Build It and…Will They Come?: Innovation & University Publishing, Part 4

The university thinks we’ve got a good thing going, and is going to let us go ahead with this new project? Now it’s time for the hard part.

Finding authors willing to produce new and innovative books is going to be tricky, as I mentioned before. Given the enormous role that the traditional monograph plays in HSS tenure and promotion decisions, it’s unlikely that junior or mid-career faculty are going to want to risk their future employment prospects on an unproven medium. If they aren’t sure that publishing minigraphs counts in some significant way to their next step on the career ladder, they’re not going to make an effort that could jeopardize their future. Continue reading

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An Exercise in Strategery: Innovation & Academic Publishing, Part 3

So this is going to be an exercise in speculative strategic planning, of trying to guess what people want, at what times, under what conditions, and how we, as publishers, can satisfy these demands.

Now, this might be a bit rough—I wouldn’t recommend starting any businesses off of this or anything—and is very much me thinking out loud, more trying to think through a few issues and obstacles rather than create something I could pitch to investors or the provost.

I’m also going to take the point of view of someone primarily trying to find a viable way of publishing minigraphs in both print and electronic formats. While there are other interesting, and perhaps viable, formats for distributing academic content—ereader and tablet/mobile device applications, for instance—minigraphs have a pedigree and a sort of familiarity to our core audience that more novel media might not. If even trying to publish short books on a significant scale, rather than mostly long books on a slightly smaller scale, is a radical idea, one likely to encounter resistance and without an established place in the academy, then who knows what trying to find acceptance for these more radical formats might involve. This is a bit of a “if this works, we can try something a bit more adventurous next” exercise, a potentially workable first solution to a very real problem. Continue reading

Serving (at least!) Two Masters: Innovation & University Publishing, Part 1

Sometimes, the blogfodder arrives all at once—and if you’re lucky, it arrives during the Press’s slow summer season. Wouldn’t you know it, but I’ve been very lucky indeed.

University presses everywhere, I’ve been told, are in crisis. Revenues are declining, nobody is reading our books, libraries are spending more of their shrinking budgets on science/technology/engineering/medical (STEM) journals than humanities/social science (HSS) books, print is dead, the tenure track is dead, and the university’s catering services didn’t provide enough coffee to your last editorial committee meeting. And the fact of the matter is, almost all of those are true (except for the last one—we order extra!), or, in the case of the death of print, are at least “common knowledge.”

Not everyone buys this crisis—or, at the very least, buys that it necessarily means the death of the university press. Continue reading

An Education for Academic Writers, Part I

Every writer has their imaginary audience, even if their real one is (like most of us) just friends, people linking to pictures you’re hosting, and parents who wouldn’t actually be interested in what you’re writing about if anyone else wrote it.* Mine is usually my grad school self and his colleagues—people who discuss insane things over wine and coffee after lectures, who have absolutely no clue about why people aren’t interested in what we study, and who labor under more than a few delusions about how this whole “publish or perish” thing works. Continue reading

Copyright Law for Philosophers

Or “Please, for the love of God, don’t get us sued; their legal department is bigger than our press.”
Intellectual property law is a gnarly topic, one that, seeing as I’m not a lawyer, I shouldn’t even be playing with—but, since keeping the Press from getting sued is part of my job, I do anyway.  Figuring out who owns how much of what where and for how long is about the greatest international cluster@#$€ ever, and, if you screw it up, you get to settle it in a neutral country that’s a whole lot closer to the foreign publisher you were supposed to get English language rights from, but only got the US rights, so when your book got sold in Canada via a Michigan-based wholesaler . . . Continue reading

Peer Review: It Ain’t That Hard, People!

No, really, it isn’t.  I swear, though, if there were a university publisher equivalent of College Misery, bad peer reviewer stories would keep the place running.  All we want is a 5 page, double-spaced book report—and the first page or so is pretty much padding.  Any of your grad students could do this.  Heck, you ask more from them when they do lit reviews.  Is it really too hard to read a book in your obscure specialty (we picked you for a reason, after all!) and toss off an undergrad seminar paper on it?  It would take you a weekend.  You’re an expert, this should be easy—otherwise, we wouldn’t ask you to do this! Continue reading

The Dungeon Master’s Guide to Manuscript Evaluation

Yes, it’s time to break out your 2d4 and make profession checks (academic author), because we’re going to play the geekiest RPG ever—Publish or Perish.  It’s finally time to divulge the secret formula we use to evaluate your manuscript.

Well, okay.  It’s only secret because we’ve never thought to publish it in three core rulebooks (plus innumerable supplements) with lovingly rendered pictures of elves in chainmail bikinis.  That’s all quite beside the point though, amirite? Continue reading

The Marketing Department Strikes Back: Post-Approval Bingo!

Well, the marketing and managing editor’s revenge is here: all the little things that make a day “special.”  Before anyone asks, no, neither of these bingo cards are based on specific incidents or people (although a few more egregious examples do stick out)—not much point in waiting for something unique to happen again.

Plus, I’m pretty sure the really interesting incidents are covered under the publisher’s code of omertà.

Same rules as the last one apply, only now it’s the acquisitions department’s turn to pay—their just reward for inviting all these unique and highly valued people to publish with us.

Slush Pile Bingo!

The end of summer: new froshmenki show up for orientation, grad students pose as older siblings to mooch free food, and professors send us proposals for the books they’ve spent all summer working on.  Oh, and the whole acquisitions department comes back from vacation at the same time.  Suddenly, the term “slush pile” is depressingly literal.  Why suffer when you sift through endless manuscripts?  Grab an intern and a bingo card and start sifting through those stacks!

Each row of five—horizontally, vertically, or diagonally—earns you a coping mechanism at the local tavern courtesy of the marketing department.*

*Marketing people, don’t worry, your version is coming.  Acquisitions people, start saving your beer money now.