What Will COVID-19 Mean for Scholarly Book Publishing?


I am working on a book for a university press right now.  I didn’t really think about how COVID-19 would effect my work on this project until I read Rachel Toor’s recent piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Here is a taste:

Anyone who claims to know the future of book publishing — or the future of anything right now — is bound to sound foolish. Yet scholars at all stages of the academic career have questions about what the Covid-19 crisis will mean for the book world. So I reached out to some folks at academic presses to get their sense of the intellectual and financial fallout.

And it wasn’t entirely grim. In fact, the publishers I spoke with seemed cautious yet optimistic. They were moving forward with their planned fall 2020 lists, especially for scholarly books. Most said they expected to maintain their scholarly output but wouldn’t be expanding any time soon.

“We intend to continue publishing our scholarly lists at the same levels as before this crisis,” said Tony Sanfilippo, director of the Ohio State University Press. “For us, what is changing is we were growing our scholarly lists before this happened. That will end. We were also acquiring journals. That will also be harder to do as they often have large upfront investments.”

Yet editors are still working with manuscripts and authors, even if they’re doing it at home in their pajamas surrounded by stir-crazy kids and keyboard-loving cats. “We will not be in this state forever, and all systems are normal as far as acquisitions are concerned — just maybe a little slower,” said Ilene Kalish, executive editor for social sciences at New York University Press. “I am proposing books, I am signing books, and we are planning for future seasons.”

That’s the case at Oxford University Press, too, said Susan Ferber, an executive editor. In her own work, she has noticed that her “reading on screen is slower, and I’m more tired from it, but this is because I prefer paper.” Likewise, she added: “We’re seeing a lot of distracted faculty who are juggling online-teaching responsibilities, mentoring students, homeschooling their kids, taking care of relatives, and dealing with illness.” Yet she’s also getting “a deluge of projects because so many faculty are home and not conferencing and using that time to get projects finished and off their desks.”

Read the rest here.


Why Do Hardcovers Get Published Before Paperbacks?


The other day someone asked me this very question. I am glad that Michele Debczak has answered it at Mental Floss. Here is a taste of her piece:

Paperbacks revolutionized American reading habits when they first appeared in the 1930s. The softcover “pocket books” were cheaper to print, cheaper to buy, and easier to transport than the bulky hardcovers that had previously dominated bookstores. By 1960, paperbacks were the preferred book format of readers.

Despite their popularity, it’s still impossible to find paperback versions of many new books when they debut. It’s a common practice among publishers to release new titles as hardcovers and publish the paperback edition about a year after the initial print run. People who do their reading at the beach or on the subway may not be happy about it, but the financial benefits of this model mean it likely isn’t going away any time soon

“While a hardcover book is more expensive to print than a paperback, the publisher does traditionally make more money on that edition, allowing them to earn back the author’s advance and the costs they incurred for printing, shipping, marketing, and distribution,” Dinah Dunn, a partner at the book packager Indelible Editions, tells Mental Floss.

Read the rest here.

InterVarsity Press Academic Joins the Association of University Presses as an Affiliate Member

ivpress.comCongrats to Jon Boyd and the gang at IVP Academic.  Here is the press release:

InterVarsity Press (IVP) is pleased to announce that IVP Academic has been approved as an affiliate member in the Association of University Presses. 

As the academic publishing imprint of InterVarsity Press, IVP Academic publishes titles and textbooks that facilitate the broader conversations that are taking place in the academy and the church. Engaging in the most important issues, IVP Academic offers texts that enrich the study of scholars and cater to students and courses of all levels.

“We welcome IVP Academic as an Affiliate member to our global community of 153 publishers, committed to the highest caliber of research-based scholarship,” said Peter Berkery, executive director of the Association of University Presses. “As an Affiliate member—approved by our Admissions and Standards Committee, Board of Directors, and voting members—IVP Academic has demonstrated a sustained, mission-driven commitment to scholarly publishing by performing peer review on its publications and meeting our output and staffing requirements. Together, IVP Academic and all of our members pursue a shared mission of ensuring academic excellence and cultivating knowledge.”

Established in 1937 as the Association of American University Presses, the Association of University Presses is a community of publishing professionals and institutions committed to the highest caliber of research-based scholarship. For IVP Academic, applying for affiliate membership seemed like a natural acknowledgment of the conventions of academic publishing they have long followed: the importance of peer review, independent editorial boards, and participation in scholarly discourse.

Jon Boyd, academic editorial director said, “I see joining the AUP as an opportunity to nurture connections for IVP Academic among partners who are in countless ways our kindred spirits in the centuries-long traditions of publishing. I’m confident it’ll be a benefit to our authors and books, and I really look forward to all we can learn from our publishing heroes in the AUPresses membership.”

For more information on the Association of University Presses and IVP Academic, please visit aupresses.org and ivpress.com/academic.


How to Pitch a University Press Editor

Oxford UP

Great stuff here from Rachel Toor at The Chronicle of Education.  If you are making a first pitch to a university press you need to read her piece, “What to Say (and Not to Say) in Query Letters to Book Editors.”

A taste:

Touch on the marketing. These days even authors of scholarly books must think about sales. “I want to know who you conceive of as your audience and the market for the book,” says Schneider of the University of California Press. “If you have a big public or social-media presence, please mention this as well. Increasingly publishers ally with authors to promote books online, so an author’s ability to reach out to a constituency is important.”

Consider this query letter template. So how do you do all that in an initial letter? And how long should it be?

One page, says Schneider, who offers a useful template:

  • Paragraph No. 1: “Situate the book project broadly, and clearly outline the subject and thesis. You need to state what is new, original, and exciting about this project as well. In this context it would be helpful to get your view of the potential market and whether comparative books already exist. Of course, tell me how your book differs from them.”
  • Paragraph No. 2: “Go into a bit more detail about the ins and outs of the study and when the manuscript might be completed.”
  • Paragraph No. 3: “Talk about who you are and give me the highlights of your professional credentials.”
  • Closing: “End with an action item. Tell me that you can send a full book proposal and a sample chapter, for instance. End with a particular ‘ask’ so I know how to follow up.”

Read the entire piece here.

Partisanship and Publishing the Declaration of Independence


Over at Age of Revolution blog, Emily Sneff of the Declaration Resources Project writes about the partisan fights over the publication of the Declaration of Independence in the early republic.  Here is a taste of her piece:

The tradition of publishing the Declaration annually on July 4 dates much further back, however. In fact, it appears that the first printer to republish the Declaration of Independence on July 4 with the intention of marking the anniversary was also the first printer ever to publish the Declaration: John Dunlap. He and David C. Claypoole included the text on the front page of The Pennsylvania Packet, and Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, PA) on July 4, 1786, the tenth anniversary. By 1801, republishing the Declaration of Independence in newspapers on or around July 4 was a trend on the verge of becoming a tradition and an expectation. The Telegraphe and Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, MD), for example, first included the Declaration by request on July 4, 1799, and republished the text annually through 1806. Before 1801, only a handful of newspapers printed the Declaration in any given year. In 1801, at least twelve newspapers printed the text in late June or early July; by 1806, that number more than doubled. As the individual who requested that the Telegraphe print the Declaration in 1799 wrote to the printer, “you have it in your power to gratify all without displeasing any, by giving it a place…” But, as last year’s tweets proved, even a text as intrinsic to our national identity as the Declaration can become polarizing. The 1801 uptick in July 4 newspaper printings, for example, coincided with a tense moment of political transition, and crystallized in part because of the association between the new President and the Declaration.

Read the entire post here.

So What CAN You Do With a History Major?–Part 57


Photo Credit: AHA Today

Work in corporate finance.

Over at AHA Today, Cliff Manko, the Chief Financial Officer at Beacon Press, tells his story.

Here is a taste:

When I interviewed for a job in corporate finance at Houghton Mifflin in 1992, the publishing firm’s CEO was far more interested in my history degree than my CPA. He grilled me about what I’d studied and how the history courses I’d taken had been taught. To this day, I believe that my passion for what I’d studied in college was the tipping point in getting what I consider to be the most important job in my life. I’ve remained in the publishing industry ever since. And my history degree helped me get there…

The publishing industry and the content industry in general is a great place for history majors to pursue careers. Both at Houghton Mifflin and Beacon Press, the editorial, production, sales, and marketing departments are full of liberal arts majors. In recent years, there has been an explosion of data and content, mainly packaged for online use, although print still has a life. A history degree provides a great background for anyone interested in the content industry, including at firms that create reference databases for professionals in business, science, and the government. (These firms have armies of people analyzing and organizing vast quantities of data, essentially using the same skills as historians.) If you haven’t already, consider content industries in your career planning. Also, positions that involve writing and dealing with scholars are another natural segue for history majors. At Beacon Press, our editors and production team work closely with scholars and authors. The passion our team has for the topics our authors write about is a key reason authors sign on with a small publisher like Beacon Press. 

Read the entire post here.


The AHA: An Editor’s Perspective


I am sure some of you who attend the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association or some other major academic conference have witnessed a newly minted Ph.D pitching a book idea, based on her or his dissertation, to an editor in the exhibit hall. The editor listens and nods as the post-doc or assistant professor verbally walks through the proposal. This kind of conversation has become a rite of passage for any first-time academic author.

I have done this a few times and have always felt very awkward and uncomfortable. Perhaps it is just me, but I always assumed that the editor was bored and really did not want to hear from yet another dissertation writer trying to land a book contract. If the editor’s eyes were flashing around the room looking at the name badges of people coming into the booth I knew I was in trouble.  I knew I was in even more trouble if the editor interrupted me (always politely) multiple times to talk to someone who he or she deemed to be more important. Who wants to try to make a book pitch in such a public setting?  I was always self-conscious of the people milling around in the booth who were no doubt listening to me explain my proposal.

After I published my first book I decided that I would not use the exhibit hall to pitch proposals to editors. (Part of this decision was based on experience. My interaction with editors at the AHA and other conferences played a very, very small role in getting that book into print).  It was too much work.  As an introvert I hate such spontaneous meetings.

Don’t get me wrong, I still meet with publishers at the AHA.  But most of my meetings are scheduled well in advance so that the editors are prepared for the conversation. I try to make sure that these meetings take place away from the booth and preferably outside the exhibit hall.

The book exhibit continues to be my favorite part of any big conference.  When I enter the exhibit hall for the time my heart (and mind) still races. When I am at the AHA I try to make two or three visits.  I usually just browse titles and try to say hello to the editors I have worked with over the years.  I take pictures of the books I want to read or write about. I run into friends, acquaintances, colleagues and blog readers.

I tend to see my discussions with editors about book ideas as something separate from the exhibit itself.

With all this in mind, I thoroughly enjoyed Nancy Toff’s recent post at AHA Today about what it is like to be a book editor at the conference.  Toff is vice president and executive editor at Oxford University Press.

Here is a small taste of her post:

As talent scouts, we judge work that has already been done. Editors thus spend some of their time listening to papers and scoping out new talent. The “yield” is fairly low, but it’s a good way to check out potential authors. It tells us not only whether a particular historian has a good argument, but whether s/he is a decent human being. Public behavior is telling! Does s/he get to the point? How does the scholar react to questions and criticism? I also meet with potential authors who have written to me in advance and sent me proposals or sample materials. The conference is a chance for me to hear more about the project, to ask questions about what I’ve read, and often to guide the author in a slightly different direction. I’ll ask about competing titles, about sources, and, as at sessions, I’ll get a feel for the style of the person I’m dealing with.

Unfortunately, time is always short. So when meeting with an editor, authors should get to the point. The proverbial “elevator pitch” is no joke—we need a quick overview of the subject matter, the status of the book, and the archival work you’ve done. If the book has grown out of a dissertation, who was your adviser? That information often orients us intellectually. Think of the meeting as speed dating for scholars and editors—make a good first impression. Many university press editors are also commissioning books, especially for existing series. After consulting with series editors and doing some research, I will have identified potential authors for particular titles and set up meetings to discuss the possibilities. That’s where I wear my snake-charmer hat.

Editors always make time to chat informally with potential authors to see if we can find the perfect new project based both on the scholar’s interests and our needs as publishers. It’s kismet when those two objectives align. For example, I had worked with Frans Coetzee and Marilyn Shevin-Coetzee on a World War I primary source anthology; I hoped to do another book with them. When we met at the AHA’s annual meeting several years ago, they told me that they had many more diaries they’d come across but had not had space to include. The result of that conversation was Commitment and Sacrifice: Personal Diaries from the Great War (2015), a collection of six rare and diverse war journals.

Read the entire post here.

Slate: “Uncle Books” Are Written Largely By Men For Men


David McCullough: Author of “uncle  books”

Andrew Kahn and Rebecca Onion at Slate define “uncle books” as “tomes that you give an older male relative, to take up residence by his wingback armchair.”  In a very interesting article, Kahn and Onion, after research into 614 books published in 2015, conclude that most popular history is written by men, for men.

Here is a taste of their piece:

We examined a set of 614 works of popular history from 80 houses, which either published books we defined as trade history or landed books we defined as trade history on the New York Times Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction best-seller list in 2015. (For our full methodology, click here.) We found that 75.8 percent of the total titles had male authors. Interestingly, the effect was slightly less pronounced among titles that made the New York Times best-seller list—but only slightly (70.4 percent of those authors were male). University press and trade imprints had roughly the same proportion of male to female authors. The persistence of this imbalance, even among authors writing for presses that publish more academics, seems to reflect a continuing gender disparity among academic historians. In 2010, Robert Townsend of the American Historical Association wrote that among four-year college and university history faculty surveyed in 2007, only 35 percent were women.

Read the entire article for more about the methodology used by Kahn and Onion and the response of the publishing community to this trend.


Jon Pott on Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Christian Century is currently running an interview, conducted by writer Amy Frykholm, with Jon Pott, the recently retired editor-in-chief at Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

I will confess that I have received a rejection letter from Jon Pott on more than one occasion, but I have always admired Eerdmans and its publishing agenda.
I have always understood Eerdmans to lean “evangelical” in the books that they publish, but Pott suggests that they see themselves more as a “mainline Protestant” publisher.
Here is a taste of the interview:
Eerdmans is somewhat hard to describe: it has a Dutch Reformed background and is socially progressive and theologically rather conservative. It is intellectually rigorous but interested in a non­academic audience. How would you describe it?
I see myself as very much in line with the thinking of Bill Eerdmans and other predecessors. During my time as editor, Eerdmans benefited from and was able to nurture an emerging center ground between progressive evangelicals on the one hand and traditional mainliners on the other. 
Eerdmans has a long history of publishing evangelicals, but I have always seen its deepest roots as mainline. When I came in 1968, we were already publishing Dutch Reformed theologians like G. C. Berkouwer and their Dutch Calvinist counterparts in the United States. They were preceded by thinkers like Abraham Kuyper. We would soon also publish Karl Barth, if we weren’t already. There was a strong European Reformed connection from the beginning, complemented by connections to, among others, American Presbyterians like B. B. Warfield at Princeton.
As the conversation grew in the 1960s between evangelicals and the mainline, we were deeply engaged with what  might be called the emerging evangelical renaissance, and we were well positioned to nurture it. On the mainline side, we saw the frustrations of people who felt that their traditions were being thinned out theologically, and we were able to reach out to them as well.
A lot of people might think of Eerdmans as an evangelical publisher that became increasingly mainline.
When I first took the job, one of the toughest tasks we had was to convince mainliners that we were mainliners. We were seen by many of them as almost exclusively an evangelical house, though that was not how we saw ourselves. 
It is less of a balancing act now. In fact, the two worlds have become much more intermingled. I am not sure how much sense it makes to talk in these terms. More or less theologically conservative does not translate into more or less evangelical or more or less mainline.
Eerdmans also had a long history of being culturally transformationist. One taproot goes back to Kuyper, who saw culture as something to be transformed, not averted. That had important implications for Eerdmans as it engaged the mainline and progressive evangelicals. 
What were some of the decisive books that Eerdmans published while you were there?
John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus was and remains an important book for us. It was tremendously influential not only in its own intellectual summons but for the connections it encouraged in the Radical Reformation tradition. One of those connections was to Stanley Hauerwas, who has been an important contributor and friend.
Another watershed book was Richard John Neuhaus’s The Naked Public Square, which, like The Politics of Jesus, became a part of the vocabulary. It connected us with what became the neoconservative side of our market, and it contributed to the view that Christians had a responsibility in the public square.
Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind raised the question about where evangelicals had come from and where they were going. Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament for a Son was certainly one of the most important pastoral books the company has ever done.

How Your Publicist Can Help You Promote Your Book

Most publishers–even university presses–will assign a publicist to your book.  Over at the blog of Princeton University Press, publicist Debra Liese answers some common questions that she receives from authors.  Here is a taste:

One of the best things you can do after writing a book is… write some more! If your book’s research can be leveraged to comment on current events and you’re able to write a short (750 words) piece with a definite argument, you can pen an op ed positioning yourself as an expert, mentioning your book in the byline. Your publicist can help you  to get this into the hands of the right people. Never written an op ed before? Start by reading them.

Notice they are free of jargon, written for a general audience, and feature a strong point of view.Here’s a good place to read about the dos and don’ts of op ed writing.

Take advantage of other writing opportunities too. Guest blog if you are asked. Respond quickly to reporters who solicit your expertise. Reach out to personal contacts and colleagues who may have an affinity with your work and be interested in covering it.

Academics Writing Books That No One Can Buy

Here is anonymous academic describing his/his experience with a representative from an academic publishers who wants him/her to write a book for them.  A taste from the piece in The Guardian:

A few months ago, an editor from an academic publisher got in touch to ask if I was interested in writing a book for them.
I’ve ignored these requests in the past. I know of too many colleagues who have responded to such invitations, only to see their books disappear on to a university library shelf in a distant corner of the world.
If someone tried to buy said book – I mean, like a real human being – they would have to pay the equivalent of a return ticket to a sunny destination or a month’s child benefit. These books start at around £60, but they can cost double that, or even more.
This time, however, I decided to play along.
So I got the editor on the phone and he asked if I had an idea for them. “Sure,” I said, trying to sound enthusiastic. “Perhaps I could write a book about…” – and here I started piling up ugly-sounding buzzwords.
I could hear how he momentarily drifted off, probably to reply to an email, and when I was done with my terrible pitch, he simply said: “Great!”
“The best thing now,” he continued, “is if you could jot down a few pages, as a proposal, which we could then send out to reviewers.” He paused a second, then added: “If you have any friends who could act as reviewers and who you think could sign off on the project, then that’d be great.”
I was intrigued by the frankness.
“How much would the book be sold for?” I inquired, aware this might not be his favourite question. “£80,” he replied in a low voice.
“So there won’t be a cheaper paperback edition?” I asked, pretending to sound disappointed.
“No, I’m afraid not,” he said, “we only really sell to libraries. But we do have great sales reps that get the books into universities all across the world.”
“So how many copies do you usually sell?” I inquired.
“About 300.”
Read the rest here.

Erin Bartram’s Busy Day at AHA 2015

Erin Bartram is back.  As some of you read this, Erin will be presenting at American Society of Church History session “American Religion Online: How Digital Projects Can Change How We Teach, Research, and Interpret Religious History.”  I am looking forward to chairing and commenting. Here is her latest AHA post.  I can’t believe she got a lanyard! –JF
My day began not-so-bright but definitely early at the Women in Theology and Church History breakfast. It was such a treat, but also such a shame that it was so short and I didn’t get to meet many of the people whose projects were so interesting to me.  I was fortunate enough to meet up with some of the graduate students from the breakfast at the ASCH reception in the evening. Perhaps the most important development at the breakfast – I got a lanyard from ASCH Executive Secretary Keith Francis!
My first panel of the day was “Doing More with Less:The Promise and Pitfalls of Short-Form Scholarship in the Digital HistoryAge.” Kathy Nasstrom talked about the Oral History Review’s foray into short-form articles which you can read more about here. She said most of the submissions so far had come from traditional university-based scholars but that she hoped to see more from alternative kinds of scholars. Ben Railton spoke about blogging, tweeting, and writing pieces for websites like Talking Points Memo. One of his main points, echoed by the others on the panel, was that blogging is very generative, but that there’s no built in audience (except your parents) so you have to find a way to connect to your desired audience. Stephanie Westcott spoke about the overabundance of knowledge being created by scholars in an online form, and offered two ways to help us manage that deluge. The PressForward plugin helps scholars stay up to date on a given topic by aggregating blog posts of interest, and Digital Humanities Now curates and promotes new and interesting DH projects.
Finally, Kristin Purdy of Palgrave Macmillan talked about the Pivot series, which publishes works longer than an article but shorter than a monograph. Of the many benefits to this series, most interesting to me was something all of the panelists extolled as a virtue of short-form scholarship: the relative speed with which material can get to its audience and make an impact. Purdy said that while monographs spend months in the editorial process, Pivot books can make it to press in nine weeks. She cited the example of Peter Conn’s book Adoption: A Social and Cultural Historywhich was cited one month after its publication in an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court in the Proposition 8 case. The potential of all of these new forms was palpable in the discussion, but the comments did return several times to that perpetual question whenever innovation in form is considered: “How will this count towards tenure?”
On I went to the Digital Pedagogy Lightning Round, where nearly two dozen of us took two minutes each to pitch or explain a way to use digital methods in teaching. The ideas came fast and furious and I gave up taking notes, but I urge you to read the #s95 hashtag to see all of the amazing things presented. The main thing that struck me, however, was that all of this technology was being used to help teachers help their students as people, not just learners, whether by empowering students to create history in new and interesting ways or helping professors streamline assessment to leave them with more time to focus on the meaningful connections that can drive learning and keep students engaged and enrolled. I pitched my own project, and hopefully after a few conversations tomorrow, I’ll have something to share in my next update. One major benefit to a DH session like this? You pick up a dozen newTwitter followers in a couple of hours!
I had planned on choosing from one of several panels in the afternoon but when it came down to it, coming back to my hotel room and resting my brain a little bit won out. Thankfully, with John tweeting the public intellectuals panel, I felt like I didn’t miss a thing. Feeling a bit more refreshed a few hours later, I wandered over to the book exhibit, made a list of a million books I want to read, and tried to avoid the throngs of scholars clutching their complimentary wine and cheese. I didn’t buy anything, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to hold out tomorrow.
Tonight, all that’s left is to pack up and prepare for my presentation tomorrow morning: “The American Converts Database: TheDatabase as an Expression of Scholarship on Religious History.” For anyone who might be coming to the panel tomorrow morning on American religion online, feel free to take a look at the database beforehand. (http://americanconverts.org/)

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.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #92

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

I am starting to make some progress again on the ABS project.  More on that tomorrow.  Today I want to reflect a bit on my journey toward landing a publisher for the book.  (I signed a contract today with Oxford University Press).

If you have been reading along with these updates, you know I spent a lot of time back in August crafting my book proposal.  I sent it off to literary agents, university presses, and trade presses (including Christian trade presses) that do not require a literary agent.  Here is what happened:

1.  Most literary agents turned me down.  The story of the ABS was interesting, but not interesting enough, they thought, for a trade book.

2.  One literary agent was interested until I told her that I had sent the book out to some universities presses that had trade divisions.  She did not feel comfortable selling a book to publishers who I had already contacted with the proposal.  I learned a good lesson here.  Literary agents want the exclusive right to pitch a proposal.

3.  Two Christian publishers were interested in the book and offered me very attractive deals.   These were both Christian trade presses and thus were not required to send the proposal out for review.

4.  An academic press with a trade division also made me a very attractive offer.  They sent the proposal out for review very quickly and came back with a contract.

5. A very well-respected Ivy League university press was ready to offer me a contract, but they did not think that they would be able to put the book through the review process and  prepare the book for publication in time to meet my May 2016 publication date.  Yet this press really wanted the book and wanted to include it in a new series geared toward popular audiences.  They suggested sending my chapters out for review as I completed them.

6.  Several other university presses wanted the book, but they could just not meet the timetable or my desired price point.

In the end, Oxford and one of the Christian presses made the best offers.  Oxford sent the proposal out for review and I got three very positive responses from referees who clearly knew a lot about the history of the ABS.  Oxford promised to keep the price point low (under $30.00), agreed to publish it as a trade book, allowed me to have some extra images, and promised to make sure the book would be published in May 2016 in time for the ABS’s 200th anniversary celebration.  

The Christian press made a similar offer and even offered a 12-page glossy insert for images. 

In the end, I went with Oxford because I wanted the book to appeal to both Christian and non-Christian audiences.  The Christian press mentioned above made a great offer, but I thought that if I accepted the offer it would limit my readership.

Stay tuned for further posts on securing a publisher.  

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #48

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

I am back in New York for a few days continuing my research at the American Bible Society.  When I was at the ABS last month I was reading letters and documents about the ABS and slavery.  I hope to return to that material by the end of the day today or tomorrow.  But yesterday I revisited the period of 1829-1831, the time of the ABS “General Supply.”  As I have written in previous posts, the “General Supply” was the ABS’s attempt to provide a copy of the Bible for every American family.  And did I mention that they wanted to do this in two years?  

Since I am in the process of writing my chapter on the General Supply I am combing the archives reading every piece of documentation I can find from that two-year period.  This includes letters from state and local Bible societies (auxiliaries), letters written by specially appointed ABS agents as they traverse the country distributing Bibles, and official records and meeting minutes of the ABS that focus specifically on the General Supply. 

On the publishing front I had some good news and bad news yesterday.  I got a very strong bite from a commercial/trade/religious press.  But my proposal was turned down by a literary agent and a university press.   My guess is that literary agents think it will be difficult to sell an institutional religious history to a major trade press.  Most university presses are very interested in the project, but are just not equipped to deliver a book in one year. 

Sometimes I wonder why I took on this project.  Who is crazy enough to write an accessible scholarly history of a 200-year old organization in one year?  I am enjoying the work, but I wish I had more time. 

On Writing a History of the American Bible Society–Update #47

Immigrants and ABS agents at Ellis Island

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I am back at the American Bible Society archives in New York City. Yesterday was a travel day, but I did manage to get some work done on the ABS book project.  First, I had a good meeting with my research assistant Katie Garland.  If you have been reading these updates you know that Katie is working on the history of the ABS between 1865 and 1918.  In the course of our meeting we developed several important themes that we want to cover in this period.  They are:

  • Race, Reconstruction, and the development of a “colored” Bible society in 1901
  • The ABS strategy for dealing with urbanization and immigration at the turn of the 20th century
  • The ABS and the West, with particular focus on outreach to Chinese immigrants
  • Changes in the governance and structure at the ABS that reflect larger American patterns of nationalism and active government.
  • Bible translation issues
We do not think that we will have a chapter for every one of these themes, but all of them will certainly be covered in one way or another.

Katie and I also talked about whether the book should cover every detail of the history of the ABS or focus instead on  a few major themes without trying to be comprehensive.  I think we are going to go for the second option. Stay tuned.

Second, there were more developments on the publishing front today.  Things are looking good at the moment.  I hope to have something to announce on this front very soon.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #46

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I did not do any writing yesterday, but I did work on several important things related to the ABS project. First, I established a working title: The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.  This title is bound to change, but it is the one I used in my book proposal.  My only concern with this working title is that the word “Bible” appears in both the title and the subtitle.  I am going to need to work on that.

Second, I sifted through my notes on chapter three.  This chapter focuses on the so-called “General Supply,” the attempt of the ABS between 1829 and 1831 to provide a Bible for every American family. This was an amazing and bold undertaking that does get enough attention from American religious historians and historians of the early American republic.   As I write about the General Supply I also want to include some material on the local work of ABS agents, the role of women, and the ABS’s use of a burgeoning American infrastructure of roads, rivers, bridges, canals, etc…  This is a lot to cover in one chapter and I am not sure I will be able to squeeze it all in.  

Third, I received more responses from agents and publishers.  Two agents turned me down stating that my book was “just not right for our list.”  Another agent was very excited to receive my full proposal. A few university press editors acknowledged receipt of the proposal and a few others responded to my initial e-mail query.  (I usually don’t send a proposal without a short e-mail query).  One university press editor was concerned that the ABS might try to persuade me to write in a less-critical way about the organization and wondered what this might mean for the scholarly integrity of his/her press if it should publish the book (Nevertheless, she/he was eager to see the full proposal).

I am guessing that tomorrow’s update will be pretty sparse.  I have meetings at Messiah College all morning and then I will be heading off to the archives for the rest of the week.  Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #45

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I took a blogging vacation last week, but my work on the ABS project continued.  I managed to put the final polish on Chapter One: “The Bible Cause in America” and Chapter Two: “Towards a Christian Nation.”  Those chapters have been sent off to publishers and agents.  Responses are beginning to roll in.  So far nearly every university press editor who replied has been very enthusiastic about the project, but made it clear that they would not be able to deliver a published book by May 2016.  It usually takes 12 months for a university press to bring a book into print, but this does not include the review process.  University presses are required to send the manuscript out to academic reviewers (peer review) before offering a contract.  The review process could take at least three months.  This means that it takes, at minimum, a total of fifteen months to bring a completed manuscript into print.  It will be impossible for me to deliver a manuscript for peer review by January 2015.

I still have several more university presses to hear from, but I am not optimistic about this publishing option. I do wish I had more time to deliver this manuscript because some very, very good university presses have shown serious interest.

All this means that I will probably need to go with a trade or commercial press.  Some trade presses require a literary agent.  As I have written before, a few agents have expressed interest in the project.  I have had a few nice bites from trade presses that do not require an agent.   Only time will tell.

In the meantime I am in the process of working on Chapter Three and preparing for a few more days at the ABS archives.  Stay tuned.