Prioritising in a Publishing: Trade, Impact, and Monograph

Working in publishing can feel a little like spinning plates. You’re madly dashing from plate to plate trying to keep them all in the air with some plates needing more attention than others, and learning which plates need that extra tlc is a very important part of the job.

I’m going to be making this post into two parts, due to the fact that the length is getting rather out of hand. We’ll use this first one to explain how publishing helps me decide what to prioritise using examples from the wonderful Oxford University Press, who publish around 6000 titles a year across Academic, Education, and English Language Teaching. This means that as marketers we have to know where to put our money and which audiences to target when we spend it, and how to correctly harness the free channels that we use to get our books seen by the right audience. With academic publishing your looking at a much smaller marketing budget, or no budget at all for some books so harnessing organic social media reach and email is vital.

Fortunately, in Academic at least, they’ll tell you which books you should be spending time on and pushing to your audience. These classifications have names, Trade, Impact, and Monograph, and we use them to explain what market we’re aiming for when we’re marketing the book e.g. monographs are usually bought by libraries and researchers rather than the general consumer. I’m going to try my best to explain how we use these classifications in my department, and give you just a few examples of each book to shed a little light on academic marketing.

  • Trade – If a book is classed as trade it will appeal to general audiences, and a layman should be able to pick it up and easily digest the content. We only publish a small amount of these per year, when compared to our monograph list anyway, and they are priced more accessibly as they’re likely to sell well. These will be the only books that get a publicist from the get-go and are the most likely to be reviewed by journalists. Subjects that typically fall into this category include biographies, military history, politics, and some philosophy books alongside the Oxford World Classics and Very Short Introduction series. Here are a few examples:
    • Escape Artist: The Nine Lives of Harry Perry Robinson: This book exploring the life of Harry Perry Robinson has wide appeal. It’s written in an accessible voice, it’s the first on the topic, and the man himself was present at some rather significant events. He was the only journalist to cover WWI in its entirety and was present at the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, so you can see why this one would appeal to a wide audience.
    • Being Evil: A Philosophical Perspective: This Philosophy book is short, priced accessibly, and written about a topic that usually intrigues us all. Being evil engages with philosophical thinking and psychological evidence behind the concept of ‘evil’, and includes examples of evildoers from real life and fiction. It’s perfect for fans interested in true crime, which is rather popular at the moment, and so has a more general appeal.
    • Our Time has Come: How India is Making Its Place in the World: So this politics book is trade because it combines a timely topic with an important author. The book discusses India’s explosive economic growth, its effect on other global powers, and the clashes between past policies and future goals. The author, Alyssa Ayers, is also a draw here as she is a leading specialist when it comes to South Asia, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and served as US deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia.
  • Impact – These books are what I like to describe as “crossovers” an academic monograph with trade potential. These books are often written by a well know academic, or about a subject that would appeal to a general audience but are often still quite niche. An impact book will be more widely marketed, and because of the crossover potential is much more likely to get media attention when compared to a monograph. The audience for these types of titles is a little harder to pin down, and these are often the books that will appear on our social media and take center stage in our newsletters.
    • The Voices of Nรฎmes: Women, Sex, and Marriage in Reformation Languedoc: This book exploring ordinary sixteenth- and seventeenth-century women’s lives is written by historian Suzannah Lipscomb. The book itself is definitely an academic offering and is very detailed (and very good btw), but the main reason this one lifted from monograph status is that name. Suzannah Lipscomb has worked on many a television program alongside her academic achievements, and so has a ready-made audience for her book before we even start marketing it.
    • The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke: So this biography of Alain Locke won quite a few awards back in 2018, including Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the National Book Award for Nonfiction. It’s award-wining scholarship so you’d think it would be trade but nope, this wonderful title is an impact book! This is a great example of the “crossover” where award-winning scholarship meets a really fascinating subject.
    • Book Parts: So I’ve included this one because it’s a great example of accessibly written scholarship, I know because I started reading before I had to give the copy up to the Wall Street Journal (the books sold out real fast and I was reading the office copy). This title explores the history of the book, looking at everything from the frontispieces to the endleaves, and has a really appealing tone that makes it a fascinating read.

I could say even more, there are reference titles like the Oxford Handbooks series and higher education textbooks that get categories all of their own, but we’ll leave it at that for now. Not all academic publishers will follow the same format as good ol’ OUP, and trade publishers usually stick fairly close to, well, trade books unless they have an academic arm (think Bloomsbury and Palgrave Macmillan) so this is not all-encompassing. Trade books and monographs are often, but not always, trying to do something different too. A monograph is a showcase of skill and high-level scholarship by an academic and is often used to advance their career, a trade book on the other hand is trying to bring that scholarship to a more general readership and both are valuable.

Well, this is getting rather long, and I’ll talk more about how exactly I prioritize my workload in part two, but I hope this sheds a little light on how trade, impact, and monograph books work to help me! I’ll go into how I actually prioritize my workload next month in part two of this post, so please keep an eye out for that one.

Work Experience Diaries:
Work Experience Master Post | Inside Story | Vintage | Seren | University Wales Press 
First Month Publishing Update | Three Month Publishing Update
Six Month Publishing Update | One Year Publishing Update 
When to Quit: Publishing Update | Two Years in Publishing 
Publishing Editions: 
Publishing Skills | Dealing with Rejection
Remote Interviews | SYP Podcast ft. Me | Making a Sideways Move
Imposter Syndrome | Q&A video with Me
Work in Publishing Week: Fave Posts

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