Monday, 16 January 2012

University Press or Trade Book?

A few days ago, I received my first royalty check and sales report for Enlightened Evangelicalism. From looking at the report, which shows the number of books sold from last April to September, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend who is finishing up his PhD at the University of Chicago. We discussed the current job market for professors as well as ideas for future publications. I posed the question of whether it is better to publish with a firm like Eerdmans, Baker, and InterVarsity or an academic university press.

My friend proceeded to tell me about a session he attended about a year ago at ETS or SBL in which a representative on the panel from a Christian trade publisher commented on how the firm only wanted to produce books that can sell thousands of copies, as opposed to a non-profit university press that will most likely sell only a few hundred copies of a particular title. While discussing the matter, my friend reminded me that university press books, although fewer in number, make a significant contribution to scholarship. That is not to say that a trade book cannot also be a work of scholarship, but the primary objective of a trade publisher seems to be, first and foremost, to produce a book that has wide appeal.

The other issue, especially for professors to consider, is that academic press books are often necessary for tenure and promotions. While publishing a book in general will be helpful for an academic's career, university press titles are usually given more weight in the tenure process and by a promotion committee since there is a rigorous peer-review process with university presses that is not necessarily present with trade publishers.

The ideal, of course, would be to publish a best-seller with a university press--a book that not only helps with your promotion but also sits on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. But that is an unlikely scenario. Most university press books are priced too high to be bought by the general public (especially in a hardback edition) and are marketed to college libraries.

This is a topic I will need to continue to think about as I work on future projects.

Jonathan Yeager

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