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The saga of an 11th edition….

Over the past several months, my co-authors (Alan Gitelson and Robert Dudley) and I have been working on a major revision of our American Government textbook. This will be the 11th edition, and our first with Oxford University Press. Among the major changes is the way we are approaching the treatment of public policy in a book that focuses on the institutions and political dynamics of American government. In the previous 10 editions we included two chapters at the end of the book focused on domestic and foreign policies respectively. The problem is that in the normal semester most instructors (including yours truly) end up cutting those two chapters due to time constraints.

In this new edition we are integrating short policy discussions (mini chapters?) after each major chapter, with the idea of leaving it up to the instructor to decide how to make use of those “Policy Connections” (PCs) Since I had primary responsibility for the two dropped policy chapters, I assumed primary responsibility for these 3000 to 4000 word Connections.

The new configuration is a bit of a risk in a market filled with books that vary very little in form. But one of the benefits of working with OUP is their willingness to allow us to try something different. We initially started with Houghton Mifflin — a class act among publishers, with one of the best political science editors at the time (Jean Woy) in overall charge. In a sense, Jean’s goal was to rebuild the political science offerings from scratch, and she had a three book approach regarding American government that (for the most part) succeeded. Led by Alan Gitelson (the order of authorship for Dudley and me was decided by a coin toss), our task was to put together a basic textbook that would work in the lower end of the college market –a paperback text that could be used in community colleges lieu of the more elaborate and sophisticated productions that brought in the big bucks at the larger state institutions. As it turned out, our first editions did well in the broader market, and even gained somewhat of a foothold in the expanding AP offerings.

Originally the plan was for our text to go through a new edition every three years, but we have actually ended up on pretty close to a two-year cycle (in addition to the 10 formal editions, there were a couple of “revised” in the mix). The big adoptions of the early editions were not repeated, primarily because of the continuous shake up of publishers. HMCO, for instance, purchased D C Heath as a “defensive move” when it looked like it was about to be taken over, and in the process several additional American government books were added to the “list” (including a best seller by James Q Wilson) and we soon became just one among many that the company marketed. Eventually we ended up as part of Cengage, and after a couple of editions under that imprint (actually Wadsworth) it became evident that our book was hardly an afterthought — one among so many that it was clear that the 10th was likely to be the last.

Facing that reality, the three of us decided to ask Cengage to release the rights to future editions to us so we might pursue an alternative publisher — one that was small enough to give our book the attention it was not receiving from Cengage, and yet willing to invest in the effort at future revisions. Much to our surprise and delight, the political science folks at Cengage were willing to do so, and while the process took a long time as it processed through their legal offices, we eventually obtained those rights. While we waited out the formalities (which took months), we received permission from the Cengage folks to market the book to alternative publishers. A number were interested, and each of them would have been fine.

It turned out our timing was perfect in two respects. First, in a scenario very similar to the HMCO effort headed by Jean Woy, OUP was launching its American government textbook line and (following the suggestion of its sales people who happened to stop by Alan’s office) we submitted a proposal to Jennifer Carpenter, the executive editor at OUP overseeing the development of the American government textbook line. For us, the advantages of OUP were obvious, for while the other publishers we spoke with were focused on publishing merely a revised update of the 10th, OUP was willing to consider the kind of reshaping and reconfiguring we thought ought to be done. Moreover, there is the advantage of a first rate imprint — the OUP reputation for publishing quality books is obvious. And yet despite that reputation, they are actually operating (editorially) at a scale closer to what we encountered in the early days at HMCO.

The second “timing” factor emerged a few months after we had finalized the rights transfer and started to work on the 11th edition. Cengage declared bankruptcy, and while in the long term this was a matter of financial strategy, the process would have frozen all assets — including all contracted rights. In short, we would not have been able to get those rights back for quite a few years, and thus would not have been able to sign with OUP or anyone else….

At this moment we are finalizing the drafted revisions, and OUP’s schedule has the book ready to go to the printer immediately after the 2014 midterm elections — and thus be ready for adoption for spring 2015 term classes. We are certain that OUP will do a terrific job marketing the book — and they will do so by highlighting the revisions as well as offering the book at a reasonable price.

That said, I have several other projects going (don’t ask) and the workload is likely to consume whatever plans I might have had for a summer break…. Still, very excited that the 11th edition will prove worthy of the efforts we (and OUP) are investing in it.


April 10th, 2014 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments