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Pickering & Chatto is a London based academic publisher. The company has been responsible for a number of new textual editions for the library market in the last 15 years. I hope that many readers will be familiar with some of our editions. In our Pickering Masters series we have published among others The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, The Novels and Memoirs of William Godwin, The Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin and The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley. We are seven volumes into the twenty-one volume Works of Thomas De Quincey, the first comprehensive annotated edition which is poised to eclipse the 110 year old Masson Collected Writings. We also publish titles on Victorian literature, eighteenth-century studies and women's writing. Other subject areas include British history, history of economic thought and history of science.
It is worth underlining what goes into one of our Pickering Master editions. They commonly include a general introduction, a chronology, introductory notes or headnotes, footnotes or endnotes, textual corrections from previous editions, textual variants, a bibliography and consolidated index. In general the editorial content is much higher than most of the paperback classic editions. For example the Selected Writings of William Hazlitt has, on average, fifty pages of endnotes per volume.
Our editions can be seen to stimulate the need for single volume student editions. Prior to the publication of The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, Frankenstein was the only novel of Shelley's to be kept regularly in print. Now most of her novels have paperback editions and more than one in some cases. We have also recently licensed the paperback rights to Broadview Press on a number of our titles, which they will publish in a tailored form.
We have an ongoing commitment to new critical textual editions. We have recently announced the Selected Writings of Leigh Hunt, The Works of Daniel Defoe, and further writings by Mary Shelley. We also have a number of proposals under review as possible additions to the Pickering Master series.
It is becoming harder to sell critical editions. This is obvious from the number of publishing houses that still attempt thorough editions. We have been subject to the same shrinking library budgets that have affected the monograph. Our print runs are reducing and the commissioning process is becoming more cautious.
Inevitably, we have to base our publishing decisions on good financial sense. The biggest problem we face is cashflow. An eight volume reset edition can cost an enormous amount to produce and market. Most of these bills are payable prior to or within a couple of months of publication. We receive no money prior to publication. We are committed to selling a high quality product; therefore our options on cost-cutting are limited. The key issue is can we sell enough?
Can We Sell Enough?
Roughly speaking we need to commission titles that have a likely lifetime sale of over 300 sets. This may sound like a small amount but it is a tough task when it is likely that there are fewer than twenty UK libraries that regularly purchase our editions.
There are a large number of factors that need to be looked at before a new Pickering Master edition is commissioned. We need to know what has been done before and if a critical edition exists. If one does exist we need to know how many libraries hold it and in what regard the academic community hold it in now. We have to ask whether a library will be prepared to purchase the new edition to sit alongside the old edition. We need to assess the impact of any single volume selections or well edited editions of the subject's most important works that are already published. We cannot leave out the most important work in an edition but there may be no scholarly reason for a new edition either. In some cases there may have been no new edition for over a hundred years but a more recent facsimile reprint of the original edition will reduce our potential market.
There is a danger that interest is localised. Our market is internationally based and generally thinly spread. Our best markets are America and Japan. It is unlikely that we would commission anything that did not have good prospects in these markets. We aim to get as many views as possible from the academic community. We also closely monitor the frequency of references to the figure appearing in monographs, articles and conference papers. It is the world-wide academic community we have to convince of the need of a new edition. They are the consumers and the decision-makers on our editions. An editorial board that is prepared to evangelise the need for a new edition through articles and conference papers can make a major difference to the success of an edition.
Composition of the Editorial Board
Undertaking a critical edition is an enormous amount of work. Therefore it is usually sensible to add volume editors to the one or two General Editors who run the project. A General Editor's role is to make the text selection, ensure consistency of approach across the edition and write the General Introduction. It is important to us to have the involvement of the most senior academics associated with the figure. It is also important for us to have academics who have enough time to devote to the edition. We actively seek to have an internationally based academic board, to reflect our market.
We still have a large number of possible names that we are considering treating with critical editions. In fact we have just announced our largest ever project—The Works of Daniel Defoe in forty-four volumes. We are breaking the editions into more manageable sections. This should do three things for us: The cost to libraries is spread over a longer period; the workload on our academics is more bearable; and we receive income earlier, making our cashflow easier.
If you are thinking of sending a proposal to us, please do consider submitting your work as camera ready copy. We have just started publishing some author CRC projects. Although a greater burden falls on the academic, it can make the difference to a project's viability.
In conclusion, we cannot get too involved in the dilemmas of budget allocation, but we would benefit a great deal from the academic and library world taking a longer-term view in deciding whether to purchase our editions. Buying one of our titles may be the result of the short-term requirement of a few academics in a department. But the result is a long-term benefit to the library. Critical editions do not go out-of-date over the period of a few years. All our Pickering Masters (The first of which, The Works of Thomas Robert Malthus, was published 1986) are still in print. They should have a shelf life of a hundred years plus. A library purchasing one of our works has acquired an asset that will not depreciate for many years hence, unlike a monograph, journal or on-line subscription purchase.