Foreword Reviews has had a twenty year love affair with university presses. We admire the sheer oddness and chutzpah of institutions of higher learning throwing it down with the big five capitalist publishers and their gazillions of dollars. We admire UP’s commitment to publish books that expand knowledge, regardless of whether that book stands to earn a profit. We commend the intern opportunities they provide students interested in a career in publishing. We hail the degree of diversity they have achieved amongst their employees. And the fact that so many UPs continue to publish poetry—the most fiscally irresponsible genre in publishing—brings tears to our eyes.
In any issue of Foreword Reviews, approximately 15 to 20 percent of the reviews represent books from university presses—including a handful of knowledge expanding books that didn’t receive a review in other trade journals like PW, Kirkus, or Library Journal. That was the case with Queer Faith: Reading Promiscuity and Race in the Secular Love Tradition, an NYU Press title reviewed in the July/August 2019 issue of Foreword. NYU’s website cited the review under a link for Praise with the following pull quote from our reviewer Claire Foster: “From erotic accountability to procreation and orgasms, Queer Faith is an incisive exploration of human sexuality’s many manifestations. … Sanchez engages her subject with humor. Queer Faith is an enjoyable and outstanding piece of scholarship.” As the only review journal that covers independently published books exclusively, we’re especially keen to discover and review important books that won’t receive media attention elsewhere.
2019 AUPresses Annual Meeting in Detroit
Victoria and I departed Traverse City early on the morning of June 11 and drove southeast for four hours over a handful of rivers—Boardman, Manistee, Muskegon, Saginaw, Tittabawassee—of the many that carve up Michigan’s mitten. Crossing the bridges, the thought occurred to me that a moon-based palm reader might look down at all those blue snaking river valleys and foretell the fate of the Great Lakes—threats like Asian carp, zebra mussels, algae blooms, pollution, and carbon dioxide-caused acidity keep many of us Midwesterners up at night.
We were headed to Detroit’s Renaissance Center for our first, we’re reluctant to admit, AUPresses Annual Meeting, joining six hundred and fifty university press employees. On the drive, we talked about why this book event stayed off our radar for so long, and wondered how many publicists and marketing people we’d recognize from Frankfurt, Bologna, Shanghai, Beijing, BEA, ALA, and the other book events we attend throughout the year. And we looked forward to hanging out with editors and production staff who don’t typically attend trade events. Detroit, too, where we both were born, was on our minds. The city’s downtown has experienced fantastic refurbishment in the past decade and we’d be in the thick of it.
Educational Sessions and Events: What to learn?
With money so tight in book publishing, an astounding 119 different member presses paid hard cash for their employees to attend this year’s event. Attendees arrived from 16 different countries. We soon found out why.
An hour after pulling into Detroit and registering, we sat with eighty-ish attendees for a three hour marketing workshop called Beyond Likes: Making Social Media Metrics Matter—an obvious class choice for a guy like me who doesn’t have a FaceBook, LinkedIn, or Twitter account, simply because I’m a sucker for having my attention drawn away from writing book reviews, what I’m paid to do. Foreword, on the other hand, has earned an enthusiastic social media following for serving up quality indie-book-related fodder. This Beyond Likes session dialed in on how to make more informed marketing decisions using online engagement, and we were able to glean a great deal of helpful tips. Marketing specialists from The MIT Press, University of Texas Press, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Tweepsmap, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, and the Detroit Historical Museum all offered a list of their most successful practices in this superb presentation.
After a raucous, packed, free-flowing (wine and beer) Opening Reception early that evening, at 7:00 we were seated for dinner and an inspirational talk by Lauren Hood, one of Detroit’s leading community organizers involved in community engagement, racial justice, and equitable development. In addition to some university press folk across the table whose names we didn’t catch (our bad), our tablemates included Annie Stone, PR Lead at BookBub, and Laura Ferguson, Senior VP at Open Road Media.
Celebrate Diversity, Yes, But That’s Not Enough
The Association of University Presses is absolutely committed to helping its members deal with issues of inclusivity, gender equity, people of color in mid-career finding their place in the world, and any number of topics related to instilling anti-racist principles in book and journal publishing. Perhaps a third of the several dozen educational programs, dining-room speeches, and plenary sessions covered inclusionary/racism topics, including these specific classes: Building and Sustaining Cultures of Gender Equity and Inclusion, Diversity Equity and Inclusion in University Press Internships, Diversity Fellowship Programs, Transforming Scholarly Publishing Through an Equity and Anti-Racism Framework, Networking Reception for People of Color in Publishing, as well as other impromptu gatherings.
Following breakfast on Wednesday morning, Desiree Cooper, author of Know the Mother (Wayne State University Press), warmly addressed the coffeed-up crowd in a presentation she called Race and Reader Intimacy. Free copies of her book were available at the registration desk. Victoria spent a couple hours with it over the course of the event and said it was beautifully written.
Here’s some quick-hitting comments on the sessions I attended. Let me stress that I found every one absorbing, in addition to an unexpected peek into the daily lives and, especially, struggles of the university press community.
Foreign Rights and Co-Publishing Trends
Reps from Georgetown, Harvard, Indiana, California, and Wayne State offered a from-the-trenches perspective of what takes place at the major rights events around the world. China is far and away the biggest market for university presses, though that may change with current political winds. Chinese publishers are now forbidden to buy rights from a foreign publisher UNLESS that publisher also purchases the rights to Chinese books. Purdue and Notre Dame work with Indiana’s Stephen Williams to coordinate their foreign rights efforts. Worldcat.org is an “amazing” resource for information on almost any title in library systems around the world.
University Presses at Home: Building Collaborative Partnerships on Campus and In the Community
One hundred plus people packed into this session to learn about how to raise the profile of their press on campus and locally. The fear is that funding will get cut. The number one pet peeve of any upress staff member is for a faculty member of their university to say, “I didn’t know we had a university press here.” One panelist hilariously mentioned receiving a manuscript for a memoir from her university’s athletic director, with the implied assumption that of course, you’ll publish it. That’s why you exist, right? Reps from Texas Christian, Illinois, Alaska, and Northwestern made up the roster of panelists.
Mapping the Future for Diversity Equity and Inclusion in University Press Internships
A general consensus amongst the panelists—Duke, North Carolina, Princeton, Wayne State were represented—that unpaid internships don’t work well, for several reasons including ethical considerations. Interns are extremely important to the upress model; the best interns can make huge contributions, but managing them takes a lot of effort.
OA Barriers to Access
Four brilliantly articulate women (two from MIT, University of London’s Goldsmiths Press, California) completely befuddled me with their nuanced, insightful views of what’s holding back open access initiatives at libraries and universities in North America and Europe. Discoverability is a problem—OA books (Open Access) need to be marketed like for-profit books. In an OA world, how will universities decide what to publish? The challenges presented by money and funding necessitate getting authors involved as a route to cost control. A slide mentioned the APC (Author Publishing Charge). In scholarly book publishing, the quality of the peer-review process is best reflected by the prestigiousness of the publisher, but that changes with OA. Without a publisher involved, rigorous peer review needs to be maintained and transparent. Will scholarship (books) that take a long time to research and write gradually disappear in a publishing world that values speed? A “knowledge future” will definitely include privatization and capitalism—how do we fund all this without it? Policymakers need to be engaged in OA discussions. Libraries will play an increasingly important role in providing access to information as we move to an OA world.
Copywriting and Inclusive Language, or Conscious and Inclusive Language
Panelists included representatives from the Modern Language Association, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Georgetown, Cornell, George Washington, and Columbia. “Do not care more about words than you do about people.” Style guides are widely available across all communities. Some style guides that were mentioned by panelists included the Radical Copy Editor Style Guide, Trans Inclusivity Style Guide, Conscious Style Guide, Indigenous, Asian, Diversity style guides. Ask someone how they want to be represented. For example, “I am an autistic person,” rather than “I have autism.” Respect, above all. A panelist spoke positively of the Editors of Color database. Publishing generally comes from a white supremacist framework. Why is there an insistence to standardize British and Canadian English into American English (from colour to color, for example)? It doesn’t serve comprehensibility.
Transforming Scholarly Publishing Through an Equity and Anti-Racism Framework
Panelists included two reps from Duke and the director of Allies for Change. A very powerful session outlining (explaining) how deeply racist society is. It isn’t enough to celebrate diversity, we must instill an anti-racist mindset. Where are we as individuals situated in the racial construct? How are we as white individuals complicit in systems of oppression? How do we as a white person benefit from the oppressive system? And then, we must raise our awareness from the individual to the institutional—“systemic racism.” Universities were intentionally founded NOT to be diverse.