For Missouri Writers Guild attendees
For those who attended my session at the Missouri Writers Guild Conference: Here you can review the webpages and links I discussed. Please note, the text of this talk below is geared to UPM’s presentation “How to Parse a Press,” which we make on the campuses of our eight supporting universities. So when I say WE or OUR or YOUR, I mean Mississippi, Mississippi faculty, or Mississippi readers. The links and the focus are substantially the same as you heard on Saturday morning, 4.27.2013.
I want to begin our talk, How to Parse a Press, with something about us, about University Press of Mississippi. How shall we parse University Press of Mississippi? Easy, we are your press, we are the Voice of Mississippi Scholars the bandwidth by which the eight state universities of Mississippi broadcast into the broader and ongoing discussion that is scholarship and scholarly publishing. Don’t believe me?
Well, here is http://www.upress.state.ms.us/thevoiceofms
HOW TO PARSE A PRESS?
On one of our campus visits to one of our eight supporting public universities we were answering faculty questions. I can’t recall what the question was, but a faculty member with a manuscript that was a business history of an agricultural company set me off on a jag about how he ought to look at University Presses more closely, ought to look up the Association of American University Press’s big clearing house of all our press websites, ought to make a list of presses with books he admired or recalled using in his research, and then market his manuscript to presses that do a great job with either business histories, agricultural topics, or both.
He said he had never thought of doing that, of choosing to market his manuscript, and choosing a publisher that he really wanted to work with.
This got me thinking that maybe on a future round of visits, Walter Biggins and I could both talk about ways to understand a press’s function, its core competencies, what it is by what it publishes and markets, and what it is by the markets it actually reaches. And thereby we might give some insight on how best to market your own projects to any university press within our association.
Walter and I are both published fiction writers, and so we are used to doing this kind of choosey marketing over and over again, reading in a lot of literary magazines and seeing how journals produce for their own kind of niche market. One might be formal, one experimental, one is filled with language poetry, another is devoted to short shorts, but only if they are set in Indiana. Happy and successful university press publishers are also niche producers. And since Walter and I work at a really happy and successful niche publisher of a university press, we can give you some perspectives from the inside of a press. So today Walter and I are going to talk about “How to Parse a Press”
The first place a university press ought to show customers its core competencies, the “what it does best” part of its identity, is right on the front page of the website. At http://www.aaupnet.org/index.php?option=com_contact&view=category&catid=7&Itemid=18
You’ll find links to all 134 member presses of the Association of university presses that have a website.
Here are a a couple of university presses that do good work showing you what they do well at the front page of their websites. Look especially at the column on the left-hand side. Those aren’t just navigation toggles so that you can find books. They are a statement of the core competencies of each of these university presses. The left hand column is often where a good university press with a well-designed webpage declares: THIS IS WHAT WE DO BEST.
National Academies Press
At Mississippi’s maybe more than some others, http://www.upress.state.ms.us/ we’re very bold about what subjects we do well, our reason for being. These statements in the left hand column should be a guide to what each of these presses cares about right now. What are they looking for?
Drilling down into Mississippi’s categories you can find what’s upcoming, and what has already been published. While this may seem very basic to the veteran author, you would be amazed at how often writers approach presses with manuscripts that are nothing like what the presses are good at publishing. Presses have skill sets, core competencies just like any other manufacturer. And, since they have limited marketing budgets and a small labor pool in marketing, presses develop specialized sets of sales, publicity, advertising and promotional contacts, marketing skill sets if you will. Like any manufacturer, tooling up to do something entirely different, to sell a product unlike anything in the line will likely not be a success for the press or for the author. So investigating these categories is a great way to begin your research in marketing your manuscript.
Sometimes Press websites don’t reveal as much as we might like. So today, we have brought you copies of a chunk of a great little directory. This subject grid comes from the directory of the Association of American University Presses. Following the grid, you can discover a wealth of information about what presses have claimed specialties, have stated commitments to certain disciplines. Inside the directory as well, and I’m passing some of these around, is a wealth of information about each press. We’ll drill down into that here in a minute. And if you find that this chunk and what I mention from the directory is super helpful, well looky there, AAUP has extended you a special discount.
So let’s drill deeper with this tool and discover some things that you may not be able to discern at the website. At each directory listing presses again state what their specialties are, what disciplines they seek. They reveal who their editors and personnel are. I think that it is a good idea to see how many employees a press devotes to marketing, and what are their job titles. If no job title in a marketing department says anything about electronic marketing—which can mean everything from email flyers, to facebook, twitter, blogs—then you may ask how new media is engaged when you begin to talk with an editor.
The presses also reveal something you might never think about: How active, how busy they are. You want the very best for your book. What that very best means, you should determine. How active is a given press, how robust is its publishing program. Here in the directory presses reveal what you might otherwise have to work really hard at discovering: How many books are published each year. Now with the advent of electronic books, this number is becoming quite slippery and large. But let’s look at just a few of the presses we mentioned above and determine a number of books published per year, and another number to think about, the number of books per employee. We looked at Mercer, Minnesota, Mississippi, and National Academies Press. As you think about choices for your manuscript it’s good to note whether a press is robust, and to think about what kind of workload the staff is under. If the press has a low ratio of books per employee it could mean that your book will have plenty of attention. A very low ratio of books per employee would concern me, as it threatens stability if not sustainability in the current marketplace. A high number of books per employee can indicate a press that has the pedal to the floor and has its heart set on really shaping the conversation in a discipline. A really high number might be something to wonder about. Even professionals with honed skill sets have difficulties coping with a welter of competing priorities.
Let’s cover some more ways to learn about publishers. If you have spotted a couple of publishers that intrigue you, naturally follow them on facebook, or subscribe to their blogs, see what they are talking about when they tout their books. And a long look at a press website is certainly advisable. But I think it’s a great idea to go old school. Email the press and ask to be put on the catalog mailing list. Most publishers produce two catalogs per season. Looking at just one year’s worth of catalogs can tell you a lot about how committed a press currently is to a given discipline. In a minute Walter and I will parse two presses that fascinate us, and you’ll see what I mean. Presses have stated commitments but it’s a good idea to see how they really behave. It can reveal how many slots are offered in a given year, and that may let you know how eager a press may be to have your manuscript.
A little more about how robust a publishing program is. How many of you are familiar with Worldcat? http://www.worldcat.org/ Now there is even worldcat mobile for Android and Iphone. Use worldcat to see how far and wide a book was received by the library market. And turn this lens on the presses that you are scouting. Now in the age of electronic books combined with devastated library budgets, this number is becoming harder the grasp. But any number above 175 is a good reach. It’s free to sign up for worldcat and I encourage you to do it.
Ebooks should also be on your mind as you consider the outreach of a prospective publisher for your manuscript. I’ve passed around a white paper on where Mississippi stands. But how can you discover a press’s reach without asking. First on the website and in the catalogs that you have now signed up for, you will find “ebook available” listed here and there. Some presses, such as Mississippi, will list what ebook vending companies they sell ebooks to. Worldcat will let you know if an ebook is available. And some presses will print notice on the jacket of a printed book that an ebook is available. There are two ways to discover the breadth of a presses ebook publishing program in the two biggest consumer markets. Let’s go to Amazon.com and its advanced search function
Also let’s look at Barnes & Noble.com
So let’s sum up how to parse a press quickly. In parsing a press, you’re really asking and answering a series of questions. 1) What is this press publishing? What disciplines does it specialize in? 2) How many books does the press publish each year? 3) How many books roughly in each subject per year? 4) How many people work there and what do they do? 5) What is the press’s reach, its significance? 6) How is it addressing the consumer’s demand for ebooks?
Walter and I chose two presses that fascinate us, and we parsed them for you. Walter tell us about Temple.
I chose Northern Illinois University Press.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY PRESS
1) Russian Studies, European History, Religion, History of Religion, and Philosophy
2) U.S. and General History, Literature, Regional Trade, and Asian Studies
Marketing is done through the University of Chicago Press, which also distributes NIU’s books
481 titles in print
33 books in 2010, 33 books in 2011
Editorial Program: US History, US Civil War, European history, Russian history and culture, history of religion; Southeast Asian studies, urban studies, women’s studies, studies on alcohol and substance abuse, regional studies on Chicago, and the Midwest, Midwest literary novels.
Special series: Drugs and Alcohol: Contested Histories; Orthodox Christian Studies; Railroads in America; Russian Studies
Fall 2012 catalog
NEW: 14 printed/15 ebooks
1 Trade hardbacks
5 Trade paperbacks
8 Short hardbacks
REPRINTS / REISSUES: 3 printed
1 Trade paperback
2 Short paperbacks
SPRING 2012 catalog
NEW: 15 printed/12 ebooks
3 Trade hardbacks
3 Trade paperbacks
6 Short hardbacks
3 Short paperbacks
REPRINTS / REISSUES
1 Trade paperback
6 Short paperbacks
AAUP’s UNIVERSITY PRES WEEK WEBSITE