Tag Archives: scholarly publishing

What Does A Publisher Do? Part 3

Standard

Here is the third installment of what a publisher does. Since I launched Dobyns Chronicles in May marketing has been where I have spent the majority of my time. At times it feels like a daunting task but it is a necessary one if you want you book to be seen by anyone beside your immediate family.

Adventures in Marketing
publisher
Editors like to think that editorial is the brain that drives the publishing house, which is true as far as it goes. Marketing, then, is the muscle that moves the ideas. It’s got to be smart muscle, too. Marketing departments may include two large spheres of responsibility—promotion (sometimes also called marketing) and sales. In some houses, sales is split off into a separate department. Broadly speaking, marketing will embrace promotion, publicity, advertising, sales to chains, sales to individuals, book clubs, subsidiary rights, and translations—all the ways in which a publisher brings your book to its readers and brings in cash. If you’re publishing with a small house, you may have the luxury of calling one person who is responsible for all these marketing activities. At larger houses, however, you may need to bond with several different staff members. This is a thumbnail sketch of what they do.

In publishing parlance, advertising is the placement of expensive print ads in newspapers and magazines. There’s little agreement among publishers about what advertising does, other than make the author and the author’s agent feel better, and demonstrate that the house is capable of spending money on ads. Advertising promotes the author’s book and the publishing house itself.

Many people in scholarly publishing doubt that advertising sells books, or that it sells them in as cost-effective way as direct mail or by having the author lecture widely—and compellingly—on the subject of his latest book. It is not uncommon for scholarly publishers to devote less of their marketing resources to print advertising than they might have even a decade ago. Nevertheless, almost all scholarly houses still buy advertising space in journals and conference programs, if less frequently in magazines, and more rarely still in newspapers. Every author thinks his book should be advertised in the New York Times Book Review. Every publisher crosses her fingers hoping the Times will review the book, thereby promoting it more effectively and more cheaply than an ad could hope to. Hardly any scholarly book can generate enough income to justify the expense of an ad in the Times Book Review, where a full-page ad costs as much as a very nice car. What has changed most significantly in the past decade is the proliferation of electronic marketing opportunities. Open your Gmail account and you may find that a scholarly publisher has sent you an e-blast, basically an advertising page sent by e-mail chick-full of scholarly book news.

Frequently confused with advertising, publicity is the “Hear ye! Hear ye!” department of a publishing house. Publicity departments work with radio and TV, and get review copies and press releases out to the media. Publicity departments are also responsible for parties and tours, though in most scholarly publishing houses all but the most modest parties are reserved for the biggest books of the house’s season. So, too, are tours. Sometimes publicity departments will be able to work with an author to support an event, for example, arranging for a local bookstore to sell copies of the author’s latest when she is giving a guest lecture on campus. But big publicity—getting an author on Oprah, for example—is difficult work, and despite the widespread belief to the contrary, a scholar’s appearance on a major talk show doesn’t translate into overnight success for the author’s entire oeuvre. Television book talk has become yet one more endangered species.

Depending on the book, a publisher may put very little effort into publicity. There’s little that can be done to interest the media in, say, a work of descriptive linguistics. On the other hand, most scholarly publishers bend over backward to find something tasty in the most erudite tome, and with an author of appealing grace, it just might be possible to get a reporter or scout interested in your book on the War of the Spanish Succession.

Like advertising, publicity is an expense that a publisher will undertake for two reasons: to sell the book, and to sell the house. The publisher will certainly want to move copies of your book on bias in educational testing, but if your book is particularly important to the house, advertising and publicity for your book will be an investment through which the publisher can show that it is interested in educational issues, or that it is capable of promoting timely books vigorously.

Publishers often set a limit of some percentage of a book’s total anticipated earnings as the amount of money that can be spent on advertising and on publicity. These figures are, however, in one sense entirely fictitious, as the publisher is obligated to spend the specified percentage before the books are even sold. For example, if your book, fresh off the presses, is expected to sell enough copies to bring in $100,000, and your publisher is willing to invest 15 percent of that income in marketing, the book would then have an allocation of $15,000. This sum, however, will be spent early on in the book’s life: advance page proof, fliers or brochures, advertising space (often reserved months before the journal or magazine goes to press). If your book sells only half the expected amount, your publisher will have spent most of the $15,000 marketing allocation. It can’t be done bit by bit.

This gamble is one of the things that make trade publishing risky. In trade, every book is aimed at the general reader, and so every book should, at least in theory, repay publicity efforts by the publisher. Each pop star biography, each thriller, each diet book or memoir should be strong enough for a lecture tour, bookstore appearances, and photos in the glossies.

Scholarly publishing is a lower-yield industry, but it’s also lower risk. In scholarly publishing, the author is writing for a much smaller but more targeted community. Less money is made available for marketing, even if percentages may not be so different from trade. If your scholarly book is expected to generate sales of $25,000 rather than $100,000, and if the percentage allocations remain the same at both houses, your marketing budget would be $3,750. This sum might be enough for a couple of ads (though not in the New York Times), or for several other less visible pieces of promotion. But your publisher is likely to rely on a more complex mix of promotional initiatives: conference displays, targeted fliers to members of your professional association, scholarly advertising, a solus ad (an ad featuring your book all by itself) in a less expensive and less general publication (the New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, or the Nation, for example), and increasingly a welter of electronic marketing strategies.

Publicity is only partly the result of what your publisher spends and where. Who you are counts. A well-known novelist brings to publication her fame and achievement, a first-time novelist only the enthusiasm of her supporters and her publisher. A scholarly author has something else: she has a field. Whether you are a first-time author in sociology or a senior scholar in the discipline, as a member of the academy you are writing within a defined arena, and that will make it possible for your publisher to promote your work.

In other words, the parts of a scholarly author’s network—colleagues, institution, and discipline—are key elements in the promotion of the book. It is fair to say that in the world of academic publishing an independent scholar, or anyone writing serious nonfiction outside the university, may in at least this regard be at a disadvantage.

Marketing departments issue all kinds of catalogues to promote books—ones you see and ones you won’t unless you’re a librarian or a bookseller. The trade catalogue is a publisher’s principal tool for making sales to bookstores. Like countries that have only two seasons, wet and dry, most of scholarly publishing divides its year in half. (Some larger houses now issue three catalogues; their weather is more complicated.) Publishers with two trade catalogues bring out one per season. The fall season usually begins in September and continues through the winter. The spring season begins in February or March, and continues through the summer. Books to be announced in a catalogue must be securely in place at the publishing house up to a year ahead. The book you hope to have published in September will be announced in a catalogue printed the previous spring; the copy for your book will be written during the winter. It isn’t uncommon for a house to expect the manuscript to be delivered and through its review and revision process a year prior to publication date. Certain kinds of books can’t be well published in certain months. Scholarly publishers avoid launching serious trade books in December, since the outstanding study of world famine won’t compete with holiday fare (unsold copies will be returned to the publisher before the tinsel is swept away). It’s most desirable to stock textbooks by January or February, since teachers will need to see examination copies in the spring to order texts for fall classes.

Have a blog? Share the news with your devotees. To marketing and publicity also falls the task of arranging author tours. If an author tour conjures up images of red carpets, limousines, and chilled champagne, think again. A scholarly author on tour may be staying in friends’ guest rooms, speaking in near-empty bookstores, and certainly wondering if there aren’t easier ways of selling books. And yet most authors are delighted by the request to make appearances. After all, it means that the publisher thinks this is a book that can reach beyond a core readership.

An author tour can take various forms. Two weeks of travel, flights from city to city, an author appearance every day, twice a day if possible. The phone-in radio show in the morning, the mall bookstore in the afternoon, the campus speaking engagement just before dinner, a quick stop to sign a pile of copies at the campus bookstore, where your book has the prime window display. All this takes the author’s time, and can cost the publisher a tidy sum. At the other end of the scale, the tour might be rather less elaborate. (Do you know anyone in Chicago who could put you up? Do you mind driving there?) If you are publishing a book with a very small house, there may simply not be a budget for any sort of touring. Many scholars overcome the limitations of their publishers’ budgets by using their own speaking engagements as book promotion opportunities. If you’re going to give a lecture anyway, contact your publisher well in advance to see if a book event might be scheduled around it.
The cheapest way to promote a book is to have the author pitch it to a willing audience. Lecturing at the community center on images of aging in Western art? Your publisher can easily run off a simple promotional flier with order form attached, ship you a stack of them, and have you place them strategically at your lecture venue. Medium-size and larger academic houses will usually select one or more authors in a season for special promotion. Publishers often make their choice on the basis of three factors:

the book can sell in quantity in bookstores;
the book can be reviewed in newspapers, not simply journals;
the author is presentable.
Some books can be successful without ever selling a single copy in a bookstore. These are textbooks—if you’ve written one, don’t expect to tour. Your publisher will send you on tour only if bookstores think you’ll draw a crowd. If bookstores are behind you, chances are your book has enough appeal to garner reviews in the media.

“Will I be getting a party?” asks an author breathlessly, having just turned in his overdue manuscript on the history of childhood illnesses. Publishers throw parties reluctantly. Parties make authors feel good—to which your publisher won’t object—but the publishing business is primarily about getting books sold. Unless you can deliver the movers and shakers of the media, or of your academic discipline, your publisher’s marketing budget is better spent on advertising and direct mail than on renting a restaurant for catered snacks and dancing. Of course, it might be nice to have a little do for your close friends on campus. Think warm white wine in plastic cups in the faculty lounge. Next question.

Your publisher may budget anywhere from fifty to several hundred “free and review” copies of your book. These are copies on which you will receive no royalties because they’ll be given away or used in promotion.

Books are given away to people who may review the book or in other ways do the book some good. A publisher with a book hot off the presses will want to get it as quickly as possible into the hands of the most powerful people in the field. The publisher who has just brought out a book on the ethical treatment of animals may want Peter Singer, for example, to have a copy as early as possible, in the hopes that Professor Singer will (a) like the book and spread the word; and (b) respond eagerly if a book review editor contacts him about reviewing it.

It’s important to remember that book reviews are assigned by book review editors (at newspapers, at magazines, at journals). Since almost anyone could plausibly be a book reviewer, publishers have become hard-nosed about sending out review copies to unknown persons. Your publisher will have an A-list of preferred review sites, and will automatically get copies of your book to the people at these publications and organizations. If your best friend Louise wants to review the book but isn’t a book reviewer, don’t be insulted if your publisher won’t send her a free copy. Louise should try contacting a journal where she might review the book. Chances are your publisher has already put that journal on the A-list and a copy of your book is waiting, alongside hundreds of others, in the office of the journal’s book review editor. If not, have that journal send your publisher a request—on letterhead

Remember that promotional copies are not about promoting you. Or about your promotion at State U. Don’t expect your publisher to send a copy of your book to your dean or to Betty who typed the manuscript. These are your responsibilities. Your contract will stipulate a number of copies given to you at no cost. Beyond that, you’ll be expected to pay for further copies of your own book. (But at least you’ll get an author’s discount.)

Take a look at my new YouTube video and let me know what you think about it. Have a blessed day.

What Do Publishers Do?

Standard

The next several blogs will be dedicated to what a publisher does and carries you though the complete process. This article comes out of the University of Chicago. I hope you enjoy reading it. Shirley

publisher

There are all kinds of publishers. Most deal in hard copy. Anything printed and disseminated can be described as a publication—a mimeograph handout, a 500,000-copy-a-month magazine, a scholarly journal, a book. Anyone who produces any of these might describe himself as a publisher. Today you can self-publish. In fact, you always could. In the 1620s Johannes Kepler not only printed his own work, he disguised himself as a peddler and traveled to the Frankfurt Book Fair to sell it. Four centuries later you can disguise yourself electronically and publish online. Inside Higher Ed, Slate, and Postmodern Culture are online publications. The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times provide abbreviated versions of their texts online, with more extensive resources deeper into the Web sites. The great scholarly publishers offer an increasingly sophisticated array of electronic “product,” a term so complex it earns the right to be a singular rather than a plural. Yet despite the expansion of the electronic universe, academic publishing is still in many important ways solidly connected to the world Gutenberg made: books printed on paper and bound for repeated readings. The book is the form in which we scholars tell our stories to one another. Articles do other things: test-drive a portion of a book’s ambitious project, or deliver cold, hard data. Even when a publisher offers the choice of a physical or electronic edition of a work, or supplements a physical book with electronic ancillaries, or produces a physical book only on demand, it is the form of the book, that precious thought thought-skeleton, that holds a project together.

Twenty-first-century book publishing is dominated by a few very large and powerful corporations. Many well-known imprints are satellites within conglomerates. Scribner, for example, is part of Simon & Schuster. Knopf, Crown, and Doubleday are all parts of Random House, which is owned by the Bertelsmann corporation. (Norton stands as one of the few remaining independents in New York.) Smaller trade lists include FSG, Pantheon, and Holt, but they are part of larger organisms. Palgrave (Bertelsmann), Blackwell (Wiley), and Routledge (Taylor and Francis) are large commercial academic publishers owned by still larger entities. Alongside them are other midsize and small firms, commercial and not-for-profit, the giant Anglo-American university presses Oxford and Cambridge, as well as the archipelago of university presses that stretch across North America.

Publishing companies continue to imagine themselves as reasonably independent entities, presenting each season a collection of works that cohere in some way—either through their intellectual or entertainment value, or through the sheer force by which they are marketed to the world. Editors like to think of themselves, as they long have, as working at houses, though the label “house” is a charming compensation for a suite of offices either crowded and shabby or crowded and sterile. Yet “house” is both functional and stylish, with more than a soupçon of couture about it. Coco Chanel and John Galliano; Max Perkins and your editor of choice. Fabric and designs may be different, but these craftsmen all wield the same tool: a pair of scissors. An editor’s job is, in part, to cut your manuscript and make you look good.

Who They Are
It is easy to imagine the critical distinction in modes of scholarly dissemination as print vs. electronic, and easier still to imagine this as the latest battle between ancients and moderns. In practice, electronic scholarly publishing is bound in many ways to the forms and institutions of physical print culture. Much electronic scholarship is dependent on carefully prepared hard-copy texts. The publisher considering your work in digital form is still likely to be dependent on trees and ink for its daily business.

We can group publishers into five major categories. The digital environment, now one of the scholar’s homes, might represent a sixth category, but at this stage ion the life of “publishing,” it’s perhaps more useful to think of “digital” as a means of operating, or of delivering content, that in varying ways influences the recognizable categories of publication. The corporate organization of knowledge can still be diagrammed in terms of these five:

1. Trade. Trade publishers, the big commercial houses based largely in New York and owned largely elsewhere, are what most people think of when they think of publishers at all. Trade houses are the source of more than half of the books published in the English language, and most conspicuously those on the best-seller list. When people talk about books, it’s likely they’re talking about trade books. Trade books are the ones most people—including you—read for pleasure and information. While no trade publisher is reluctant to have a backlist of titles that continue to sell year after year, the industry’s trends are toward signing up only books that will be very profitable, and very profitable right away. Trade publishing thrives on precisely what scholarly publishing does not: the one depends upon reaching the greatest number of people quickly, while the other depends upon reaching enough of the right people over time, an objective made increasingly complex by the electronic revolution. Trade houses do publish some scholarly books, but scholarship isn’t the reason these publishers are in business. In the era of conglomerates, there are fewer independent trade publishers and more divisions, imprints, lines, and series within larger trade houses. Trade publishing isn’t the focus of Getting It Published, simply because few scholarly writers will begin their publishing careers with trade.

2. Textbook. The book you’re writing may wind up being used in a college course, even as required reading, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a book that a textbook publisher would want. Textbook publishing is often called college publishing. College publishers produce genuine textbooks—the introductions to macroeconomics and panoramas of American history that are the staples of large college lecture classes.

Textbook publishing can be the most profitable part of the publishing industry—and is when the books work. The publisher who produced the Psychology 101 text you’ve assigned in your lecture class won’t be selling it to anyone other than students, but they will buy it because it is a requirement of the course—and usually a requirement of that course semester after semester. Textbook publishers don’t get their books into Barnes & Noble or your local independent, but they happily supply the textbook counter at your campus store once an order for your course has been received.

One definition of a text is a book no student would possibly want to keep, and that is useless even to the professor two years after publication. Textbook publishers expend considerable effort in providing teachers exactly what they need for specific courses—and then in revising the material on short cycles. Textbook publishing addresses real curricular needs, and attacks those needs with all the powers at its disposal—high-quality production, prestigious authors and advisors, sales reps who knock on professors’ doors urging them to adopt a particular title, and a painstaking review process. A well-reviewed work of serious trade nonfiction may earn you a bit of money, as well as professional kudos. But will a textbook? Universities rarely grant tenure to someone on the basis of having authored a textbook, and few scholars devote their early careers to this type of project alone. Why devote one’s efforts—as publisher or writer—to college publishing? Many textbook authors are genuinely motivated by a desire to shape a field and to excite beginning students. But beyond that, as Willie Sutton said of bank robbing, that’s where the money is.

3. Scholarly or academic. The heart of any academic’s publishing life will be the scholarly publishing community. Most scholarly publishers are university presses, particularly in the United States and Canada. Beacon, Island Press, and the New Press are unusual not-for-profit publishers with trade book lists. There are also important not-for-profit scholarly publishers, those connected, for example, with museums—the Metropolitan, the Getty, and so on. But there are other scholarly and scholarly-trade publishers in America whose readerships and author pools overlap with those of university presses.

For most of the past century, scholarly publishing has been devoted to exactly what the term describes, scholarly publishing. The term monograph persists as a description of the kind of book published by a scholarly press. Not that many years ago, a scholarly house might refer with pride to the monographs it was about to publish. “Monograph” isn’t a term heard quite so often these days, but that doesn’t mean that this kind of book is no longer crucial to learning and research.

A monograph, forty years ago as now, is a specialized work of scholarship. All university presses continue to offer some monographs, and some commercial houses have found creative ways to publish them, too. Monograph publishing is about hardback books at high prices, marketed to a few hundred key purchasers, most of which are libraries. Generations of scholars were trained to produce their first monograph, and encouraged to seek its publication. The most traditional academic publishers continue to support the monograph as part of their publishing programs. For three decades the death of the monograph has been repeatedly proclaimed, but the monograph may have merely been napping. Digital technologies are transforming the means of producing and disseminating the monograph, giving new life, or its cyber-equivalent, to works too specialized to sustain traditional printing methods. A first-rate monograph in renaissance literature, published by a leading university press, might enjoy worldwide sales of four hundred copies. The publisher may find electronic paths to other readerships, but there is no magic cursor pointing to an easy solution. Fundamentally, the number of people who need to know about maritime law in the 1620s is an inelastic figure. The first-rate monograph tells that inelastic readership something they want to know because they need to know it and are willing to pay to learn.

4. Reference. Like “textbook,” “reference” is a term that can be used too loosely. Your book on Brecht might be so detailed that it could act as a frequent reference for theater historians. That is, people will consult your long and thorough index and bibliography. You might think your project would make “a handy reference,” but that doesn’t make it a reference book. Let’s distinguish hard reference from trade, or soft, reference. Soft reference may show up in bookstores or at a discounted price from an online bookseller. There are lots of soft reference books, from paperbacks on spelling demons to handy manuals on repairing sink traps. The Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music is soft reference, as is, on a more scholarly note, The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (at 1400+ pages it’s soft, but heavy.) In other words, things you might buy, usually in paperback, and keep around the house.

Traditional, printed dictionaries and encyclopedias were at one time the heart of hard reference publishing, and librarians are their key purchasers. The very largest reference projects are often cooked up by the publishers themselves or by “packagers,” basically independent companies that think up big or complicated book projects and take them as far as a publisher would like, even all the way to printing them.

Reference publishing has long ceased to be about physical books alone. Reference works continue to appear in traditional printed form, but many are also accessible electronically—on CD, on a publisher’s subscription-based Web site, in the databases of online aggregators, and in formats and combinations bound to expand our understanding of what “information” and “book” will mean in the twenty-first century. Despite the experiments and advances of the last decade, discussions of electronic publishing today still recall some of the excitement of the first manned space launches in the 1960s.

5. Self-publishing. The prefix “self” speaks volumes. Friedrich Nietzsche took the text of Beyond Good and Evil into his own hands and published an edition of six hundred copies. In recent years, corporations have self-published manuals and other projects for their own use. Some business bestsellers, like The One Minute Manager, began as self-published projects, and went on to sell millions of copies. Sophisticated packagers are available to help the ambitious writer move an idea to market without knocking on the doors of trade houses.

For writers of academic nonfiction, however, the siren call of self-publishing drifts forth not from the offices of book packagers but out of the Web. In the Age of the Internet self-publishing is easier than ever. Create your text, build a Web site, slap up your document, and voilà. You’re an author with a work only a few keystrokes away from millions of readers. Putting one’s work on the ’Net is always an option, and while it has been pooh-poohed by serious scholars, trends in the culture of publishing are bringing about a rethink of these attitudes toward electronic dissemination. There will be more in this book on the subject of electronic publishing, but for now let’s say that print publication remains the dominant form of scholarly communication and the basis for almost all professional advancement.

Remember that publication is a way of validating your work. A book that is published by the author has all the authority the author brings to it, but little else. Once one isolates self-publishing, there are four broad categories—trade, textbook, scholarly, and reference. For most academic writers, the principal choice is, of course, “scholarly.” But the neatness of the categories conceals the messiness of most publishing houses. Some houses, like Norton, have trade and textbook divisions. Others, like Palgrave, have trade and academic divisions, including Bedford Books, an imprint that specializes in anthologies and other materials for course adoption. Random House has a small reference division, but it’s primarily a trade house. And many trade paperback houses see their books go into classrooms in large adoption quantities—think of all the Penguin paperbacks you’ve assigned or used in courses.

If publishing houses are sometimes messy organizations, some books really do fall into more than one category. The Encyclopedia of New York City is genuinely a reference work suitable for public collections, and a trade book that can be sold to individuals for home libraries. So is that venerable vitamin pill, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Books can also change category over time. Take, for instance, Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Like every work of literature taught in a classroom, this novel began as a trade book, but has moved up the cultural scale to the status of “modern classic,” now earning money for its author an publisher because it has become a widely adopted text. Tony Kushner’s Angels in America and Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen made meteoric transitions from play text to adoptable text. Like Beloved, these very writerly works also became teaching tools.

Like the tiny protomammals scurrying about in depictions of the Cretaceous era, university presses may be the most versatile, and resourceful, of all publishers. A press like Columbia, for example, produces a reference program alongside a more familiar list of academic titles, and a selection of trade offerings. A small university press may highlight one or two general-interest titles as its trade offerings in a given season. Oxford University Press publishes a vast list of specialized scholarship, as well as a distinguished list of reference and trade titles. (Oxford’s scope is so broad that it even has a vice president for Bibles. As a professor once said to me, Oxford signed up God as an author in the seventeenth century.) In a single season, a university press might offer a trade book on gardening, the memoir of a Holocaust survivor, a study of women in African literature, a workbook in Mandarin Chinese, an illustrated atlas of dams and irrigation, and the twelfth volume in the collected papers of Rutherford B. Hayes.

A word of caution: authors sometimes make the mistake of presenting their work as a combination of trade, scholarly, and reference, with a dash of text thrown in. You can understand the motivation—the all-singing, all-dancing academic book that might appeal to every segment of the market. But publishers are wary of authors who claim too much for their progeny, and marketing departments will be skeptical of the proposal that envisions a book for student use that will also be of interest as a trade hardback. No editor wants to take on a manuscript with multiple personality disorder.

This brief map of the publishing world is meant to demonstrate the range of publishers that exist, and the kinds of works they produce. But the point is to help you focus on what it is you’re writing, and how to match it up to who’s out there.