Governing Fables: Je Regrette Beaucoup

Working on the sequel to “my” 2011 book Governing Fables brings to mind two major regrets I have about that book: first that my co-author did not receive proper credit and second my choice of publisher. I will explain.

The Unacknowledged Partner

When I was writing about public sector innovation for two decades prior to Governing Fables, my wife Beth Herst served as my editor. Beth has a Ph.D. in English literature and has been a playwright. When I completed chapters of Governing Fables, she felt that with her knowledge of narrative theory she could improve on my work. She started reading the texts and doing research of her own and, indeed, the published book was different from and better than my draft. She should have been listed as co-author.

I did not list her because at the time of publication I was engaged in a grievance at the University of Toronto seeking salary equity for management faculty at University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) with colleagues at the Rotman School of Management. I thought that being listed as sole author of a recent book would improve my chances of succeeding in the grievance. It had not an iota of impact and the grievance did not succeed. But it did create a personal grievance on Beth’s part. Consider this post a recognition of the validity of her grievance and my apology.

The Wrong Publisher

When I began working on Governing Fables I received a strong vote of confidence from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), which ranked my project seventh among 140 applications. Because Governing Fables would be about narratives texts on US and UK politics, I looked for a US publisher. Several top university presses rejected the proposal. They acquire manuscripts in a limited number of areas, and political narrative did not interest them.

At that point I approached some publishers that had established book series and delegated editorial decisions to an academic serving as series editor. The academic editors for both Georgetown University Press (which had published my 1998 book Innovating with Integrity) and the American Society of Public Administration were interested in my proposal, but after discussions it became clear that both editors wanted a different book than the one I was proposing to write. I then approached another academic, also a friend, who was editing a public management series for a startup publisher, Information Age Publishing. The editor accepted my proposal without preconditions. We submitted our manuscript in 2010, the series editor accepted it with minor revisions, and it was published in 2011.

Four years later, things got weird. I had not received royalties or even a statement of sales from the publisher, so I asked the series editor what was happening. My email bounced back. A quick online search led to the horrifying discovery that in the interim he had committed a truly heinous crime, for which he will be incarcerated for the rest of his life.

Apparently the publisher had decided that, with the series editor permanently out of the picture, he had no obligations to authors who published as part of that series. To this day, I have never received statements of sales or royalties. The publisher sells Governing Fables, a 291-page paperback, for $39 US and hardcover for $73 US. It is not available as an eBook, though I recall that the University of Toronto negotiated temporary eBook availability through its library for students using it in my courses. Based on my experience, I strongly discourage my academic readers from even thinking about publishing with Information Age!

What we Should Have Done

With the benefit of hindsight, we should have listed Beth Herst as co-author and published with a British or Canadian publisher that would priced it more reasonably, provided an eBook, and respected its authors enough to provide sales statements and royalties. Canadian publishers that come to mind are University of Toronto Press and McGill-Queens University Press, both of which I have published with, and University of British Columbia Press. British publishers include Routledge and Palgrave Macmillan.

What we Can Do Now

We regard the publication agreement I made with Information Age as null and void, because Information Age, by not reporting sales and paying royalties, did not meet its obligations. My co-author and I are therefore free to pursue publication of our intellectual property in other formats.

We would differentiate our edition of Governing Fables from the previous by including a foreword. In it, we would look back at what we wrote a decade ago from the perspective of the book we are completing now. I think that the analysis in Governing Fables is still valid, and I wouldn’t want to rewrite it. Rather I would show how Governing Fables led to the books and articles about political and managerial narrative that Beth and I have written since then. We would also include excerpts from some of its reviews, which were excellent.

We would then publish our co-authored second edition of Governing Fables, either working with another academic publisher, or using the corporation we have created for consulting services as publisher. If we did the latter, we would distribute the second edition online at a nominal price.

Right now, our focus is on finishing the current book. After that, we may decide to take this action so that we no longer harbour these regrets about Governing Fables and increase its profile and readership.


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