Not Your Grandmother’s University Press

The book fair consumed most of my first day at AWP 2014, but I do want to write briefly about one very worthwhile session from Friday morning: “Fiction, Memoir, and the University Press.” Moderator Alden Jones and panelists Ladette Randolph, Douglas Bauer, and Raphael Kadushin discussed their experiences as authors and editors at university presses, specifically the University of Iowa Press, the University of Nebraska Press, and the University of Wisconsin Press.

Photo by Lezan (CC BY 2.0)

In recent years, many university presses have ventured more strongly and deliberately into the trade publishing arena, to the point where, according to Kadushin, the University of Wisconsin Press, for example, now publishes as many trade books as scholarly titles. If you have noticed that the overall production quality of university press books is higher than or at least different from what it used to be—more attractive titles, more modern typeface design, more images and color—that is one reason: university presses now seek to reach a wider audience.

As Bauer explained, the good news for writers is that what commercial publishing houses have abandoned—poetry, essays, and literary fiction—university presses have gladly claimed, providing both readers and authors a new space to connect.

Writers should be aware of how the experience of publishing with a university press may be different from publishing with a commercial or even a small, independent press. The acquisitions and editorial schedules are longer. There is almost always a review process that requires manuscripts to be recommended by one or more outside, peer reviewers before the press will issue a contract. University presses also tend to keep books in print longer and develop a strong working relationship with their authors.

Douglas Bauer, who was happy with his previous commercial publishing experience, discussed how the University of Iowa Press was a “lifeline” for his most recent non-fiction book, What Happens Next? Matters of Life and Death (watch the trailer, below), a work he described as “unruly.” “A lot of really good stuff is going to university and independent publishers,” he said. Kadushin added that the fact that university presses have to worry about breaking even rather than making a profit is “a gift” to writers.

Learn more at the Association of American University Presses, where you can visit websites of individual presses, read their submission guidelines, and connect with them on social media.

Do you have a favorite university press?

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