University presses

University presses have lost ground in recent years. Many are facing declining sales figures and reduced financial backing from their host institutions. In the current Chronicle of Higher Ed, John B. Thomson suggests “Survival Strategies for Academic Publishing.”

Coincidentally, I’ve been asked to give a brief talk at the annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses in Philadelphia today about the ways academic publishers can use the Internet — and existing blogs, in particular — to inform potential readers about new titles.

The crucial first step for any publisher is to have some sense of the blogger’s tastes. The last thing you want is for her to cringe when she arrives home from a long day of work and finds an envelope from your imprint sitting outside her door.

(Publicists at some mainstream imprints may think they’re helping their authors by unleashing a torrent of chick lit upon me, and tossing in promotional undergarments emblazoned with the title of the season’s hottest new Helen Fielding rip-off. But I never read Bridget Jones. And it will hail snowballs in hell before I decide to read the same story regurgitated in a lesser form seven years later. It’s true what they say, incidentally: the covers really do feature martinis or handbags, or come-fuck-me pumps, or martini-sipping, handbag-toting, pump-wearing cartoon characters. If you’re really lucky, the characters will be standing under the moon with the Manhattan skyline behind them.

Fortunately, when I leave the books in the hallway outside my apartment, the would-be Tori Amos of the building takes the whole pile and spends less time trilling on a microphone in front of her keyboard. So everybody wins. I think she takes the undergarments, too.)

Contrary to popular perception, offerings from university presses range far beyond dry academic treatises. Sometimes they even restore forgotten titles to print, as the University of Chicago Press recently did with a couple of Peter De Vries’ novels.

More when time permits.


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