‘But Pam, it’s French history. No-one will ever read it.’

Following up on a series of publishing and writing in academia, we have invited Professor Pam Pilbeam, founder of the Studies in Modern French History Monograph Series at Manchester University Press, to discuss her experiences and insights on publishing monographs. A post which reminds us of the intensity of academic careers and lives.


What was the first book you published ?

The Middle Classes in Europe, 1789-1914: France, Germany, Italy, and Russia (Lyceum Books, 1990)

What obstacles did you have to overcome in order to get it written/published ?

No problem getting it published. Clive Emsley was a positive and encouraging editor, but writing… Twenty years into my career – articles, lots of relevant research and teaching, a super husband and children, but no books.

Three problems – Too much teaching (which I love), terror of reviews, and that I was writing three books simultaneously.

Three solutions broke the deadlock.

My Head of Department, Jonathan Riley-Smith asked me if had the wit to realise that four books would make me a professor, none, and I would struggle to hold my job. (It was the time of ZBB-zero based budgetting.) Within five years, four were finished- and I became a prof.

Another key was the RAE. My department began to give grants and time for research. I worked in over 40 French departments, including all the seaside ones. My husband played on the beach with the 3 children, while I was in the departmental archives. 1830 was finally published- my PhD – only 30+ years late.

Third, my typewriter broke and I found our children’s Beeb* – word processor –  would do more than play ‘Killer Gorilla’. The Middle Classes was written in files 5 pages long. It’s probably my best book.

The fourth book that made me a prof was Constitutional Monarchy, which Macmillan asked me to write. While I was cooking Christmas lunch I asked my mother-in-law (a keen reader of historical novels) to glance through the proofs. At page 37 they slipped from her fingers. At lunch she commented, ‘But Pam, it’s French history. No need to check it. No-one will ever read it. Just send it back’.


When did you get involved in editing the Studies in Modern French History Monograph Series ?

The series began to take shape when I was president of the Society. When Emma Brennan launched it in 2009 Mark Greengrass (Sheffield) and I agreed to be series editors. In return MUP promised to give members of the Society a 35 % discount on books published. Mark and I are responsible for the first nine, five already published including, Helen Davies, Émile and Isaac Pereire, the first to appear in paperback (2016). Four more will appear this year. Note- Maire Cross (Newcastle) and David Hopkin (Oxford) have taken over as editors this year.


What 3 tips would you give young scholars looking to publish their first monograph ?

Make your first sentence count. It should put your central question in an arresting way.

Pay close attention to the advice of your chosen publisher on how to present your application. DON’T expect your PhD to become a book unchanged. MUP offers practical advice on the transformation process, including how to insert context into what may start as a rather narrow topic.

LISTEN and follow the advice of detailed readers to whom the editors may send your manuscript. Don’t waste too much time being offended or frightened by the changes they demand- as long as they think it is publishable.

Above all, research and write on topics that interest you.

Pam Pilbeam


* Also known as a BBC Micro


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