Editor: Susan Ferber, Executive Editor, American and World History, Oxford University Press

Randall Stephens

[Cross posted at Religion in American History.]

I liked it when the AHA met in NYC last year. Better yet, this year it’s in sunny San Diego, a nice break from the cold, snow, slush, and raging swine flu of New England. (And I forgot to bring my wetsuit.)

I spent part of Thursday reconnoitering the area and meeting with various friends in the profession. I also
had a chance to sit down with Susan Ferber, executive editor, Oxford University Press, and pose a few questions about publishing.

In the video embedded here I ask her about what she looks for in a proposal and what she thinks about the recent boom in religious history. I also ask her about the matter of converting a dissertation into a book. I was reminded of a piece that appeared in the Chronicle nearly two years ago: “Goodbye to All That” by Rachel Toor. A former editor, Toor summed up a meeting she had with a friend who wondered how her dissertation would fare when submitted to a press:

Wanting to be helpful, and, since I was no longer an editor constantly on the prowl for potentially promising manuscripts, I gave her my honest opinion: Who would be interested in a book like this?

I pointed out that, even in the way she described it to me, she was using coded language, jargon that would be a big flashing red light to warn off anyone outside of her particular academic discipline. What publisher, I asked, was going to want a book on a topic unknown to most people, especially if there was no underlying argument or theoretical framework?

Ultimately, what I wondered was whether anything in the dissertation was worth turning into a book.

I'm not always the most fun lunch date.

True enough. Ferber’s remarks, by contrast, are positively cheerful. So take heart, your dissertation may have a ready audience as a book. Just think carefully about readership and how best to frame your argument.

1 comment:

Chris Beneke said...

Terrific interview. Thanks Randall and Susan. Going to share with friends and colleagues.