I first pitched my forthcoming book, History, Policy and Public Purpose: Historians and Historical Thinking in Government as a full-length monograph in the standard post-PhD manner.It was Jen McCall (now Global Head of Humanities, Scholarly Division and Publisher, Theatre & Performance at Palgrave Macmillan) who suggested I rework the proposal as a Pivot. Having resolved initial (and unfounded) anxieties about REF-ability and appeal for the job market, I took on the challenge.
Jen’s discussion of the Pivot format, reblogged here, explains Palgrave’s rationale for the short-form monograph. I would certainly agree about the benefits of a fast, efficient process for getting timely scholarship ‘out there’. For me, however, three other reasons have come to the fore and may be worth considering for other authors.
Introducing chapter abstracts clearly identifies the composite parts of your broader research. Each abstract is another chance to reach potential readers, who may not otherwise have seen the relevance of your book to their interests from the title or a cursory look at the jacket. For me this was important as the book doesn’t sit neatly in a particular historical specialism, but occupies a space at the intersection of political history, historiography, policy and government, sociology and organisation studies (with a smattering of anthropology, philosophy and even astrophysics!). If a few political scientists venture in on seeing there’s a chapter on the policy process, then I’ll consider that a win. The chapter abstracts make that more likely.
The e-book format is also attractive, and not just for the price (£35.99, significantly less than many monographs). It also ensures that the book can ‘travel’, available in a range of countries without the need for appointed distributors. The United States and Canada were important markets for me, with institutional historians employed in federal and state government and a debate about the connection between public policy and public history that is due a revival. The option of immediate download makes sharing and discussing scholarly content on a global basis as easy as it has become for other types of writing.
My book’s at the top end, size-wise, of what’s possible for a Pivot. The manuscript came in only just under 50,000 words, but having an absolute word limit is a helpful discipline. Don’t see it as a standard book stripped down (a ‘monograph minus’), but almost as a genre in its own right. You have to think carefully about structure and make hard decisions about content, but I think this helps rather than hinders (admittedly I did have a little last-minute editing to do to sneak under the barrier). Maybe it’s that it focuses your mind on your key audiences and what they need to know, consider and understand in order to follow your argument. But it also gives you a certain license. It’s a format that probably lends itself to work that takes a line, that aims to provoke, encourage debate, set out a new field of enquiry or reframe a problem.
It’s too early to know if the format will work for me – I guess I’ll know soon enough. But I would encourage authors to consider it – it might just shake up our preconceptions of what academic publishing ‘should’ look like, and why and for whom we write.