The Editor’s Place

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A category of publishing which has seen growth in recent years, as readers struggle to make sense of the world around them is the area of political books. How can we explain the degree of political upheaval we are encountering, from Brexit to the populism of Donald Trump? One example of a bestseller in both the US and the UK is Fire and Fury, by Michael Wolff, about the Trump White House. The hardback, published in 2018, sold over a million copies in the American market.

To explore the reason why some biographies by or about politicians are more successful than others, and to help publishers consider the range of factors that may impact on their commissioning decisions, Alison Baverstock and Jackie Steinitz seek to establish a range of likely influencing factors and to combine them in a formula (presented very much tongue-in-cheek). Although they do not claim that the formula has universal relevance for biography-commissioning, or that it is a fully tested approach, they do hope that it offers a useful checklist of considerations that might be thought through before the risk of publication is taken.

Partly as a response to the Twitter hashtag #thanksfortyping, a group of scholars at Wolfson College, Oxford organized a conference called Thanks for Typing, held at the History Faculty, University of Oxford, in March 2019. Karen Christensen presented a paper based on a book she is writing about two famous literary widows who began as teenage typists: Sophia Mumford and Valerie Eliot. Her article explains the relevance of this topic to the history of writing and publishing and suggests some ways in which we may need to rethink the contributions that other people make to the works we produce.

In a paper on literary prizes, Zoë Chatfield argues that new prizes are established when people feel disenfranchised by the status quo and seek validation through a legitimate cultural prize. In the case of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, a group of women felt underrepresented by the most prestigious literary prize in Britain, the Booker, and so established a prize with a new order that actively worked to represent women. She produces data to show that, in response to the arrival of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, both the shortlisted authors and judging panels of the Booker Prize gained greater female representation.

The article by Alenka Kepic Mohar sheds light on how modern technology has changed the materiality of educational textbooks. Publishing studies, book history, and the media rarely pay attention to textbooks, owing to their prescribed characteristics and dependence on the educational system. Textbook analysis is primarily an educational studies topic: it usually focuses on issues relating to content, as well as teaching and learning methods. Based on the assumption that textbook visuality is a field of meaning which requires different bodily movements, postures, and engagement with the physical environment to produce cognitive processing, the article sheds light on how the body adapts to the changed materiality of textbooks.

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