Interview By Lori Russell
Changes in the publishing industry over the past several years have led many commercial houses to focus on book proposals and manuscripts that offer wide reader appeal and a potentially large financial payoff. Where does that leave authors with more regional or specialized projects? An increasing number are finding publication success with a university press.
Once home almost exclusively to academic monographs and scholarly texts, many university presses are expanding their lists of books for general audiences as well. Oregon State University Press, established in 1961, publishes about 15 works of nonfiction each year. As acquisitions editor, Mary Elizabeth Braun is responsible for evaluating both solicited and unsolicited proposals and manuscripts for possible publication. She also maintains a network of qualified outside manuscript reviewers who participate in the peer review process for each project.
Here, Ms. Braun explains the role of the university press, how it differs from a commercial publisher and what writers need to know before submitting a book proposal.
What is the role of the university press in the larger world of publishing?
University presses play a larger role than ever in the publishing world, as their lists expand to include titles of a more popular nature, in addition to the academic monographs that have always been their staples. University presses often take risks on books that a large commercial press would reject. We publish books written by new or little-known authors, or books that might sell “only” several thousand copies––low sales for a large commercial press, but not a university press. Do check out the following summary from the Association of American University Presses about the value of university presses.
How does it function differently than a commercial New York publisher or a small independent press?
Perhaps the largest single difference in how we function is that each manuscript we consider seriously for publication must go through peer review and be approved by the Press Editorial Board before it is published. Also, we copyedit each and every book we publish.
What types of projects are the best fit for a university press?
Years ago, academic monographs were the most appropriate projects for publication by a university press. Nowadays, most any intelligent, well-written project is suitable for publication by a university press. The key factor is identifying a university press that has a strong established list in the subject matter of your manuscript, e.g., regional nonfiction, history, poetry, art history, memoir, etc. This ensures that your publisher will have an established marketing network to best place, promote and sell your book. To identify a potential university press as your publisher, consult the annual directory of the Association of American University Presses.
Does a writer need to have an advanced academic degree or teach at the college- level to write for a university press?
An author need not have an advanced academic degree, or a position teaching at the college level, to be a university press author. In fact, many of our authors are freelance writers or journalists. Nor does an author have to be affiliated with the parent institution of the university press to which they submit a manuscript.
Does a writer need to contact you through an agent or can he/she send a query directly?
I prefer receiving queries directly from the author.
What is the peer review process?
If I review a manuscript or proposal and think it has solid potential as an OSU Press book, I will send it to two outside readers for review. These are usually individuals who are published authors themselves, who are knowledgeable about the subject matter of the manuscript and experienced in evaluating a project’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as its sales potential. This helps Press staff ensure the integrity of each title we publish.
What specific types of projects are you looking for now?
I am interested in intelligent, well-written, compelling books written for an educated general reader that address topics of Pacific Northwest history, natural history, culture, art and literature, as well as books of environmental history and natural resource management. First-person narratives and creative nonfiction are welcome. Do visit the OSU Press website to see firsthand what sort of books we publish and to access the submission guidelines for authors.
Feel free to contact me at 541-737-3873, or email@example.com with any comments or questions. I look forward to hearing from you all.
Lori Russell is an award-winning writer who has had the pleasure to work with several great editors in her 17 years as a freelancer. She is a contributing editor to Columbia Gorge Magazine and has been a regular contributor to Ruralite for more than a decade. Her articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the country and her short fiction and poetry has been published in several journals and anthologies. Lori recently completed her first novel, Light on Windy River.