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View Full Version : pros and cons of academic publishers?



wrtaway
03-20-2009, 10:13 AM
Although I may be jumping the gun a bit here, it is looking like I might soon be in the position to choose between two different publishers for my non-fiction book (*hopehopehopehope*). One is an academic press, the other is not.

The advances offered by each are pretty close, and both are highly reputable, so those factors alone don't sway me. What else should I be considering here? Is there a significant difference between how an academic publisher does business as compared to a commercial (non-academic) publisher?

Thank you!

Maryn
03-20-2009, 04:52 PM
How lovely, to be able to make such a choice! Congratulations.

The academic press will give you prestige. If your book is related to your career, it can lead to paid gigs like speaking at conferences or leading seminars or symposia, with travel and lodging expenses paid. It'll be a publishing credit, tied to academic tenure and to pay scale. Most sales will take place at college bookstores if academics respect the work enough to assign it or put it on a reading list. The academic publisher will list it in catalogues for a very long time. (Mr. Maryn's academic book, published in 1982, is still in the publisher's catalogue, although most years he sells only one or two.)

If the book is in an area where you're quite knowledgeable and know your research, but not related to what you do for a living, then you may benefit very little from an academic press.

A commercial publisher will get that book in stores, where most sales take place--for a while. The bulk of your sales will occur within the first year, then drop; they won't order more copies unless it sells fairly briskly, although they'll order then for customers who ask for it by name. Your book certainly won't be visible for anything approaching the time an academic press will offer it in catalogues perused by students and professionals. The status of placing a book with a commercial publisher is higher with the general public and lower among academics. (Who would you rather impress?)

I don't have an answer, really, just things for you to think about.

Maryn, who has no books with anybody

veinglory
03-20-2009, 06:05 PM
I would add a note of caution that it really depends. That isn't helpful I know, but some academic presses have distribution and some don't need to have it because they direct sell thousands of copies, and some have no prestige and crappy production standards. I would look at the specifics of what each can actually deliver.

Susan B
03-22-2009, 05:12 AM
First off, I'll echo the congratulations on having the choice of publishers!

As a new author with a book just out from a university press, I agree with much of what Maryn says. I have had a really good experience with my publisher, so far. And my book is not an academic one.

You don't say what your book is about--perhaps you don't want to get too detailed. But I'm guessing it must be something like my book (a Cajun-Creole music memoir.) A book that can go either way. A book you are hoping will reach a broader audience, even though it may have a specialized/academic/regional focus.

I have had a really positive experience so far with my publisher, the University Press of Mississippi. They have been a natural fit, since UPM probably has the strongest "list" in my subject area of any publisher around.

I've received close editing, personal attention, wonderful outside reviewers (who became my "blurbers") and a lot of enthusiasm. Mississippi has good distribution, regional book sales reps, and is savvy about marketing to the "trade market." (Not all academic presses are.) The physical production of the book is beautiful. (Even my NY agent was impressed!) It doesn't look anything like a text book.

What you won't get from a nonprofit academic press is lots of money thrown your way. No big advances, no elaborate author tours. But I've learned that even with the big trade publishers, new authors don't usually get that. As a midlist author with a commercial publisher, you end up having to take much of the initiative yourself with marketing. And, as Maryn said, your book may disappear if it doesn't make its mark in the first six months. Not so with an academic publisher.

Hope this is helpful. Feel free to send a private message, if you like.

Good luck, whatever you decide!

Lauri B
03-22-2009, 04:57 PM
The only caution I'd add with an academic publisher is that they don't "push" their books much, because they don't need to. Most university presses are hugely subsidized by their institutions, so their mandate is to publish, not to sell.

Susan B
03-22-2009, 06:12 PM
Can you give us a hint, wrtaway, about some details of your dilemma :-)

Aside from being plain old curious, I think it's a little harder to answer your question, without knowing about the subject of your book and/or the kind of commercial press you are talking about.

University presses do have good distribution, sales reps spread all over the country, respectability. Books from university presses, especially the more prestigious ones, regularly get reviewed in places like the New York Times. Their catalogs also get the attention of libraries, especially university libraries. (Even a nonscholarly book like mine is already in 70-plus university libraries across the country.)

Should you expect big print runs, wide placement in brick-and-mortor stores? Big earnings? No, probably not, unless something dramatic happens, like your book becomes a sleeper hit! But the point is that university presses are solid, respectable, your book will be around for awhile and have wide, if modest distribution in certain circles.

So the question, I think, is what kind of trade publisher is also courting you. A small independent press might not do nearly as well by your book. A larger one could be a better choice. As veinglory says, it depends.


I know one person (my writing mentor) who has published with both a university press and a "big name" trade publisher. She found the latter experience, as a midlist author, in many ways not as positive as the university press experience.

Keep us posted!

wrtaway
03-22-2009, 06:23 PM
Great tips here, and lots of factors that I had not even considered. I'm being a bit *shy* here with details because I don't have anything in writing yet, and so I feel like I'm going to jinx things if I spill the beans prematurely.

I'm a consultant during my day job, not an academic, which is one reason I was surprised to learn of the academic publisher's interest. The topic of my book is best categorized as organizational behavior, which can be either academic or commercial, but it is definitely written more for a commercial audience. Because of this, I am leaning toward the commercial publisher (a large house), even though I'll be at the bottom of the list, I'm sure. However, I hadn't considered the longevity factor, which very much appeals to me.

Great food for thought, everyone - I'll keep you posted on what happens.

veinglory
03-22-2009, 09:34 PM
I would note that an press based at a university is a university press, and some have no distribution at all.

Lauri B
03-23-2009, 12:25 AM
Can you give us a hint, wrtaway, about some details of your dilemma :-)

Aside from being plain old curious, I think it's a little harder to answer your question, without knowing about the subject of your book and/or the kind of commercial press you are talking about.

University presses do have good distribution, sales reps spread all over the country, respectability. Books from university presses, especially the more prestigious ones, regularly get reviewed in places like the New York Times. Their catalogs also get the attention of libraries, especially university libraries. (Even a nonscholarly book like mine is already in 70-plus university libraries across the country.)

Should you expect big print runs, wide placement in brick-and-mortor stores? Big earnings? No, probably not, unless something dramatic happens, like your book becomes a sleeper hit! But the point is that university presses are solid, respectable, your book will be around for awhile and have wide, if modest distribution in certain circles.


Not all university presses have good distribution; many have none at all. Definitely something to consider, and something to ask the press, itself.

Medievalist
03-23-2009, 12:37 AM
Go to the library and look at books from both presses.

Go to their Web sites; do they have direct mail catalogs, sales staff ? Marketing departments? Do their books get reviews in appropriate places?

Susan B
03-23-2009, 01:13 AM
Good to learn more details, wrtaway!

Sounds like you are going to have some great choices. A large house/commercial publisher, hard to imagine you'd go wrong with that.

Interesting to read more about university presses, and to have my generally rosy view of them tempered by some reality. Didn't know that many of them don't have good distribution.
The people I know (besides me) who've had good experiences have been with the bigger/more established ones, I think. And my own publisher, Mississipppi, while smaller and not one of the big names, does have all those things Medievalist mentions above. I assumed this was standard, but obviously not.

One more thing I've been told about university presses: they move much more slowly, at every step.

Susan B
03-23-2009, 01:18 AM
I would note that an press based at a university is a university press...

Yes. (Did someone suggest otherwise? I certainly didn't mean to!)

There are some "academic presses" that aren't university based, right? I'm not sure exactly what makes them such. Free-standing, nonprofit, and with a scholarly focus?

veinglory
03-23-2009, 02:18 AM
I was just attaching a caution to "University presses do have good distribution". They certainly can, but many do not. We tend to think fo the better university presses when discussing the category--but there are others ;)

And there are certains academic presses other than university presses. For example sever imprint so of Wiley-Blackwell have an academic focus.