Friday, January 4, 2013

Publishing About American Places

This morning I attended a very helpful session on publishing about American places.  I learned a great deal from this session and am now more eager than ever to revisit and revise my book proposal on the Greenwich Tea Burning with the working title: "The Greenwich Tea Burning: History and Memory in an American Town."  (I might add that one of the panelists today rejected my original proposal for this book).

Bryant Simon of Temple University chaired the session.  The panelists were:

Michael McGandy (Cornell University Press)
Neils Hooper (University of California Press)
Susan Ferber (Oxford University Press)
Rand Dotson (LSU Press)
Stephen Wrinn (University of Kentucky Press)

Here is an edited twitter feed for the session:

Simon asks the panelists how to balance "place" and "argument" in university press books.

Ferber: "We can sell it in San Francisco, but will anyone else care?" How are place-centered books relevant outside the place

Sometimes regional books sell better than academic monographs. How do you explain this?

Ferber: Platform and belovedness of the place are key when publishing about place.  

McGandy (Cornell): When writing about local places, compelling writing will often help the author get it published.  

Wrinn of U KY press is reading a book proposal about a local county in KY that he just received 17 minutes ago.  

Wrinn of U KY Press: :"How do you get a national review of the *Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook*?" Challenges of regional publishing.  

There are five university press editors in the room and there are only 15 people in the audience.  

Ferber: "Using journalistic skills" in writing history is key to good publishing about places.  

Ferber: Must recreate a feel for being in a particular place. Teasing out a story from what might be limited evidence.  

Simon asks the panel to define a "hyper-local history." Ferber defines it based on scale--places that no one knows about  

Hooper (Cal Press): "I don't trust the readers (of a book about place) to connect with the larger argument. Extolls narrative  

Panel is discussing narrative books that begin with an academic introduction and lose the readers.  

Dotson (LSU Press): A good book on place will also talk about other places. If it does not, a univ. press will not publish it.  

Ferber: Talking about a talk by John McGreevy on Sioux Falls. McGreevy convinced Ferber that this place.  

Ferber: May be appropriate for authors to use first person to show readers how they came to write about their places.

Simon: Is there a pushback against globalization that celebrates place and the local?  

McGandy: Difference between writing about "place" as history and writing about "place" as a culture that may not be historical  

Ferber: Role of the author is critical in promoting books about place. Authors must promote.  

McGandy (Cornell): Looks for National Park Service rangers who will reference his books on tours.  

Editors like authors with websites and blogs. Like authors who travel with a box of books in their trunk.  

Ferber: There are a lot of microhistories out there. She implies that not many are well-written.  

Simon: Americanists tend to use the phrase "case studies" rather than microhistory or local history.  

Simon: Difference between what professors are telling graduate students and what editors are telling professors.  

Wrinn (U of KY Press): University presses are committed to scholarship, that is why they are subsidized.  

Wrinn uses phrase "horse porn" to describe the books U of Kentucky Press sells that make money so they can publish scholarship.