University Press Week: Scholarship Makes a Difference

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Must scholarship be difficult and full of jargon? Are experts fated to be dismissed as out of touch because their writing is unintelligible?

Chief Justice Roberts seems to think so. Earlier this month, while hearing oral arguments in Gill v Whitford on gerrymandering, Roberts dismissed political science research on the effects of redistricting as “sociological gobbledygook.” Leaving aside for one moment Roberts’ conflation of sociology and political science, let’s look at Roberts’ reasoning.

In oral arguments he posed the “intelligent man on the street” test:

“. . . [If] you’re the intelligent man on the street and the court issues a decision, and let’s say, okay, the Democrats win, and that person will say: “Well, why did the Democrats win?” And the answer is going to be because EG was greater than 7 percent, where EG is the sigma of party X wasted votes minus the sigma of party Y wasted votes over the sigma of party X votes plus party Y votes. And the intelligent man on the street is going to say that’s a bunch of baloney.”

Implicit in Roberts’ view is the seemingly common sense notion that it would be absurd to expect the intelligent person on the street to read and understand the view of scholarly experts in the politics of gerrymandering.

In fact, Roberts poses a false choice between expert knowledge and intelligibility. We know this at Princeton University Press because we routinely publish the work of outstanding scholarship that contributes both to the advancement of discourse and influences the public on the most pressing issues facing the U.S. and the world.

Take Democracy for Realists by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels. Based on painstaking research conducted over many years, Achen and Bartels forcefully present the case that voters choose candidates based on deep social identities and loyalties, often adjusting their policy preferences to match those loyalties.

If true, their thesis both overturns much of academic democratic theory as well as common beliefs about democracy. But can anyone understand this stuff? Roberts’ “intelligent man on the street?” Perhaps I’m cheating by translating their academic gobbledygook into plain English?

Hardly. Yes, Achen and Bartels’ book has been reviewed in the Political Studies Review and Political Science Quarterly. But it has also been reviewed in the Washington Post and the Financial Times, as well as the Ottawa Citizen, Tulsa World, and New York Magazine.

Or look at another recent publication by PUP, this time in sociology, Rachel Sherman’s Uneasy Street. This book challenges a simple depiction of the wealthy as materialistic, arguing that the rich have deeply conflicting feelings about their wealth. Such research could have been presented as gobbledygook. But it wasn’t. Instead, Sherman tells 50 stories based on personal interviews. The result? A book that has been excerpted in the New York Times, garnering over 3,000 reader responses in the online edition.

Journalists and readers are drawn to such books by their rigor and the expertise of their authors. In a world of “alternative facts,” journalists and readers want real expertise, the kind which comes from career-long immersion in a subject. But journalists only write about such books—and readers only spend precious time on them—when authors present expertise clearly and compellingly.

As publishers, we work hard at helping our authors achieve this balance of rigor and accessibility. We believe you don’t have to choose between the two. Expertise is not shameful, an embarrassment to be hidden from the “intelligent man on the street.” As academic publishers, let’s promote expertise and help make it central to public discourse again.  If Justice Roberts were reading these books, he would understand how great social science books are far from gobbledygook. They are essential to creating an informed public and to the health of our democracy.

University Press Week: Behind the scenes with Maria Lindenfeldar

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In honor of University Press Week, we’ve been featuring interviews and posts with members of the Princeton University Press community. Today, Maria Lindenfeldar, Creative Director, shares some thoughts on the tension between the personal element of creative work and the practical requirements of a job in design:

Maria LindenfeldarHow long have you worked in design and how did you enter publishing?

I have worked in some form of art and design since college. My explorations have included: painting, architecture, art history, and interior design. I finally honed in on graphic design in my late twenties while working as a writer in the marketing department of a benefits consulting firm—our proposals were great to read but needed help with how they looked! From there, I discovered the subfield of book design and have been in love with it ever since.

How is working in design for a publishing company unique from other industries?

In my experience, publishing attracts smart, engaged, and idealistic people in a proportion greater than other industries.

Your title is creative director. Can you describe what your work encompasses?

A joke among designers is that the higher you rise on the creative ladder, the narrower your toolkit becomes, ultimately requiring just one tool: email. There’s some truth to that. I no longer design books on a regular basis and most of my day is spent keeping multiple balls in the air. On its most basic level, I see my job as that of a facilitator. I am lucky to work with incredibly talented artists who are able to bring physical form to an idea. My role is to make sure that they have the information they need to do that to the best of their abilities. This requires an open forum for discussing ideas and a firm commitment to the value of multiple opinions. Everyone involved in the creative process—editors, authors, designers, sales, marketing, publicity—has something to contribute, and my job is to sustain an environment where that can happen. I am proud of the award-winning results our collective efforts produce.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I love looking at the finished catalog each season, admiring the beautiful book jackets, and thinking about how we can be even better next time.

What’s the most difficult aspect?

By far, the most difficult aspect is the inherent tension between the personal element of creative work and the practical requirements of the job. To make beautiful and original things, a designer has to invest herself or himself, drawing from a deep well of visual references and experience. In its best form, the alchemy of the design process is magical and surprising even to the maker. The hard reality (and the most difficult thing to explain to less-experienced designers) is that even great and innovative designs get rejected, sometimes for very good reasons. The design approval process is a real-life extension of the art school critique system; it requires sharing ideas and depersonalizing feedback. On the job, the never-ending challenge is to digest commentary, determine what is useful, and incorporate that into the final product. I think everyone should go to art school—it forces you to develop a thick skin!

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to break into the field?

Be honest with yourself. Don’t go into graphic design because you think it’s a “practical” career with more guarantees than say, life as an artist. It’s not—it’s competitive and difficult. On the flip side, if you are passionate about art and ideas and are willing to work hard, there will be a place for you. To find out more about the field, take a really good typography course at an art school. Many of the designers I admire have broad educations in disciplines as varied as philosophy, music, and film. What they all have in common is that they are good conceptual thinkers who love type.

Any career paths you’d have pursued in an alternate universe?

I was a government major who planned to be a lawyer. Go figure!

University Press Week: Behind the scenes with Stephanie Rojas

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In honor of University Press Week, we’re featuring interviews and posts with members of the Princeton University Press community all week. Next, Stephanie Rojas, Marketing & Social Media Associate, talks about her role at PUP:

Stephanie RojasAs the Marketing & Social Media Associate at Princeton University Press, I work in two departments: copywriting and social media. My duties for copywriting include requesting copy approval from authors, soliciting Author Promotion Forms, writing copy for our paperback titles, and aggregating our marketing plans for each book into a letter format to be sent to our authors. As a member of the social media department, I write blog posts and edit original content from our authors, contribute to our social media accounts, and help brainstorm social media campaigns.

For me, one of the most rewarding things so far has been building our new Instagram account from the ground up. Before we launched the account on September 1, I took hundreds of photographs of our books, the office, and Princeton University in preparation. I made lists of popular hashtags, ideas for how we could get the most out of the application, and accounts we could follow with the help of colleagues in publicity, design, editorial, and sales. Coming up with new ideas, executing them, and seeing how our followers respond has been a really fun part of my job. I can’t wait for everyone to see what we have planned later in the season!

I came to this position very deliberately. After studying history at Boston University and interning at Candlewick Press, I made the decision to earn an MA in Publishing & Writing from Emerson College. I took courses in all the departments in publishing and added two more internships to my résumé—one at Beacon Press and another at the New England Quarterly. I also spent some time working as an assistant at Kneerim, Williams & Bloom, a Boston-based literary agency. Graduate degree in hand, I knew that I wanted to work in marketing or publicity at an academic publisher. I started at PUP in April 2015, and when I had been working here for a few weeks I knew it was the perfect fit for me. I look forward to continuing to work in academic publishing and getting the word out about the great books we publish here!

University Press Week: Behind the Scenes with Eric Henney

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In honor of University Press Week, we’re featuring interviews and posts from members of the Princeton University Press community all week. Today, Eric Henney, a new editor of physical, earth, and computer science, shares insight on succeeding in the publishing industry:

Eric HenneyPublishing is cool. Obviously it’s appealing to be able to work on the ideas that shape the future, and it also carries some caché. The competition for entry-level jobs in a cool industry is tough enough, but in publishing it’s tougher still, because publishing is a generally shrinking industry.

So getting your first job in publishing is really hard. Intensified competition has made all varieties of publishing houses pickier about their job requirements. (Most editorial assistants I know are overqualified in reality, but barely so on paper.) This has created an entry-level bootstrapping problem: entry-level jobs now require experience that applicants likely won’t have.

If you want a good chance at landing a job (this is certainly not a given), you can travel a prescribed path: intern at the best publishing companies you can while you’re in college, likely for free and preferably a few times. Network aggressively. Be willing to take dozens of people out for coffee. Travel to them if you can; talk by phone if you must. But make sure you’re doing it once or twice a week. Move to New York. Pretend you live there already, if you have to. Enroll in a publishing program that has ties to good publishing companies. Loans can help finance you. Your network takes time to cultivate, so begin this process by sophomore year of college.

If you fail to accomplish any of this, you might feel that you’ve boxed yourself out of publishing. There’s some truth to that. When you send your applications into the vortex of a Big Five job portal, you shouldn’t expect a response if you don’t have a couple years of experience already.

This trend in entry-level hiring isn’t at all surprising, but it is suspect. Yes, networking is important. But there are good reasons that publishing doesn’t have an actual professional schooling system, like medicine. Being a good doctor is a matter of knowing enough to not kill a person once you’ve cut them open. Publishing is thankfully a little looser than that, and belonging in this world involves less obviously measurable qualifications, like creativity and curiosity.

I’ve been at PUP for four years. It’s the first formal publishing experience I have. I landed here after more than a year of office temping, substitute teaching, freelance writing for entertainment and parenting blogs (note: I am not a parent), and unsuccessful job hunting. My degree is in philosophy, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it after I graduated. All I really knew was that I needed to work with smart and interesting people and that I didn’t want to be an academic. I started as an assistant, working for then-political science editor Chuck Myers (now at Chicago) and then-physics editor Ingrid Gnerlich (now PUP’s publisher for the sciences in Europe). I think I landed the interview because I stayed in touch with the permissions coordinator, who had interviewed me a few months earlier, when I applied to be his assistant. I do not know why I got the job, and I do not think it wise to ask. But I know it came down to something other than years of experience in publishing, because I had none.

I worked really hard to get up to speed. But I knew it was not at all a given that I could do it. All I could really promise was that I really did like ideas and I really did like sharing them with other people. As it turns out, that, in combination with the modest administrative experience I actually did have, was enough. Over the last four years I’ve taken on the increasingly large responsibilities offered by the Press, and this year I was made a full editor in the sciences.
University presses maintain a unique publishing ethos, one which acknowledges that the typical path into publishing is anything but. I suspect that will endure regardless of what the rest of publishing looks like. And that’s one of the things that makes them special.

University Press Week: Behind the scenes with Theresa Liu

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In honor of University Press Week, we’re featuring interviews with members of the Princeton University Press community all week. Next, Theresa Liu, Senior Copywriter and Seasonal Catalog Editor, talks about the copywriting process.

Theresa LiuHow long have you worked as a copywriter, and what did you do before this both educationally and professionally?

I just reached my ninth anniversary as a copywriter here at PUP. Educationally, I concentrated on English lit at Rutgers and Stanford and was a Javits fellow in creative writing at Hunter College, CUNY. In publishing, I got my start at the Ecco Press and served as the program coordinator for the National Poetry Series. I then worked as the assistant to the editor in chief at Rutgers University Press. So I’ve worked in trade publishing and nonprofit arts administration, as well as academic publishing. I also had a stint as a sales clerk at Micawber Books in Princeton before it closed its doors, so I have some experience peddling books to customers.

What led you to your current position?

It was a matter of timing, I think. PUP had an opening after my last round of school was done, and with my lit and writing background and my publishing experiences, copywriting was a good fit.

What kinds of books do you most enjoy writing copy for? (Loaded question, I know).

Perhaps a more diplomatic way of answering that question is to say that the books I have the easiest time writing about are the ones that come with all the materials ready (complete editorial dossier, reader reports, detailed author promotion form and capsule, publishing plan, etc). It makes my job less difficult and I can get to the writing immediately.

Can you describe your process as a writer? Do you read all the books? Work in silence? Listen to music?

I liken writing copy to running a marathon. I have to pace myself and make sure I’m hitting my personal quotas week by week, in order to avoid a logjam at the end of the season. I enjoy listening to music when I work, but have discovered that for the writing I either need to work in silence or listen to music with no lyrics, so it’s a lot of classical and some bits of jazz and movie soundtracks. Sometimes, when I find one piece of music that gets me into the right frame of mind quickly, I’ll just set that on a repeating loop to play in the background while I’m pecking away at the computer.

I average about 45 books a season now and how much I dip into each book varies based on the density of the subject matter and what I need. If I have enough good materials to refer to outside of the book, looking at its table of contents and introduction may be enough to get me started. In other instances, I will read or skim portions of the manuscript in order to get a sense of the book’s tone and overall argument or to find some hidden nuggets of information that I can use for the copy.

Is there a formula for writing good catalog copy?

Every book is different, so I’d say that the answer is no. But in general, I try to hone in on the book’s argument as quickly as I can in the first paragraph, and then delve into specific content. We try to sum up the book with a general conclusion that is wide reaching and still sounds fresh and original. The best copy is clean and succinct and stays under the word limit!

What do you like to do to decompress from putting together a new season of catalog copy?

I enjoy activities that exercise an entirely different side of my brain and body. Weather permitting, I try to spend a bit of time outside every day. In the evenings, I play music (mostly classical, some experimental) with friends. It’s socially interactive and doesn’t allow for ruminating, which is healthy. It’s also emotionally and physically demanding (rehearsals can run in three-hour blocks), and allows me to think more clearly afterwards.

What would you have been if not a copywriter?

That’s a difficult question to answer! It’s been my great fortune to have had many different experiences in my schooling, travels, and work (I’ve probably broken many a child labor law, as I’ve been working and earning since I was in early middle school). I could have gone down paths as varied as teaching English abroad to attending law school and becoming an attorney. My choices and where I’ve ended up remind me of the famous John Lennon quote: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

University Press Week: Behind the scenes with Caroline Priday

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In honor of University Press Week, we’ll be featuring interviews with members of the Princeton University Press community all week. First up, Caroline Priday, Head of the European Office and European Director of Publicity, talks about how publishing has changed over the years, publicity practices in Europe, and PUP’s path to becoming a global university press. 

Caroline PridayHow did you get your start in publishing?

I started back in 1979 working as a secretary for two Academic Marketing Managers at Oxford University Press. In those days, before email and computers, that was quite a common route into publishing. One of my bosses was Susan Boyd, wife of the now well-known author William Boyd. I remember how excited we all were when he had his first short story broadcast on the BBC. In those days, OUP still had its own printing press and one of the highlights of the induction day was getting a tour of the printing works! We used to have a tea lady too who wheeled her trolley down the corridor every afternoon. The Academic Department was down a long corridor with linoleum flooring and offices opening off the corridor – no open plan in those days. It was known to the occupants as Death Row!

You direct the European office’s publicity department as well as the European office. This sounds like vast responsibility! What is a typical day like for you?

One of the good things about the job is that there isn’t very often a typical day. However, that can have its downsides when you come in with a list of things you want to achieve, and are lucky if you’ve crossed just one thing off the list before the end of the day! I usually try to have a couple of hours of quiet time first thing in the morning so that I can focus on the preparation of a galley or review list. The rest of the day my door is open to any of my colleagues who have questions or concerns. If we have just released an important book the day is geared around handling media requests for interviews, review copies etc. At other times I can be focused on human resource issues for the office, such as making sure pension or health care provision meets latest government regulations.

Can you say a bit about PUP’s path to becoming a truly global university press?

I guess you could say that the path started back in 1999 when the European office was opened with the aim of better promoting our existing authors in the European market, and also broadening the European authorship of our list. In the nearly 12 years I have been with the press we have made huge strides in broadening the appeal of the list. However, I think it is probably fair to say that we are still international rather than truly global, in that our authors are still predominantly based in the USA. The opening of our office in China, and the work on pursuing publication of scholarship outside of the US and Europe, will go a long way to making us truly global.

Does book publicity in the UK differ from the US, and if so, in what way?

The fundamentals are the same, but I think there is a difference between being an American University Press in Europe and in the USA. Inevitably there are some American interest titles that don’t travel well outside of the US. There are probably fewer media outlets who will meet with us on a regular basis, though I am pleased to say we are expanding these all the time as we increase our name recognition. The changes in the nature of the list, with a greater proportion of accessible titles, have made a big difference here. Outside of the UK we are also seeking review coverage in non-English speaking markets, though it has to be said that there are many publications in Northern Europe that will write about books that we struggle to get reviewed in the UK. I think in Continental Europe they still think book review coverage is important in broadsheets in a way that is declining in US and UK. Coverage outside of the UK has been an area we have focussed on this year as I have undertaken trips into The Netherlands and Germany to meet with print media, something that has proved to be a positive experiment.

Tell me a bit about a particularly interesting campaign you worked on.

I guess promoting Bob Shiller’s books are some of the most fun, partly because Bob is such a delightful author to work with. His name also opens doors that we can otherwise struggle to access. The big highlight of my work with Bob was having breakfast at No 11 Downing Street with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling. This was just after the financial crash in 2008. As we were leaving the breakfast we also shook hands with the Prime Minister. Bob is still waiting for me to arrange a meeting with The Queen! Another highlight of that trip was getting a behind the scenes tour of the Houses of Parliament, as Bob addressed a meeting within the building. Something that was completely different was working on Neil Downie’s The Ultimate Book of Saturday Science. We set up a launch event at Isaac Newton’s former home for a whole group of school children who had great fun playing with some of Neil’s inventions, carrot cannons, exploding balloons, and other such inventions.

In a parallel world, what career would you have chosen instead?

I think being paid to be around books is my idea of a perfect career! I never knew what I wanted to do, and was very lucky to have drifted into publishing as my first job. It has allowed me to travel the world, meet interesting people and spend time with my nose in a book. Who could want anything more!

Why a University Press Is a Good Investment

This post by Darrin Pratt appears concurrently on the University Press of Colorado blog.

There’s a minor miracle continually performed by the 142 university presses worldwide who compose the membership of the Association of American University Presses (AAUP). It involves taking a relatively small annual budget and multiplying that budget until it becomes substantially larger. The consequence is that these same presses are able to deliver quite a bit more on their mission as nonprofit scholarly publishers than their institutional allocations directly support.

In 2015, 67 participating US and Canadian university presses (slightly less than half the membership of the Association of American University Presses and excluding the two largest, Cambridge and Oxford) reported receiving a collective institutional budget that was just shy of $28 million.*

From that $28 million, these 67 presses generated $261.5 million in book sales. After the cost of sales (direct costs such as print costs and royalty payments) is deducted, roughly $156 million is left for presses to spend on acquiring, peer reviewing, editing, designing, producing, and, importantly, marketing the books they published in 2015. Thus, they increased a starting budget of $28 million to a budget of $184 million, a pretty remarkable increase in support of their collective mission to ensure academic excellence and cultivate knowledge through the publication of high-quality scholarly books and related projects. There are not many university departments that can claim comparable results.

Recently, ITHAKA S+R published a report on book publishing costs at university presses, which showed that these costs are not insubstantial. Don Waters of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation references this report in a recent article in Against the Grain, averaging the ITHAKA S+R figures with those from another study at Indiana University and University of Michigan to come up with a round cost of $30,000 per scholarly monograph published, excluding any direct costs (print costs, royalties). This is not the number for what it costs to publish a monograph, as the ITHAKA report clearly demonstrates, but it is an easy-to-understand, handy-for-back-of-the-napkin-calculations number at a level most university presses would consider to be in the ballpark.

So let’s revisit the budget sources above with that number in mind. If university presses had to rely on institutional infusions alone, the $28 million budget provided to them would allow them to publish roughly 900 scholarly monographs, a fairly underwhelming collective output.

Because of the income that they are able to produce from that starting budget, though, the magnified pool of approximately $184 million should allow the 67 reporting presses to publish just over 6,000 new titles, using the cost number proposed by Waters. In fact, these 67 presses reported publishing more than 6,400 titles in 2015, or roughly seven times the 900 books supported directly by their parent institutions. Not all of these 6,400 new books were scholarly monographs in the narrowest sense of the term, but virtually all of them were driven by academic research and communicate those findings to a variety of audiences inside and outside academia.

Expanding budgets—and, consequently, scholarly output—is not the only institutional augmentation that university presses perform. They are also great at brand extension. Although many presses publish in disciplines that reflect the strengths of their home institution, they just as frequently publish in areas that the home institution is not known for, and the university brand benefits from this exposure. In addition, top research universities increasingly describe their missions as international or global in scope. University presses, through ebook aggregations that sell monographs to libraries, have placed over 40,000 book titles alongside journals in ProjectMUSE and JSTOR collections that are accessible in up to 50 countries. This represents truly global dissemination of research for institutions with global missions. This brand extension, as we see, is multifaceted. And you get all of this, at least in this particular sample of the AAUP membership, for a mere $28 million spread across 67 sponsoring institutions.

In the world of research university budgets, that is an awfully good deal.


*The source of the figures cited here is the 2012–2015 Annual Operating Statistics Survey of the Association of American University Presses.


Darrin Pratt is the director of the University Press of Colorado and the current president of the Association of American University Presses.

University Press Week Blog Tour Day 5: Author Conversations

thanks to authorsThe final day of the University Press Week blog tour focuses on presses in conversation with their authors. Here at Princeton we would like to take a moment to thank all of our wonderful authors across many disciplines, without whom our esteemed publishing program could not exist. In the past year, PUP has been fortunate enough to publish multiple Nobel Prize winners, up-and-coming stars, renowned scholars and cultural critics. Our authors range from game theorists to astrophysicists, from art historians to professional ornithologists.

Each week on the PUP blog, we feature conversations with our authors about our books. These conversations, such as this one with n+1 co-founder Mark Greif, this one with classics professor Josiah Ober, or this one with biologists and bee experts Olivia Messinger Carril and Joseph Wilson, always provide wonderful behind-the-scenes glimpses of the writing process the origins of our authors’ research.

Today, these university presses share conversations with their own authors:

Temple University Press
Columbia University Press
University of Virginia Press
Beacon Press
University of Illinois Press
Southern Illinois University Press
University Press of Kansas
Oregon State University Press
Liverpool University Press
University of Toronto Press

Get Ready for University Press Week! #UPWeek

UpWeek

This week we’re putting Bird Fact Friday on hold as we prepare for University Press Week, an annual event when we celebrate the many contributions that university presses make to academia and an informed society.

#UPWeek began in 1978 with President Jimmy Carter, “in recognition of the impact, both here and abroad, of American university presses on culture and scholarship.” Today that influence is stronger than ever as university presses expand their publishing programs, take advantage of the opportunities afforded by a more global society, and explore new ways to bring valuable content to readers. This helpful infographic designed by our own Jessica Massabrook summarizes a great deal of fascinating information about this segment of the publishing industry.

Here at PUP, we have some great things planned!

Our contribution to the #UPWeek blog tour will come on Wednesday, November 11 and will focus on UP Design. Chris Lapinksi will be announcing an exciting new social media development in PUP’s design department.

Other special features include:

Kellie Rendina, from Advertising, will post on children’s literature for adults, with a focus on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Check out the AAUP’s online gallery of featured titles from various university presses for more information on this and other surprising offerings!

Alice

Peter Dougherty, Director of PUP, will talk about what’s new at PUP, particularly how we’re using technology to reach our readers.

In addition, each day we’ll be bringing together daily round ups of all the great posts from our fellow university presses.

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How can you get involved? Easy! Sign up to attend the November 10th online session entitled Opening Access: The Reinvention of the Academic Book and the November 13 online session called It’s Not Scary: The Art of Getting Published with a Scholarly Press. You can also check this map to find your local university presses. Follow them on social media, using the hashtag #ReadUP to join the conversation, and check their blogs for exciting new content as we celebrate academic publishing together.