Wednesday, May 26, 2010




Since books and education are so closely entwined (or have been until now), it has seemed natural for universities to create in-house publishers. Also, some religious groups have undertaken publishing, notably Beacon Press (UUA) or the Paulist Press, or Christian Science. The advantage and disadvantage is that since the funding and direction comes from an institution, the press has little autonomy and is often cut back severely in a budget crisis. But they can qualify for funding from philanthropies or the government. The basic cost of my book at the University of Calgary Press depended upon a grant from a foundation supporting Alberta culture. (Bob’s parents were Anglo-Quebecois, two of Bob’s wives were Canadian, and his big breakthrough was at the Glenbow in Calgary.)

I would prefer not to say that academic presses have higher standards, though I’m sure they conform to most peoples’ definition of “higher.” Surely, the content must be scholarly or of interest to scholars -- though that scholarship might be focused on pop culture. Presumably, the grammar, usage and spelling will be unchallengeable. But these are ideals. Also, every press is rife with politics, but a press attached to a denomination or a university can be brought to its knees by political kudzu that has nothing to do with individual books or even publishing.

More parts are added to a book in this context: an index, footnotes, a bibliography -- all meant to be additions that help scholars use the material, which is the assumption of purpose. Some academic presses do little more than publish theses written by faculty members, who have for a while been living by the motto “publish or perish.” Books and participation in journals and anthologies as proof of worthiness have grown so important that they tend to compromise effective classroom teaching by stealing time meant for students. BUT all academic books are reviewed by peers of the author and must be approved by a governing board. If the peers are also competitors, that can be trouble. If the governing board has some issues, that’s a problem. I found that Bob Scriver's past and the fact that his sculpture has value were complications in selling a book about him, since some publishers were players in the Western art game.

University presses have turned to e-publishing with some relief. U of Nebraska Press was saved by Print on Demand and has been emptying its warehouse with deep discounts while keeping the books alive with POD. Journals can be produced much more cheaply and made available much more widely. There are some topics academics follow that need updating constantly because of new ideas or new discoveries. These are well-suited to online journals. The temperament of academics may suit online books and journals, since they already sit at computers quite a lot. Ebooks relieve the pressure on their office bookshelves. Classroom custom “textbooks” become far more possible.

Native American writers with some academic experience may find themselves welcomed at a university press, but the latter tend to be dominated by one definition of what NA thought is, either theory or life-story, and will reject whomever doesn’t fit that pattern. NA degree programs and departments, except for the Western states, are no longer so active in generating materials and therefore opportunities. The urgency about saving disappearing cultures (“remnant anthropology”) is fading. At one point the University of Oklahoma Press unilaterally cancelled scores of books they had already contracted to publish, simply because of lack of resources.


This is pretty simple. You take your prepared digitized copy -- maybe you do that yourself on your own computer or maybe you get someone else to do it -- to a job printer in your area and get them to make it into books. Often they are small enough to staple instead of binding. Most commonly they are paperback. You pay the printer in advance. Then you’ll need to figure out how to sell the books: put an ad in the paper, carry them to book fairs, sell off your arm at a rodeo, put up a booth at a festival, leave them on consignment with shops -- not necessarily book shops. Many people do this. Many others look for this kind of book, considering them vital and authentic.

An alternative that worked for me when I was starting out was simply printing the pages on my computer, spiral-binding them with a machine I bought, and selling them through my blog or by consignment. I could have typed out the pages and xeroxed them. Office supply Big Box stories will print from discs, xerox, and/or bind in several different styles. Consignment for sale means a LOT of book-keeping and driving so you know what you dropped off where. Mailing is expensive. Do not think “bookstore,” but rather find places where the people who will like your book might see it: bait shop, service station, ice cream shop, historical society. The shop may not send you the money, so you’ll have to go collect. They’ll likely not re-order automatically, so you’ll have to be proactive about calling to see if they can sell more books.

Expect to do some pump-priming by giving books away. If you’re on good terms with the local newspapers, radio and TV interview shows, use ‘em. If you can tie into an event, that’s good. Setting up readings is a good deal but they are often poorly attended. Reviewers are tough to find because newspapers don’t run them much anymore and people who will write reviews are swamped. Keep in mind the 80-20 rule. Sales of 20% of your books should pay for 80% of your original costs.


This is a formal and international way of doing the same thing as above, except for using a “self-publishing” service that will accept your manuscript via the Internet, print and bind it to professional standards “on-demand” whenever orders come in, and mail it to the customer. They will also make a lot of good suggestions, such as who can help with parts of the task (editing, layout, distribution, promotion). They often have “forums” where writers visit and a lot can be learned. I say “international” because the production plant may be somewhere that labor is cheap. The service I use,, was printing in Great Britain.

Again, it will be necessary to do all the preparation and all the post-production advertisement and hand-selling yourself unless you find someone to contract that part. If you want the book to be listed on Amazon, you will need an ISBN (international standardized book number) because that’s how they keep track of them. (That’s the bar code on the back of the book.) But simply putting the book on a blog means it will be listed in Google.

If you blog a lot and if the material is serious and worthy, it can be gathered into a blook, maybe a book of essays, with few or no changes -- or maybe a work of fiction that was written in pieces. Some people serialize novels on a blog just the way Dickens used to do in the newspaper. Or it could be the way “columns” used to be, on-going comment and news. Printing them into a book might or might not be a good idea.


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