Something Completely Different: Working with John Cleese on a Public Talk and a New Book

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Mapping the directions of John Cleese’s Escher-like mind. Drawing by Julia Smith.

By Dean Smith

In the fall of 2015, Cornell University Press hosted a folk concert in our offices at Sage House with author and Cornell history professor Richard Polenberg to celebrate Hear My Sad Story, his new book about the true stories of folk songs like “Casey Jones,” “Stagger Lee,” and “John Henry.” Sixty people showed up for the free event. Folk music enthusiasts jammed the foyer and sat knee-to-knee on the staircase all the way to the second floor. Polenberg played four songs on his acoustic guitar and the crowd sang along with him—a magical Ithaca moment—as the sunlight shafted in from all sides after a cold rain.

After the concert, I noticed three women at the top of the second-floor steps. We’d roped off access to the offices on the second and third floors. I asked if they wanted a tour of what had been Cornell benefactor Henry Sage’s mansion and the university infirmary for most of the twentieth century. I showed them our carved oak bats and owls, stained glass windows, and fireplace tile sequences featuring fairy tales such as Goldilocks, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin. Our managing editor’s fireplace is adorned with Arthurian characters such as Lady Guinevere and Sir Lancelot.

At the end of the tour, one of the women, Gerri Jones, told me that Professor John Cleese would like a place like this. At first, I didn’t think I heard her right. Continue reading “Something Completely Different: Working with John Cleese on a Public Talk and a New Book”

Something Completely Different: Working with John Cleese on a Public Talk and a New Book

Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Cover Copy

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In real estate, as we all know, it’s location, location, location. In the book world that location is the cover of the book and the websites on which the book is featured. In both cases, the prime real estate is where you find the descriptive copy for the book, in all its facets and aspects.

In design, use of space is crucial. It’s all about how you provide the information/content/user experience. What makes a design work is how accessible it is for its purpose. In the case of books, that design aspect applies particularly to how accessible the descriptive content is on the cover.

In politics, delivery of message is key. How a politician says what he or she wants his or her constituents to know, maybe perhaps even more than what is said, determines how well the message is received. In books, how we describe what’s in a book is tied closely to what we write, but delivery of that message is crucial. Continue reading “Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Cover Copy”

Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Cover Copy

Outbox: Smart Books

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Top L to R: Unbuttoning America by Ardis Cameron, The Borscht Belt by Marisa Scheinfeld. Bottom L to R: Where the River Burned by David and Richard Stradling, The Angola Horror by Charity Vogel, Under the Surface by Tom Wilber

By Michael J. McGandy

A couple of months ago I was recording a segment for “1869: The Cornell University Press Podcast” and our marketing director, Martyn Beeny, asked me what I meant when I talked about “smart books.” I had used the term in association with the sort of titles I wanted to acquire for our new regional trade imprint, Three Hills. “Smart” sounded like a good word, even a smart word, but what did I mean by it?

I paused, and audibly gulped. (You can listen here; the gulp comes at 2:06.) While I pulled myself together and said something about books that were “well-researched,” “informed,” “fair,” and “searching”—all good words, too—the truth was that I was not sure what I meant when I used the term “smart.” I felt that I knew what a smart book was but, when asked by Martyn, I realized I did not have a handle on what was obviously an intuitive feel for the sort of title I wanted to sign for the imprint.

A lot of work in publishing is, in fact, done by feel and intuition. That is part of the peril and fun of what we acquisitions editors do when we make judgments about quality and determine what we want to publish. Yet my failure to be articulate on this topic bothered me, and so I thought more on it. I use the term most often when I am talking about my trade and academic-trade titles—books that are meant to appeal to broader audiences—and that sense of readership plays into the concept of smart that, after some reflection, I struck upon. Continue reading “Outbox: Smart Books”

Outbox: Smart Books

Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Seasonal Catalogs

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I spend quite a bit of time thinking about the future of marketing books. The possibilities of what we can or might do fascinate me because that’s where the fun in marketing books really lies.

Which brings me to seasonal catalogs: the traditional linchpin of book marketing. Confining our book releases to two artificial seasons (for some reason we couldn’t even keep in line with nature and do four) seems archaic to many people. The artifice of the seasons and their accompanying catalogs have long been derided as old-fashioned and unnecessary in the modern Edelweiss, endless media, perpetual publishing and buying model. Even though almost all university presses continue with the seasonal model, some have done away with the printed version of the seasonal catalog entirely.

But we’re not thinking about the seasonal catalog in the right way. We’re only looking at its constraints, its costs, its effect on the house and wider publishing industry. What about the possibilities and potential of the seasonal catalog? Continue reading “Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Seasonal Catalogs”

Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Seasonal Catalogs