AHA Session #38: "Buying and Selling History"

One of the books discussed in today’s session

I had a tough decision to make at the 3:30-5:00 slot this afternoon.  I really wanted to attend a session on “Doing History” at the American Society of Church History meeting.  I was particularly interested in what David Hall had to say about storytelling and Catherine Brekus had to say about agency and American religious history.

But I opted instead for AHA Session #38: “Buying and Selling History: Some Perspectives on the Marketplace.”  Here is the session abstract:

What topics, approaches, and subjects have been more successful—however success is defined—than others in the marketplace for history titles? What generalizations can be made about the nature of that marketplace? What challenges do those who publish history titles face both in retail and at institutions and libraries? These are some of the questions that participants in this session, which is entitled “Buying and Selling History,” will address. All of the participants are directly involved in marketing and sales efforts for their houses, and as such actively involved in promoting and placing history titles—academic and trade and crossover—in the various channels, from the large retail chains to the small independent bookstores, from the smaller public libraries to the larger research institutions whose acquisition policies and procedures have changed radically over the last few years, in part because of the effects of patron-driven acquisition. Represented will be three large trade houses and one university press. The composition of the panel is not accidental, for the perspectives offered here are intended to reflect upon the general market for history titles, and the strategies employed by those who are committed to helping their books reach the widest possible audience while also adhering to scholarly standards and disciplinary rigor.

The panel included editors and salespersons from Oxford University Press, Random House, Knopf, Harper Collins, and New York University Press.

I thought the session was very informative, but also kind of odd.  I was hoping to glean some tips about how academic historians might bring solid historical scholarship to public audiences.  Keith Goldsmith of Knopf offered the best advice in this regard.  The representatives from Harper Collins and Random House did not seem interested in this question.  Instead, they told stories about how journalists, nature/travel writers, and other authors of books set in the past were able to market their projects to mass audiences.  Timothy Bent (Oxford University Press) and Mary Beth Jarrad (NYU Press) were much more connected with the concerns of the largely academic audience.

Rather than doing an entire post on this session, I decided to Storify my tweets and offer some brief commentary.  Check it out here.