[We’re starting a new short series of blog posts today that we’re calling, “Acquiring a Point of View.” Each post is written by one of our acquiring editors and is inspired, in some way or other, by one (or more) of the books they signed that’s coming out between March and August this year.]
I get most of the vaccines my doctors recommend. Long ago I approved vaccines for my child without a second thought. I shudder at the media reports about disease outbreaks exacerbated by people who refuse to vaccinate themselves or their children. And yet. I understand the whole controversy differently now that I have read Bernice Hausman’s forthcoming book Anti/Vax, which, as the subtitle explains, reframes the vaccination controversy.
We were the first. Not many get to say that. Well, we do! CUP is 150 years old. So we were around before all the other university presses.
From a marketing perspective this should be a dream. Easy hook, lots of promotion, and so on. But do readers even care? Do they know or want to know that we’ve been doing this publishing thing since 1869? Do authors? What about vendors and other stakeholders? Somehow, I struggle to believe Amazon is going to see we’re 150 years old and immediately order thousands more books!
Regardless, over the past year or so, the marketing team has been brainstorming and planning how to make people take notice of the fact that CUP is the first university press to the sesquicentennial mark. Colleagues from other departments have joined in and we’ve enlisted help from a variety of people on campus. We’ve got the main stuff covered: parties, events, logos, etc. We’ll use those things to let influencers on campus and in the University Press world know about the amazing things we’re doing. But what about the outsiders? Those who might not care so much? Time to get creative. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tell people our story and, perhaps most importantly sell some more books.
Being 150 years old is also an excuse to experiment, to push out some wild and wacky marketing campaigns that perhaps only tangentially use the 150th as their foundation. Videos, podcasts, blogs—content, in other words—will revolve around the 150th but won’t be consumed by it. This catalogue is full of 150th stuff but it’s not the main purpose of the catalogue, obviously! Our new website launched just in time for the 150th and we’ll use the confluence of these two things to move boldly into a content-marketing strategy more suited to the next 150 years (Weeks? Hours?) rather than what’s been done by book publishers for the past 150.
So, we’re 150! Yay, us. And we’re telling you all about it. Lucky you. But, really, from the marketing side of things, this milestone anniversary is all about being the first again. First to try new things. First to change. First to experiment. First to tear it all up and start again. And again. And again. We’re going to the be first to try a whole bunch of crazy things in scholarly book marketing and we hope you enjoy at least one or two of them.
Martyn Beeny is Marketing and Sales Director. He likes coming first; it’s a winning thing. This post was first published in the Spring/Summer 2019 Cornell University Press Catalog.
Signed contracts, a press release, a day and time for an announcement —all of the pieces were in place to go public with the news. Cornell University Press was about to tell the world that we would work with the New York State Museum to publish the journal New York History. It was big news. It was exciting. I also had no idea how people would react.
New York History, the journal of record for the history of the Empire State, has been around for a century.
Begun as The Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association in 1919, it has been the key publication for historical research about the state. New York History has been the venue where great essays from stellar scholars have appeared across the decades; careers have been launched and critical debates have been engaged in its pages. Accordingly, many people —academic historians, public historians, and engaged lay people alike— cherish the journal.
It is, in every sense of the term, an institution.
That attachment is a good thing. What would those same people say, however, when they heard of changes to their beloved journal? Would they want everything to stay the same or would they ask to turn back the editorial clock to 1985? I wondered about possible reactions all last Thursday, as I worked the 2018 installment of the Researching New York Conference on the uptown campus of the University of Albany, and anticipated the announcement I would make at the New York State Museum that evening.
Amidst my fretting, my colleagues in this endeavor, State Historian Devin Lander and Chief Curator of History Jennifer Lemak, supported me. It was all going to be well received they said. And I believed them, sort of. A couple of historian friends with whom I quietly shared the news in advance were similarly positive, and I started to think that modest enthusiasm, and not a welter of critical questions, would be the response to the news.
So when I was invited by Susan McCormick, Lecturer in History and Documentary Studies at the University at Albany, to say a few words to the crowd gathered in the Adirondack Hall, I was only a little nervous.
I told the group that the Fenimore Art Museum had passed on the stewardship of New York History to Cornell University Press, and that we would be working with Devin, Jennifer, and staff at the New York State Museum to produce the journal. Jennifer described how the journal would now actively solicit essays on a variety of topics, including public history and museum studies, and how the editorial program would aim to unify the diverse communities of historians, teachers, curators, and archivists engaged with the history of the state. Finally, Devin spoke about details of the editorial work, how the journal would soon appear semi-annually, and that New York History would return to print publication (in addition to its digital dissemination).
There was applause. There were congratulations. My trepidation was wholly unfounded.
The gathering of 50 or so people appreciated the news and were excited about what was to come; by all appearances, they were not just accepting changes in the journal but welcoming them. And that positive response spilled over to email and Twitter as the word got out to the wider historical community in New York State and beyond. I was elated and, yes, relieved.
New York History is in for some change and the community of interested scholars, educators, curators, archivists, and readers is ready for it. As the journal celebrates its centennial in 2019, there is no better time to make this change—appreciating the excellence of the first century and anticipating the next century of publication.
There will be revisions to the journal, and, as the publication develops, I encourage the community to remain interested, appreciative, and engaged.
Now the hard but satisfying work of stewardship and editing begins. I encourage the community interested in the history of New York State to keep cheering us on and, most importantly, working with us in the months and years to come.
Last summer, Gerri Jones called to tell me that Cornell Professor at Large John Cleese would be coming to Ithaca in September for a week. She told me that she had scheduled me for a public talk with Cleese on September 11th at Bailey Hall that would become the last chapter of the book we were working on together.
Since joining this amazing Press in 2015, moments like this seemed to occur with some regularity. I attended a poetry workshop at Olin Library café with a former leader of the SDS at Cornell, a Nobel Laureate and an A.R. Ammons biographer. Today, I am surrounded by correspondence rejecting Vladimir Nabokov’s novel in verse and a ledger that holds the 1939 pencil-written royalty entries for the publication of The Nature of the Chemical Bond. I am also keenly aware at times of Cornell founder Henry Sage and his wife Susan who initially occupied the mansion where I work. Gerri Jones fit right in as part of an emerging entourage.
A small family of deer mingled outside my window looking in my direction as if waiting for an answer. Surely someone else would want the opportunity to have this conversation. Gerri confirmed that she had cleared it with the Provost’s office, and that the Provost would be introducing us both. I still didn’t believe it was going to happen.
More than one year after that call and the event that formed the final chapter of Professor at Large: The Cornell Years, Gerri Jones passed away on August 10th, 2018. She was 68. She died from an infection in the hospital while being treated for leukemia.
This mystical and extraordinary woman who first alighted upon the second-floor landing of the Sage House during a folk concert never got to see her book get published. It was Gerri who brought one of the world’s most impressive and hilarious minds to Cornell over a span of seventeen years.
“Start thinking about a plan for the conversation,” she instructed me.
As it always was with Gerri, I knew what she meant. Avoid the cliched version of the Professor. Don’t spend a lot of time on Python—which I already knew anyway. If my words didn’t energize Gerri—she became bored and disinterested. She’d make a face. You had to elevate your game to be on the field with her. Those words reverberated in the weeks after the call. I dove into the Cleese canon of books, movies, and television shows. His mind came first. I read the manuscript of lectures and talks over and over.
While studying the Minister of Silly Walks, I recalled Gerri’s return to Sage House after the folk concert wearing knee-length boots and John Lennon shades. She carried a white shopping bag of Cleese talks and lectures on CDs. She told us about the never before published lecture entitled “The Sermon at Sage Chapel” that included a passage about “The Psychopaths for Christ.”
I received word of her passing and attended her funeral. She was supposed to be in remission now.
Through her friends, I came to discover that this whole episode was another glorious chapter in the amazing life of Gerri Jones. She could tilt the universe in any direction. She brought the Dalai Lama to Ithaca twice as the house mother to the Tibetan monks. She carried Kurt Cobain’s ashes back to Courtney Love after the monks had prepared them. She had even used one set as a door stop. She broke Reagan’s blockade of Nicaragua. She was the pride of Central Islip High on Long Island. To everyone there, she was simply “Ger.”
She loved Mardi Gras, dogs and Professor Cleese fiercely. They trusted each other and their chemistry was telepathic. She engineered a schedule that both challenged and protected him and left him with enough space to be creative. “I can’t read him,” he told Gerri during our second meeting after trying to discern the meaning of my facial expression. I can tell you that in that moment I felt absolute joy. My preparation for the talk had been rigorous and thorough. Professor Cleese had been talking about the brain and I leaned back in my chair and smiled. Yes, I had a little secret. I had known exactly what he was going to say before the words came out but I didn’t want to tell him that in the aftermath. Getting to know John Cleese is like learning how to play guitar. The chord structures are accessible, but they merely serve as a launch pad into an endless galaxy of improvisation.
I was ready for the public conversation and had enough confidence in his presence to suggest how the show was going to begin. After nearly falling off the chair with laughter, he agreed. Until now, Gerri was the only one I told this to in the hallway after we left Cleese that day. She and I have other secrets related to the book. Those we will keep. She swore me to it.
“We make a good team, don’t we?” She pinched my arm.
About the author of this blog post: Dean Smith is the Director of Cornell University Press.
It’s National Poetry Month and the Academy of American Poets have come up with 30 different ways to celebrate it. The ideas are creative and include subscribing to a daily digital poetry series featuring more than 200 previously unpublished poems, chalking a poem on a sidewalk or memorizing one, and listening to Mark Doty’s talk, “Tide of Voices: Why Poetry Matters Now.” NPR has claimed that “you can bet we’re not letting April slip by without a nod to the art of the verse,” inviting listeners to submit a 140-character poem on Twitter together with the hashtag #NPRpoetry, and at Cornell University Press, we feel the same.
Our 1869 podcast interviewing author Susan Eisenberg on her latest book, Stanley’s Girl, a collection of touching poems about gender inclusion, sexual violence and women in the workplace, has inspired us to add one more idea to the list. And for that purpose, we have invited two women at the Press to contribute their own poetic visions of the world. The result is insightful and exciting, and together with our selection of fine poetry books, they make us part of what has become the largest poetry celebration in the world:
Baltimore, You Are a Pocket Full of Copper Nails
by Cheryl Quimba
A lot of the time I want to push people
into giant manholes then fly down
to save them, introduce myself as their
long-lost sister who has finally sold everything
to come home. They would be confused but then
so happy for having found something they didn’t know
was lost, and it would feel like a piano playing
beams of colored light against the wall.
In your poems I’m always sad and saying
sad things but in real life I say I am the mountain
sitting on this park bench, so small a microscope needs
binoculars to find me. Baltimore is filled with dirty bathrooms
but no one cares because fun is happening.
Where I live the places where
people die are marked with stuffed animals tied
to lamp posts. There is a store called Hair Strategies
Here in the passenger side lie Wendy’s bags crumpled by boots
The gentle pungent mulch compacts beneath each nail
Picking at the leather seats to stroke the tattered brail
And decode Dad’s lesson of the day like stringed stray roots:
The ones you mulched over the mornings of summer through July.
Disembarking the diesel F450 with silver smokestacks,
You’re mapping on your hands the clay-dried, thorn-bruised cracks
Wiping the Wendy’s grease on your sister’s off-brand “Nike” slacks
Step out into the cicada-thick air where, like Wendy’s, you fry.
You let the grass prick your bare calves and adjust in the sticky bed
Wiping soil across your forehead, swatting away flying things
And quietly recoiling from the grubs unearthed as dad sings,
Something he beat-boxed under his breath about marriage and rings-
Wash your hands in the cold hose-water until they turn Wendy-hair red.
Other suggested media for our readers on #NationalPoetryMonth:
Cheryl Quimba is the Publicity Manager at CUP. She eats, sleeps, and breathes books (but loves a good movie or music debate any day). Follow her on Twitter @ cheryl_quimba.
Ana Carpenter is a member of the Cornell University Class of 2019 and Student Publishing Associate at Cornell University Press. In her free time she likes to sing, salsa, be in the company of dogs of all shapes and sizes, and collect mugs to home-brew cheap coffee.
As the end of February approaches, it’s important to reflect on the contributions—major and minor—black Americans have made to US history nationally and locally. In May of 2003, the Cornell-Ithaca Partnership and the History Center in Tompkins County developed a self-guided tour of Ithaca’s Southside neighborhood. Since Ithaca’s founding in 1804, the Southside has been home to interesting, dedicated people committed to the preservation and enrichment of their and their community’s Black heritage, culture, and way of life. From Zachariah Tyler, who enlisted with his son in the 26th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry at the age of fifty-six, to Aunt Elsie Brooks, a former slave who was so beloved by her community that more than eight hundred people attended her funeral, almost collapsing the floor of the St. James AME Zion Church. Without the influence of the Southside and its history, Ithaca would not be the town we know and love today.
If you choose to follow the self-guided tour, please be respectful as many of these sites are currently private homes to families and individuals.
Map of sites in Ithaca with ties to Black history, heritage, and culture.
Carmen Torrado Gonzalez is Marketing Assistant at Cornell University Press. She is a native Ithacan and an avid reader of poetry. Follow her on Twitter @CarmenTorradoG
Nearly twenty years ago, in a bookbinding workshop, my instructor revealed two trade secrets that pushed my fascination with books into obsession: 1) in rare cases, personal notes–including love letters–have been found nestled under the endpapers of old books, and 2) if you expose the spines of books made during the rise of printing, you’re likely to find they’re lined with scraps from the bindery floor–fragments of pages from other books. Continue reading “History and Its Fragments”→
When I was little, maybe six years old, I’m guessing, my mum read Roald Dahl’s Danny, the Champion of the World to me. It changed my life. It’s still my favorite book of all time, even now so many years later. I read it for myself a couple of years later and it’s just about the only book I return to every now and then to read again. This book led me down a path that eventually saw me become a book marketer. Between then and now, my love of books grew every year. Now, I’ve spent the past thirteen years publishing, marketing, and selling books, and in some small way, Danny, the Champion of the World is the reason. Continue reading “Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Why Books Matter (to Me)”→
As we celebrate another new year at the press, we’re excited to introduce our three newest team members: Carmen Torrado Gonzalez, Jennifer Savran Kelly, and Ellen Murphy. To kick off your 2018 reading list, we asked each of them to share the top book or books that influenced their desire to enter the publishing field. Continue reading “Welcome to the Craziness that is Publishing”→
Every author strives to find the perfect words to tell their story, but does it matter what the words look like?
From books and documentaries on the subject of typography, to blogs declaring their love of the art form, to Saturday Night Live’s satiric thriller about one graphic designer’s great typographic failure, a vast amount of attention has been dedicated to the importance of well-designed letters.