Saturday, July 19, 2008

The political tome as a university press niche

Here's an interesting trend I've found at university presses -- many of them publish tomes from politicians in their home regions, whether memoirs or prescriptions for political change. The first time I noticed it was during a wonderful visit to the University of Arizona Press when Senator Dennis DeConcini: From the Center of the Aisle was in press, written with Jack L. August. Then this season, while I've been working as Chair of the 2008 Centennial Book Fair at the National Press Club, I was pitched Fritz Hollings's new book Making Government Work from the University of South Carolina Press, written with Kirk Victor. Ten years ago the University of Illinois Press published a recently discovered memoir by legendary Senator Everett Dirksen (the Dirksen Senate Office Building is named for him).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Late to the wine party

Well, after that last post I did a search on the University of California Press so that I could call an editor to talk about wine, and I found this L.A. Times article instead. It seems as though I stumbled on a story that has already been news... instead of taking down or editing the post, however, I'll let it stand and do a follow-up interview with the editors.

Making wine scholarly (or making the scholarly popular)

A new title from the University of California Press caught my eye this month, Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink. Cal has a small industry going with its wine titles, for this year it also offers a revised edition of The Wines of Burgundy by Clive Coates, and I counted at least 30 other wine titles from past years. (NB, many university presses have regional publishing specialties).

Wine seems to work for a number of other fine UPs: just this year alone Cambridge University Press offers Grape vs. Grain: A Historical, Technological and Social Comparison of Wine and Beer by Charles Bamforth; the University of Nebraska Press will bring us Corkscrewed: Adventures in the New French Wine Country by Robert V. Camuto in November; the University of Georgia Press will serve up Pioneering American Wine: Writings of Nicholas Herbemont, Master Viticulturist next February; and Oxford will pour the second edition of Wine and Conversation by Adrienne Lehrer that same month.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Yet another reason to love university presses...

... is this quote from Yale UP Director John Donatich in Publishers Weekly for June 30: "...a midlist author at a trade house can be a star for us." Yes! Fantastic. And precisely the reason that I sometimes encourage academic authors who seek a wider audience, and who are thinking of jumping to one of the respected trade houses, to re-consider certain university presses.

Think about it this way. 35,000 copies at a major trade publishing house is respectable but nothing to issue press releases over. Although not every top author sells in the millions (and you'd be surprised how many books on bestseller lists only sell in the mid five-figures or slightly above), 35,000 books usually means "midlist," which is another word for "fine, but no guarantee of a publishing future." Depending on where you publish and what the book was, it's either just solid, so-so, or the dreaded kiss.

But at a university press that same 35k is just wonderful. Many UP books only sell a few hundred copies, so authors cracking 5,000, let alone breaking into the five figures, are stars. Of course the discussion may come back to money again (it usually does). It's true that literary advances (if they come at all) can be . . . well . . . "modest" is a polite way to put it. But there are ways to structure the contract so that you do well if the book sells. I have often observed that book sales and subsequent royalties are more under the author's control than most are prepared to admit anyway.

Go down the list of bestselling authors over the last twenty years, and you will find person after person who took exceptional responsibility for their own book promotions, their own speaking engagements, their own careers. Fluke bestsellers do happen, but the majority are more often the result of hard work and learning how the book business works. (Don't believe me? Then read John Bear's aspirationally titled The Number-One New York Times Bestseller. It's a roster of authors who made their own magic.) That "magic" can happen at a university press just as easily as it can at a trade house, since there is nothing stopping the book from breaking out from either source.

The Publishers Weekly article celebrates Yale University Press at 100. Who knew (I didn't) that it is the home both of the classics Life With Father (1936) and A Long Day's Journey Into Night (1956). Happy centennial!