Sociologists and their publishers. Jim Clark, editor and publisher of Erving Goffman, Harold Garfinkel, Herbert Blumer, Talcott Parsons, and Robert Bellah, in conversation with Mischa Gabowitsch

Mischa Gabowitsch

Jim Clark (born 1931) was director of the University of California Press from 1977 to 2002. Before that, he worked as acquisitions editor in the social sciences at Prentice Hall, a large educational publisher, and vice president of Harper & Row, a major publishing house that later became part of HarperCollins. As an editor, he has worked with over 800 authors of books in the social sciences. The interview was recorded in Princeton, NJ, in June 2008, by Mischa Gabowitsch, editor-in-chief of Laboratorium and lecturer in Princeton University’s department of sociology, and revised by Clark and Gabowitsch in October 2008.

Mischa Gabowitsch How did you become a publisher of social science books?

Jim Clark After obtaining my BA in Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1960, I briefly worked as a waiter, then started selling college textbooks for Prentice Hall in northern California: Berkeley, Stanford etc. The job consisted of calling on professors and suggesting books we published for use in their courses. We also scouted for authors who were writing books that could be used as required textbooks at their and other univer­sities.

In those days, at least in the academic world, publishing was an author’s market. There were relatively few standard textbooks that held the basic markets. Helen Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, Leonard Broom’s and Philip Selznick’s Sociology, Paul Samuelson’s Economics. But a new generation of faculty and students were filling the colleges and universities, introducing new approaches to teaching and learning. In the mid- to late 60s, new campuses were opening almost every month at the University of California, and enrollment figures were soaring. So we were looking for the authors whose works would supersede the older generation of textbooks, sometimes breaking the mould of the standard classroom text. Prentice Hall had a paperback series called Spectrum Books, which would publish most of the authors I acquired. Strong departments such as Chicago, Columbia, or Berkeley largely dispensed with standard textbooks anyway, but junior and state colleges created a market that was large enough to sustain hardcover introductory textbooks, but also fuelled demand for paperback titles to supplement those standard works.

At that time, Berkeley had the best sociology department in the country. Many sociologists from Chicago had moved to Berkeley in the 1950s and in turn recruited other important figures, making it the place to be. Erving Goffman, Phil Selznick, Marty Lipset, Reinhard Bendix, Bob Bellah, Nat Glazer, and Neil Smelser were the stars at the time. Herbert Blumer, a sociologist from Chicago and a specialist in the philosophy of George Herbert Mead, was the architect and force behind this transformation of what had been called the “Department of Social Relations” into one of the greatest departments in the field. Herb was a great man―not much of a book writer, but very influential in the field. (I finally did get a book out of him: Symbolic interactionism, perspective and method, published in 1969.)

But what really made me decide that I wanted to publish books in sociology was reading Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. After that, I essentially stalked Goffman in an effort to publish his next book. I would see him going to class and ask him what he was writing, I would send him books that we published, ask him to recommend authors, and even sat in his class on social psychology. Just to get rid of me, I am sure, he finally did tell me about a project he was working on. He was organizing a collection of pieces from a handful of contributors, including Harold Garfinkel. For whatever reason, Garfinkel did not deliver his paper quickly enough, so Goffman decided to publish his part of the book separately. It was entitled Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identities. He said I could have it if I wanted but had to give him a decision within thirty days. Perhaps this was in part because this manuscript would have been hardest to sell to Doubleday, which had published Presentation of Self and Asylums. He wanted no advance and asked for no special conditions.

MG So Stigma replaced what was originally going to be a collective volume? Who else was to be in this collection?

JC Harvey Sacks and Emanuel Schegloff were among the other authors, and one of them, not Goffman, was probably going to be the editor. The overall topic was deviance.

Stigma was accepted by the editor in New Jersey and went into production. The project was supervised by Peter Grenquist, the head of Spectrum books, Prentice Hall’s paperback series that published most of the sociology books I acquired. Peter talked to the marketing department and was told that they could not sell a book called Stigma. Goffman was asked to give it a more “descriptive” title, such as “Homosexuals” or “Cripples.” He replied: “Mr Grenquist, there is nothing that you have that I want”. Peter did not understand what Goffman meant and said: “That’s not the point, if we could come up with a more descriptive title… .” Goffman interrupted him and repeated: “There is nothing you have that I want”. The third time he said this, his meaning was clear: You have no leverage with me, the title is Stigma. If you do not like it, give back the manuscript and I will go to another publisher.

MG So he didn’t like the experience of working with his publishers?

JC No, he didn’t mind it. He just knew what he wanted. The more prominent the author, the more commercially successful the project will be. And the less the publisher does for the author.

MG Would you have liked to edit anything in the manuscript?

JC No. I wasn’t going to tell Goffman what to cut out. He wanted the manuscript to be published just the way he wrote it. I was the type of editor who goes out and finds authors, not so much the kind who goes over a manuscript line by line.

I was then after his next book, which was on gambling. He would drive up to Reno to do his research and gamble. Eventually he told me that he wanted a Jewish intellectual New York editor to publish his next book. Not being any of those three things, I was out of the race.

So, as I kept publishing sociology books, I would see him from time to time, but not as his publisher.

MG When you published Stigma in 1963, it was a great success. Was this exceptional for a sociology book? Did it change the way sociology was perceived in the publishing world?

JC The impact was important. Out of the dozen or so books Goffman wrote, it is still the second most popular, next only to Presentation of Self. Since 1963, Stigma has sold over 800,000 copies. Goffman’s public success was perhaps rivaled only by that of Peter Berger’s books, especially The Sacred Canopy. Such books contributed to the transition to paperback publishing in sociology. Among more mainstream sociologists, Reinhard Bendix was also commercially very successful.

I was lucky to publish Goffman, since he could have chosen any number of publishers. Presentation of Self and Asylums had already come out with Doubleday.

MG It is a very significant book, not just in the US. For example, Goffman is popular in Russia.

JC He was an impressive man in every way—a man of small stature, but handsome and always immaculately dressed. He presented himself along the lines of his writings. In many ways he lived his thoughts, which made him a very complicated man to deal with. He was in control of most any social engagement. That I had read his book seemed not to matter a whit to him when we first met. For all his difficulties, he was truly the most gifted observer of human behavior that I have ever met, a master of observing social in­teraction. He would go into a coffee shop in the morning and see four or five guys sitting around a table, taking turns at telling a joke or story. He knew what was going on. While being told, the stories held the group together, so they would not have to face making the first sales call of the day—an anxiety I knew very well. Goffman would see all this—others just saw some guys having coffee.

His behavior could be outrageous and unpredictable. The sociology department had a softball team, most of whose members were Jews. When Goffman drove up to a game in his beautiful classic Mercedes Coupe, he was asked why he had a German car. His answer was that he wanted a car with seats made out of his relatives.

As I look back on the experience of working with him, I realize how fortunate I was to have been in Berkeley in the 1960s. Knowing Goffman and other major figures in sociology was the best way to learn what was important in the field.

MG So the success of Stigma was what got you promoted to sociology editor at Prentice Hall?

JC That and many other things. Have you ever heard of Alan Dundes? He was an anthropologist at Berkeley, an amazing man—in some ways the Goffman of folklore. I did have a reputation for finding good manuscripts, so the president of Prentice Hall’s College Division, Howard Warrington, came out to work with me. He was the son-in-law of the company’s legendary founder, Richard Prentice Ettinger. I took him to see Alan Dundes. Dundes had an overwhelming personality. He would describe his project with force—leaning over his desk and in your face. The more Dundes spoke about his project, the more intense and animated he became.

The president was a very quiet and reserved man who was quite conservative. I was afraid I had made a terrible mistake when I brought him to hear Dundes talk about his Freudian interpretation of Jack and the Beanstalk or Little Miss Muffet’s sexual orientation. I thought: There goes my chance to be promoted to sociology editor. But when we left his office, the first thing the president said was that he liked Dundes and that his project sounded like one that would sell. And it did: We published the book—The Study of Folklore—and 40 years later it was still in print. I did become sociology editor and had the chance to publish the books that I cared about.

MG What about your work with Harold Garfinkel?

JC I met Garfinkel after Goffman urged me to go to UCLA to see him and get him to deliver his paper for the collective book on deviance, which never came together.

MG You displayed an unusual level of commitment for a publisher.

JC I liked him; he really was a thoughtful, engaging and interesting man —different from Goffman and easy to be with. I would go and sit with him, and he would say that the piece he was writing was just about finished, but some legal issues had to be resolved regarding the identity of the transgendered person who was the subject of the article. It was the famous “prick paper”: a before-and-after ethnographic account of one of the first male-to-female sex change operations in the United States.

MG Why did he never finish the paper? Was there substantive disagreement between Goffman and Garfinkel?

JC They were doing different things, but each respected the other. I think he was concerned that his text should be the best he could make it. He did not want to introduce his ideas until he was sure they were presented in the best possible way.

Eventually we decided that what he should do is publish his own book on ethnomethodology, a new approach he introduced in the field of social science. But the way he described it left me with no better understanding of the concept than I had before he started. (He has a unique and wonderful way of waving his hands in unison in describing his work. In fact, a number of his students picked up the habit, and you can tell that they worked with Garfinkel by the way they move their hands in a circular gesture when talking about their work.)

In a Herculean effort, I kept going back to Los Angeles to spend time with Harold and hear about his progress. Finally, I said: “Just give me the manuscript!” Mimeograph machines were still used in those days, leaving crossed-out words, smudges etc. He gave me a stack of mimeographed articles, and at first I was not sure that they made up a book. How wrong I was! It proved very easy to get outside reports saying: “Harold is a genius―publish this!” The book was published and has been an important work for over 40 years.

I saw him after the book came out, to great success. I said: “I must tell you, Harold, that I have truly enjoyed spending time with you over the past five years, but I must admit that I am not sure I really understand what ethnomethodology is.” He replied: “I know, but you have been a very good listener.”

MG How much of the book’s success was due to you?

JS I was right about Harold’s manuscript, but publishing is not rocket science. If you are lucky, you will publish enough good books to cover the losses from the unsuccessful ones. Dan Davin, a publisher at Oxford University Press, said that publishing is a wonderful career because after you leave or retire, you are remembered by the good books that you published, those that live on. Fortunately the many marginal and bad books do not mar your reputation, because they have all been remaindered. The saying in publishing is that you are a great editor if out of three books, one makes money, one breaks even, and the last one loses money.

MG Still, we have you to thank for the Studies in Ethnomethodology.

JC Yes. Garfinkel would have got it published eventually, but of all the books I really cared about, this was the one I probably helped most to get published.

MG In the introduction, he writes: “I regret a certain unity in the collection that was obtained by pondering and rearranging texts.” It looks like you are responsible for that unity. You said you did not alter the manuscript of Stigma—did you work on the text of the Studies in Ethnomethodology?

JC No, I just published what Harold gave me.

MG Did you ever attempt to give authors input from a publisher’s perspective and ask them to incorporate it in their manuscripts?

JC Sometimes I did help an author think through some of the muddles in the first draft and better organize a manuscript, but I do not think that I was much of a substantive editor regarding content.

Since I retired from the University of California Press, I spend a lot of time with first-time authors helping them prepare and revise their manuscripts and then find the right publisher. I now probably do more to help these authors than I ever helped the Goffmans and Garfinkels.

MG When you would see a manuscript, you would just be impressed by the sociological work? You never thought: “What do I have to do to make it sell better?”

JC Certainly not with Goffman or Garfinkel. Goffman wouldn’t have let me―but anyway I liked what he wrote.

MG But Garfinkel wasn’t as much of a star at that time as Goffman.

JC Not so much a “star”: that was his first book, and he was already a full professor. But within an important group of social scientists he was a very significant figure, and still is. With the publication of the Studies in Ethnomethodology, Garfinkel went from being a cult figure known to a select few to being the creator of a whole field of social inquiry.

MG You published these two famous books, and many more, and yet you say you were very noninterventionist. This is very different from my own experience as an editor, and it even knocks down some of my assumptions about an editor’s role in working on a manuscript.

JC That’s because you are a scholar and intellectual. I’m not. I have a BA in psychology from Berkeley and I started out selling college textbooks. But I loved to find talented people. I did help them improve their manuscripts by providing them with critical reader reports and being sure that the manuscript received the kind of copy-editing they needed. And, as I said, there were authors whom I did work with in detail. One of them was Bob Blauner—his book took 15 years to be realized since it consisted of a series of interviews recorded over ten years with the same informants—black and white—on matters of race. Finally, it was edited down to a 500-page book and appeared in 1989. It is still in print. I also published Neil Smelser and Howard Becker. But when I was sponsoring 25–30 books a year, there was no way I could spend much time on each title.

It seems to me that the most valuable service that the editor and publisher can provide is to the author who has the least power in the relationship. The author who really needs the service that a publisher can offer—starting with encouragement to complete a project. Helping transform a rough draft into a presentable manuscript, and producing and promoting the book to the advantage of the author is what a publisher can feel proud of doing. Publishing is a service function that places the author’s ambition at the center of the mission and, as the term indicates, makes a work public.

MG Let’s talk about your experience at different types of publishing houses. You worked at Prentice Hall and Harper & Row—two big prestigious publishing companies, then you went on to an academic university press. How were they different?

JC I could have stayed at Prentice Hall and maybe made more money, but I was more interested in ideas and interesting people. At Prentice Hall, you were taught that there was no difference between selling toothpaste and selling textbooks. The point that was made clear upon employment was that you had to sell more books each year than the previous year, or you should find another kind of work. Our ignorance of what it was that we were selling had many unanticipated consequences. A colleague once called on a Nobel Prize—winning physics professor at Berkeley, Emilio Segrè. When the sales rep asked the professor if he was working on a manuscript, Segrè said, yes, indeed he was: he was editing the papers of Enrico Fermi. When my colleague asked who Fermi was, Segrè—who had studied with the world-famous physicist in Italy—rose to his feet, pointed to the door and said: “Leave!” We all had similar if less dramatic encounters due to our limited knowledge. To go from the office of an economist to the office of a chemist took not only courage, but also a—very thin—understanding of what each of the disciplines were about.

After my initial successes, I was given a lot of authority at Prentice Hall, allowing me to go out and sign a lot of books and convince management that they should be published and would make money. Even as the local representative, I could negotiate contracts with the authors and came to understand a lot about publishing that I would not have learned at another publisher. I learned to “explain” royalty rates and the marketing of books in competitive situations.

MG How much did Goffman get?

JC He got a very modest rate, 10% of net. That would mean that on his paperback book, he got 10% of the publisher’s actual revenue, or about 10% of half the selling price of the book. When the selling price of a book is 10 dollars, the store pays the publisher 5 dollars. On a “net” contract with a 10% royalty, the author would receive 50 cents. I don’t know if he got much more than that with Doubleday. With Free Press he did; those were hardback books and Free Press in those days was the pre-eminent publisher in the social sciences, publishing all the major sociologists. Jerry [Jeremiah] Kaplan founded the press and made it into a major social science house. He did know talent. He had gone to Harvard but had dropped out and decided he wanted to start a publishing house. He was a great publisher, but after a few years he sold the Free Press to Macmillan and became an executive with the company.

MG If you compare Prentice Hall and all the commercial publishing groups with a noncommercial university press like the one you directed, is there any difference in the way they treat authors, the way they see their business?

JC Absolutely. In 1969, after quitting Prentice Hall, I went to Aldine, a little publishing company in Chicago that produced e.g. Howard Becker’s books. I was called associate publisher, and the only other person in the company was the publisher! So there were two of us working on the manuscripts. Milton Friedman was one of Aldine’s sponsors (and authors). He kept coming and asking: “When are you going to make money?” I don’t think we ever did.

Then I was offered a job as the textbook publisher with Harper & Row. I knew nothing about markets and budgets in my first years there, but eventually I became vice president and ran a 20-million-dollar operation—the college textbook division. I made 75,000 dollars a year, with a bonus of up to 40,000 dollars—in those days, this was so much money that it allowed me to buy several houses in California. But I was basically an administrator, responsible for hiring and firing and budgets. So when the directorship of California University Press became vacant after August Frugé retired, I applied for the job even though it meant a 40% salary cut, because it gave me a chance to get back into editorial work. I never regretted it. At a university press, you work with academics, with reviewers who have the final say on whether you can publish your book or not.

MG How much leeway does that give the editor?

JC At a university press you are part of the university and must have the approval of an editorial committee made up of faculty before you can publish a book.

The process of selecting a manuscript to publish starts with the acquisitions editor. All manuscripts are peer-reviewed. If a manuscript is approved in the reviewing process, the next step is to devise a publishing plan—costs, marketing etc.—and then, if approved within the press, the manuscript is presented to the editorial committee for approval. If approved, it is published; if not, it is rejected.

MG Are there no other options?

JC If the manuscript is good but would profit from another round of revisions, the committee may encourage the author to revise and resubmit. A manuscript that I remember as having a complicated road to approval was Habits of the Heart, by Robert Bellah and others. This was an unusual kind of sociology, and it attracted some criticism on the editorial committee, but in the end its members agreed with our decision to publish in spite of their reservations. The book went on to be one of the most important and successful books ever published by the press.

MG Once again, you did play an active role.

JC The editors at university presses do more of the kind of work that I never did on Goffman’s manuscript. At the University of California Press I was much more involved with manuscripts and working with authors.

MG Even as director? How typical is that?

JC Usually a director is involved in both the publishing process and administrative work. The director typically works with foreign publishers to buy the rights to publish their books in the US. At University of California Press, I mainly worked with British publishers, competing for US rights with other American publishers, both commercial and scholarly. Buying rights and going to the Frankfurt Book Fair was an important part of my work—unlike at Harper & Row, where it was more about management and sales. But I still worked with authors, which gave me the greatest pleasure.

MG Let’s go back to your time with Prentice Hall. I have compiled a list of sociology books published by Prentice Hall in the 1960s. Would you like to comment on some of them? For example, I notice a great number of compilations published by some of the most famous sociologists of that time.

JC Some of them were initiated by the publisher. For example, I met with Amitai Etzioni to ask his opinion of my idea to publish a series on ethnic groups in American life.

MG This was your own project?

JC As editor, you talk to a lot of people and ask them what should be published. If you uncover a common theme, you look into it and try to make it happen.

Alex Inkeles was the editor of a series called Foundations of Modern Sociology—a series of 100-page books each written by an outstanding sociologist on an important topic in the field. The idea was that a teacher could use several of these small books as basic textbooks for an introductory sociology class.

I had already signed up several authors for this at Stanford, and when I took over sociology, I worked with Inkeles on the rest of the series.

Talcott Parsons was the author of one of these books. He was supposed to write a small book on social theory. Inkeles was at Harvard at the time, and after reading Parsons’s manuscript said it was too advanced for freshmen, but it would have been awkward for him to mention this to Parsons. He told me to read the manuscript and go tell Parsons what he had to do to make it useful for an introductory course.

I must have read the text five times. Finally I came up with the idea that if Parsons could provide examples to illustrate his theory, the students would understand how it could be used. I went into Parsons’s office to meet the great man, and said: “Professor Parsons, I’ve read your manuscript several times, and I think it is a sophisticated piece of work. But we are trying to reach the freshman student, and I think I have a suggestion that may help move the manuscript in that direction. Adding some concrete examples could help the student understand the application of social theory to matters of society”. He looked at me and said: “Mr. Clark, that’s just the point. I do not want examples in my manuscript. It’s a work on theory, and if you use examples, that ties it down to specifics. That’s not what I want”. I said “Thank you”, and we published it just the way it was.

MG And was it a success?

JC It did OK. It probably sold thirty or forty thousand copies. But those were days when books were selling for .95, and students were buying them. Today, an introductory sociology textbook costs 80 dollars.

MG Why are sociology textbooks so expensive now?

JC First of all, they have evolved in a multimedia direction, and now come with tapes or DVDs. Secondly, nowadays a textbook does not last longer than 18 months. That’s why it is a wholly different business now, and I would not go back into textbook publishing. The publishers invest a million and a half dollars and have to recover the money in 18 months. So they charge 80 dollars per copy. I remember when we broke the ten-dollar barrier for an introductory sociology book. That was a big deal.

When I was at Prentice Hall, we always tried to publish a textbook that could compete with Broom/Selznick, which sometimes sold 200,000 copies a year, replacing Kingsley David’s old-fashioned Human Society (1949). We never managed to produce anything that could directly engage it, only supplementary ­titles. For example, I worked with Marcello Truzzi on a Goffmanesque reader entitled Sociology and ­everyday life, which had a promising table of contents but was somewhat dreary to read.

But the decline of sociology textbooks really started in the early 70s. The 60s were the period of glory—every year there were more books. Then students just started getting dumber—they were rebelling against formal authority in education and being told what to do. So they stopped buying books. They went through an anti-intellectual phase. When I went to Harper & Row and “inherited” Broom/Selznick, I watched print runs fall from 200,000 to 100,000 and further. So publishers started thinking about how to publish less demanding books that would pander to this new generation.

There was also a whole period of plagiarism. One company, an old textbook imprint called Appleton-Century-Crofts, decided it would take best-selling textbooks such as Broom/Selznick and hire writers and academic advisers to “write around” them, preserving the structure and content but dumbing it down, to produce a new product that would compete directly with the “target book”. When our authors notified Harper & Row of one such case of plagiarism, a textbook on deviance, we sued and won the case—but only because Prentice Hall had bought Appleton-Century-Crofts and did not know enough to shred ­incriminating notes that explicitly said “This manuscript is too close to the target book, we have to revise it”. We had the documents subpoenaed. We got ,000,000, but most of it went to our lawyers and the authors. That lawsuit alerted everyone to the concept of “managed textbooks”, and the practice stopped.

MG Inkeles’s series seems to have been produced for the new generation of students you described. Did the initiative for it come from the publisher?

JC Yes. The first “Foundations” series at Prentice Hall was in biology, with individual books dealing with cells, organisms, plants etc. It was very successful, and the publisher wanted to replicate its success in other fields. Most of these series were produced out of Yale. Sociology was one of the later programs, and for a while, I was allowed to work as sociology editor from my base in California.

MG Were you the only person responsible for sociology at Prentice Hall? Did everything published in sociology cross your desk?

JC Usually, yes. David Matza, David Schulz, Don Gibbons—I worked with all of these. But when Prentice Hall bought Appleton-Century-Crofts, it acquired titles I never worked with, such as Richard Sennett’s anthology Classic Essays on the Culture of the Cities.

I also “inherited” a number of books. I enjoyed working with Bernard Rosenberg on a revision of Mass, Class, and Bureaucracy. I also inherited New horizons in criminology by Harry Elmer Barnes and Negley K. Teeters, first published in 1943. Barnes was a big name in the 1940s and 50s. I also worked on a revision of Ralph Turner’s Collective Behavior.

MG As an editor, did you ever initiate revisions between a first and second edition?

JC Yes, because I had to make money. If a book was in print a number of years and needed to be updated, we would work with a successful author like Turner to do a revision. In this case his co-author, Lewis Killian, did not want to do this, so Turner did the second edition by himself.

MG Was this based on feedback from people who used it in classrooms?

JC Yes. We would ask teachers who were using the book to write up a plan for how the book should be revised, and give that to the author to help in his revision.

I also worked with John Lofland on his first book, Doomsday Cult. This was the first study of the “Moonies”, Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. It was a revised version of the dissertation he had written under Goffman. Goffman was not much of a nurturing teacher, but he did like dissertations that related to his own work.

Another interesting author was Lewis Coser. He was a wonderful man, an old-school European intellectual. He and his wife Rose Laub Coser were both first-rate sociologists. He produced a big book on social theory for Harcourt Brace. Then he had an idea for a book that would use literature to teach sociology. The book was turned down by a number of publishers until Prentice Hall took it up. It turned out to be a great success, although as a supplement, it never directly challenged Broom/Selznick (Sociology through literature: an introductory reader).

One interesting book I worked on at Aldine was Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places. The author, Laud Humphreys, was a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis. For his dissertation, he studied gay liaisons in public restrooms in a park. He sat in the parking lot, and when men went into the bathroom, presumably to have sex, he wrote down their license plate numbers. Through their license plate he would find them and interview them on some pretext, say, on voting behavior, but really to find out who they were. This raised holy hell on ethical grounds.

MG Do you find sociologists generally easy to work with?

JC Not all. Before retiring, I helped an editor sign up an ethnographic study for which we only had a manuscript written in a foreign language, against competition from two other publishing houses. The author proved so difficult that we had to terminate the contract, and he took the manuscript elsewhere.

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