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

Book Advice from a Nonexistent Bookstore

Now that Newman Books is closed, DC doesn’t have a really good philosophy/theology bookshop. Okay, granted, Newman’s selection could be pretty spotty at times,* and Kramerbooks can be surprisingly good,** but that’s beside the point for those of us who want our critical Latin editions of Ockham and Scotus, 5 different translations of Augustine, more stuff on the Reformation than most stores devote to religion, or a whole section on Aquinas. We want our bookstore, complete with people who know a critical edition from a public domain Latin version. It’s something you just can’t get from Amazon—well, along with the feeling you get from not sending money to Satan’s minions—and will be sorely missed.

But. But! I’m gonna give you the next best thing: a series of lists (what is this, Buzzfeed?) of books worth reading on any number of philosophical*** topics, complete with caveats, explanations, and my own opinions, which are completely right and you should never question ever because they’re right. Some of these are syllabi for imagined courses I’ll never get to teach, but have always wanted to—a few of them I’ve been developing since reading Plato’s Republic, scarily enough—while others are just “look, don’t read bad translations like I did, try these instead.” It’s advice I’d give to hypothetical customers or students, written up in a big ol’ binder at the front of the store that you could whack me over the head with when you disagreed with something I said.

You don’t get the binder, but you do get my opinions. Sorry ’bout that. 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

Even More Things I Learned at the Press!

—All the laws of physics can be explained by appeal to the 12 signs of the Zodiac
Bigbossman’s got a PhD in physics.  It sure surprised him to find this out

—When Christ returns to Earth, he’ll be a member of the College of Cardinals
Not the Pope, though.  Also, Lutherans beware.

—Not even Jesus can get a book published at our press
So don’t feel too bad that your (actually pretty good) dissertation got rejected.

—Some of our authors really could sell cookbooks based off their name alone
However, when the first recipe is for nightshade casserole with arsenic sauce . . .

—Some people don’t read about our press, and send us original poetry
We have never published original poetry.  Ever.

—If you submit really and truly awful poetry to the Press, it will get passed around.
The thought of doing a YouTube video of the Press staff reading it was floated.  10k hits, minimum

—Rejection letters are more fun to write as street poetry/Urban Folk.
I don’t think we actually used it, but here goes:

The (Happiness) Press would like to thank you for the time
And all the work you did in bustin’ out yo’ rhyme

But we read what you sent us, and I simply gotta say
That we just can’t use your masterpiece this day

So good luck in the future, and don’t let us get you down
Since we’re not the only ones who publish books around.

Peace out,
The Press

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.

Reviewing Reviewers

I’m going to grab my fiddle while people are setting fires and ignore the whole Finch Report Open Access bomb that’s blowing up right now.*  Suffice it to say, I need to finish reading all of it (I don’t do journals right now, so only about thirty pages are of more than academic interest to bookies like me) before I act like I have something intelligent and novel to say about it—but, worry not, I will talk about it.**

Instead, let’s talk about something that’s tangential to the whole Finch Report/Open Access debate: the institution of peer review.  Yes, a lot of people aren’t too keen on it (“why are we paying for this, again?”), but for those of us who publish things, it’s important.  Sure, it’s the gold standard, sure, it’s an assurance of quality—but for us, if it doesn’t pass peer review, we don’t have to waste good money publishing it. Continue reading

I Don’t Believe It!

Wouldn’t you know it, but university presses kinda follow the university calendar that our authors are on.  Thus, things have been just a bit slow around the ol’ slush mill, what with our authors writing and revising and all during the break—which means a lack of inspiring incidents for blog fodder.

Not that I’ve been doing nothing, mind you—I’ve been peddling books at conferences, chasing down copyright information at the Library of Congress, and reading through some Very Exciting Upcoming Manuscripts, just like always—but without the usual input from Grad Student Ex Colleagues and Difficult/Dream reviewers . . . well, if things slow down around here, it’s summer.

Don’t worry, I’m still here.  If anything does pop up (in fact, reviewing that last paragraph, something may have . . .), well, you know where to find me.

Oh, and if anyone wants to send us a manuscript . . .