AAUP University Press Week blog tour comes to an end. We’ve had fun reading all the other presses blog posts from various individuals on “Why University Presses Matter.” Don’t forget to check out author Catherine Allgor’s post for University of Virginia Press
Jennifer Horne, editor of Circling Faith and All Out of Faith tells us “Why University Presses Matter”
University Presses: They Make Books Better
Why publish with a University Press?
Information cannot become knowledge until the vast amounts of data with which we are inundated every day are selected, analyzed, interpreted, and stored in that wonderful package we call a book. It takes a well-coordinated team to produce a book for the ages, something that won’t end up in the recycling bin at the end of its six-month shelf life.
As someone who has worked as an editor at a university press and who has also been on the other side of the desk as co-editor of two volumes published by that same press, I know that experience, quality, and continuity are the primary reasons for publishing with a UP. To begin the process, the acquisitions editors often have decades of experience among them, and the editorial team that handles the book is expert at bringing a manuscript from typed pages to thoroughly copy-edited, checked, illustrated, and proofread text. Working with the editing department is satisfying but not always fun—and that’s actually a good thing. For the sake of the book, editors will ask you to get back in there and reframe or revise: to consider something you’d overlooked, or find the phrase that elevates a passage from adequate to eloquent.
Production managers keep a book on schedule and on budget. Designers, to paraphrase William Morris, know how to create an object that is both useful and beautiful. Finally, the marketing team at a university press knows their list and their book reps, is familiar with the specific conferences at which books should be available, and can actually be reached by phone or email, within a day. At the head of it all, press directors typically have a great deal of experience working with university presses; many have graduate degrees and are familiar with the academic world as well as the business sector. The publishing staff at a UP does not change with the seasons but provides a stable and cohesive environment for the creation of meaningful works.
At their best, university presses combine the sensibility and nimbleness of traditional small presses with the institutional resources of larger commercial publishers. These days, UPs must pay attention to the bottom line, but as non-profits they answer to deans or provosts, not shareholders. Asking whether a book will have a market is another way of saying “Is this book needed?” and university presses are uniquely situated, with the reading process of having manuscripts vetted by experts in the field, to answer that question from both a scholarly and a trade perspective.
Whatever form books take, from scroll to codex, Gutenberg to mass market paperback, e-book to some yet-to-be-developed nanotechnology that bypasses the eyes and goes straight to the cerebral cortex, the serious, sustained work of thought and writing needs an advocate, and university presses fulfill that role, splendidly. In short, university presses make books better.
Jennifer Horne is a former managing editor at the University of Alabama Press and the co-editor, with Wendy Reed, of Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality (2012) and All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality (2006), both published by the University of Alabama Press.