U-M Press strives to publish high-quality academic selections

Editor’s Note: The Record each month carries a listing of books published by the U-M Press. We hope our readers enjoy this look into what’s behind the book titles. This month’s listing appears on page 8.

By Rebecca A. Doyle

What has stacks and stacks of books but is not a library? Where at the U-M can you find editors, marketing experts and graphic designers—but no writers?

Give up? It’s the University of Michigan Press, which has published volumes of scholarly works for more than 60 years.

The Press currently publishes approximately 125 titles annually, concentrating in nine major areas: classics, anthropology, literature, women’s studies, theater, history, economics, political science, and law.

Colin L. Day, U-M Press director, says that many university presses concentrate in certain areas and the U-M is no exception.

The Press publishes in “clusters,” or several selections in a particular discipline, which builds their expertise in the area. That way, Day says, they know the market directions and can judge the potential for sales.

“University presses exist because publishing scholarly works is not profitable,” he says. “Commercial presses don’t do it.

“We see ourselves as endeavoring to publish the best academic selections, the most advanced scholarship.”

The Press publishes selections by noted researchers and academicians from all over the country, not just the University of Michigan. And some U-M authors have their works published by other presses, Day notes. “Sometimes they have established connections with other publishing houses and sometimes they write in areas we don’t publish.”

Each book goes through a process of being read, edited, reviewed and revised before publication.

First, the author submits a manuscript to Day. One or more editors from the Press may read it, and will then send copies to peer reviewers—experts in the same academic field—asking for comments and constructive advice. When the manuscript is returned, revisions are made and production begins. A copy editor reads the manuscript for sentence structure and typographical errors, a book jacket is designed by an in-house artist and the marketing department begins work on promotional materials.

The whole process may take just a few months or several years, Day says, since peer reviewers vary in the speed with which they return manuscripts. But the 32-member staff at the Press is never idle waiting for manuscript returns. This year they published 125 titles, compared with 63 just five years ago. An increase in the U-M Press budget then made it possible for them to begin to publish more scholarly works.

The Press continues to face many of the same economic difficulties experienced by other University departments and units, but with one difference.

“Academic sales are at a very low level,” Day notes, probably as a result of the availability of information by computer. Most academic book sales are to libraries, and even those numbers have diminished because of sharing capabilities of those institutions, he says.

But the U-M Press continues to publish according to its high standards for scholarly works, and strives to publish works that will be economically sound as well as recognizing that their mission is to publish scholarly academic works of the highest quality.

One economically sound area, Day says, is the series on English as a second language. The English Language Institute began instruction and publishing texts “early in the game,” he says, and the Press has published texts in the area for the past six years that are used not only in the program at the University but all over the country. Sales from those books help subsidize some of the academic works that aren’t big sellers but that contribute to the academic community.

“I’m amazed at where we are after five years,” Day says. “The authors are happy, we have maintained high standards for the quality of the books and our staff has found new capabilities within themselves.”


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