Hiking Cascadilla Gorge with Ange

A few weeks ago, I received an email about the Cornell Library and Press Service and Recognition Awards. This is the first time we’ve participated in an official program like this.

A number of Cornell University Press staff nominated their colleagues. It was exciting to see staff appreciating each other in an open forum.

As we zero in on our second straight year of break-even performance, I nominate our entire staff. Their willingness to embrace change and innovation has produced outstanding results.

Everyone in Sage House has contributed to the Press’s success.

Continue reading “Hiking Cascadilla Gorge with Ange”

Advertisement
Hiking Cascadilla Gorge with Ange

A Book Lovers Dream: First time at BookExpo

We boarded the bus soaking wet. I was clingy tightly to my two bags full of books, catalogs, and other goodies, trying to protect them from the rain. We had just walked several blocks in the pouring rain, feet sore from roaming the Javits Center for hours. A memorable experience for my first-time visiting NYC. Nevertheless, it was a great day!

If you’re wondering why we were boarding a bus soaking wet with bags full of books, well, BookExpo. My colleague Sarah and I spent last Thursday attending the biggest book trade show in North America, a nice change in scenery from our typical Thursdays spent at Sage House. Neither of us had been to BookExpo before so we were both thrilled when we were given the opportunity to attend.

BookExpo was a book lovers dream.

IMG_3955Booths upon booths filled with stacks of books in every genre, many available for you to take and read. The best booths were inviting and modern, with couches and chairs for you to sit, talk, read, or even charge your phones like we did in a cool poetry booth.

We spent some time talking with other university presses and looking at their catalogs, and the types of books that they publish. We also met authors, sales people, and fellow marketers; we even ran into old high-school acquaintances. This event was a great place to meet people, and listen to other people in the industry. As fairly new members of the publishing world, Sarah and I found this experience invaluable.

Continue reading “A Book Lovers Dream: First time at BookExpo”

A Book Lovers Dream: First time at BookExpo

Book readers perceive HP inkjet print quality to be comparable to litho

Cornell University Press recently completed a research study around book readers’ perceptions and preferences, revealing compelling print quality attributes of inkjet-printed print-on-demand books. In this study, book readers were shown two side-by-side copies of the same book title, with one copy printed on an offset press and the other printed digitally on an HP PageWide Web Press. When asked about print quality comparisons, 40% expressed preference for the HP-printed copy, while just 33% preferred the litho print quality. The remaining 27% expressed no preference between the two.

No alt text provided for this image

Cornell University Press conducted the study, entitled “The Printing Challenge,” in partnership with HP Inc. at association conferences and book fairs in various U.S. cities between September 2018 and January 2019. Respondents to this survey were 109 event attendees who were qualified as book readers.

When asked about accessibility to book titles, 76% of respondents said it was somewhat or extremely important that a book they would want to read would be available globally and sourced from local printers. When asked about getting updated content in their books, 63% of respondents stated it was somewhat or extremely important that their desired book is easy to update and change after its original publishing.

In addition to the traditional model of buying high-volume offset-printed books for pre-sale inventory, Cornell University Press also publishes a variety of titles through its print-on-demand (POD) process. With this model, no inventory is held, but rather books are digitally printed on HP PageWide Web Presses by Cornell’s POD book supplier.

No alt text provided for this image

For this study’s comparison, both books were printed in monochrome (black) and both were printed with the same paper. The inside pages had a combination of text-only pages and pages with halftones images and line drawings.

No alt text provided for this image

 

When asked about where they buy their books, 45% of respondents say they prefer to buy books from Amazon, 15% from retail book chains, and 35% from independent book stores. As to why they prefer to buy books where they do, the largest group (31%) cited the ability to buy books whenever they wanted. Book reviews (35%) and word-of-mouth recommendations (24%) were the most popular means of learning about new book titles. The speed-to-market benefit of digital print was also evident in the responses: 69% of readers expect to get their book within five days of ordering it.

Established in 1869 in Ithaca, New York shortly after the founding of Cornell University, Cornell University Press is known as America’s first university publishing enterprise. The press publishes a broad range of nonfiction titles, with particular strengths in sciences, classics, geography, higher education, history, and urban studies.

HP is the world’s leading manufacturer of inkjet presses for the book publishing market and volume continues to grow. Estimates are that PageWide Web Presses account for 3% of all the world’s printed books.

 


 

This post was published by Global Marketing & Business Development Leader David J. Murphy. You can find the original LinkedIn article here.

Book readers perceive HP inkjet print quality to be comparable to litho

A Look at the List – Michael McGandy

As we move towards our new season of books (those publishing between March and August this year), we asked our acquiring editors to give us a little preview of their list. Here’s the third entry in the series, from Three Hills Editorial Director Michael McGandy.

ss19coverforblog

Continue reading “A Look at the List – Michael McGandy”

A Look at the List – Michael McGandy

We Were the First

 

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.

150th logo basic white on red flat

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.

We Were the First

150 Notable Books: The First Books of Cornell University Press

Every press has to start somewhere and produce its very first book. Tracking this book down for Cornell University Press, however, is an impossible task. In late 1869, America’s first university press was mainly a printing house. We produced lecture notes for professors, university documents, and student newspapers on a large steam-driven Hoe printing press. Most of these items were short, ephemeral, and any records vanished long ago. We do not know the name of the first item to roll off the press.

The publication chosen to represent the first book by Cornell University Press, and to be the first entry on our list of 150 notable books, is the 1869-70 University Register. This annual publication contained much of the information you would find on a modern university website. It was a directory of staff and students, a listing of fields of study and graduation requirements, and a description of the university’s founding, mission, and many fine amenities.

CUP first

The director of the press, Willard Fiske, wrote a letter to President A. D. White in August 1869 about his work on the register. He described the contents, gave an estimate for completion of proof pages, and explained his plans for raising money to pay for the publication by including a page of advertising—just as most of the British university presses were doing. Despite all the trappings of modern technology that surround publishing today, these basic elements have remained the same: develop the best possible book, produce it on deadline, and figure out how to pay for it!

In contrast to the unknown first publication from CUP, Comstock Publishing was formed in 1892 for the specific purpose of publishing a particular book. As the twenty-fifth anniversary of the inauguration of the university approached, two professors, John Henry Comstock and Simon Henry Gage, felt this would be a good opportunity to honor their former professor and mentor, Burt Green Wilder. Wilder, a Harvard medical school graduate and former Civil War surgeon, had been a professor of neurology and vertebrate zoology at Cornell since its earliest days.

Comstock and Gage contacted several of Wilder’s former students and asked them to contribute to a Festschrift, a contributed volume of essays meant to honor a respected academic—and the first such book published in the United States. The result was the Wilder Quarter-Century Book, a book of nearly 500 pages, with many plates and engravings. Contributors, in addition to Comstock and Gage, included Anna Botsford Comstock (naturalist and first woman professor at Cornell), David Starr Jordan (first president of Stanford University), Leland Ossian Howard (USDA entomologist), Theobald Smith (pioneering bacteriologist), John Caspar Branner (geologist and discoverer of bauxite), and William Russell Dudley (head of the botany department at Stanford).

These two first publications bookend (if I may) the educational journey at Cornell. The first CUP book introduced prospective students to the university and its many opportunities. And the first Comstock book showcased the many achievements of former Cornell students, out in the world, discovering and disseminating knowledge.

page from Comstock first

Karen Laun is the self-proclaimed press historian and an enthusiast of all things old and dusty. In her spare time she is a Senior Production Editor and also works in the ultramodern world of e-books as Digital Publishing Editor.

150 Notable Books: The First Books of Cornell University Press

SAY WHAT YOU WANT! #SWYW

Pay What You Want is over. Done and dusted. But it was great. We were able to bring customers together with their wish-list books at a price they could afford and continue to spread knowledge far and wide at the same time. And this month, we are doing something different.

Say What You Want is the name we have chosen for our new marketing campaign. The goal: to get to know our customers better, understand their needs and preferences and prepare to better cater to them in the future; to help professors in their mission to motivate and support students; and last but not least, to make sure that our authors’ experience with Cornell University Press as their publisher is one they are delighted with.

How it works: we have designed three different surveys,

  1. Our survey for customers and the general reader
  2. Our survey for professors
  3. Our survey for Cornell University Press authors

How to participate: Click on the corresponding link above and submit your responses, follow @CornellPress on Twitter and Facebook, OR visit our website and subscribe to our mailing list! The questions are short and simple, with a majority in multiple-choice format that reflect how much we value everybody’s time.

What’s in it for you: as a thank you present, you’ll get a 50 percent off discount code that can be used in our website to purchase any of our books. And here’s the icing on the cake: every participant will also be entered in a raffle for a chance to win $250 in #CornellPress titles of their choice!

I can’t wait to dig into the results and find out about the latest trends in reading and our customers’ preferences when it comes to books. What formats do they prefer? Do they listen to audiobooks while they commute, or maybe while doing laundry? How important is a title? And when it comes to professors, what are their main concerns regarding course adoption? How can we provide suitable materials for their students? Are our authors content with the way we are doing things at Cornell University Press? How can we improve?

In the competitive, forever evolving world of publishing, it is our belief that we have to be willing to take the next step and be flexible enough so that we can adapt to new environments, our consumers’ lifestyles, striving to improve our offer in order to meet their expectations and desires. Granted, surveys may not be the most ground-breaking and innovative marketing tool, but they have proved to be reliable, efficient, and if implemented successfully, of great use.

 


About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She will take any survey as long as the reward is tempting enough and would love to take part in the #SWYW promotion!

SAY WHAT YOU WANT! #SWYW

Let the Printing Wars begin at #BKBF!

Anyone who has heard me speak about it or read anything I’ve written on the topic knows I’m a big proponent of the benefits of print-on-demand (POD) technology for university presses. Even so, when I received an email recently from a gentleman at HP I was quite surprised. He wanted to let me know he’d seen a video of me speaking about the advantages of POD and wondered if I would mind having a phone call with him to discuss in more depth.

What takes place at the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday is the result of that call. If you stop by our Cornell University Press booth # 624 you’ll be able to see it for yourself and take part in the one and only CUP Printing Challenge sponsored by HP!

During my call with the Man from HP (I feel as though it needs caps; it’s seems so James Bond somehow), we started discussing the legendary “Pepsi Challenge,” a marketing promotion that allowed the brand to grab a significant market share away from its main competitor Coke. If you ever took it I bet you’ll instantly know what I’m referring to. Back in the 80s (or maybe it was earlier), Pepsi devised a worldwide marketing campaign in which people would be asked to blind taste a glass of Pepsi and a glass of Coca Cola and pick their favorite. The taster didn’t know which glass was which. As a result of the experiment, Pepsi announced with great fanfare that more than 50 percent of the participants preferred their sweeter taste and moreover, discovered that Coke was launching a new formula, in an attempt to resemble theirs. Pepsi USA declared that the “Cola-Wars” were over and gave its employees the day off. It was a festive day for the company. Even now, the “Pepsi Challenge” remains one of the most memorable marketing campaigns in history, and a great example of how consumer perception, and smart marketing, can tilt the scale in any way.

So, going back to what concerns us, the Man from HP and I started musing about something similar for offset and POD printing in the publishing world. It was my contention that most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the traditional and the newer methods of printing a book, and that like the “Pepsi Challenge,” perception was one of the factors inhibiting the university press world from making a more profound shift.

The Man from HP agreed that we should try it, and so we devised the Printing Challenge.

We’re unveiling what it’s all about this weekend, at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Do you think you’ll be able to tell the difference? Do you think one way is better than the other? And do you even care? If any of this sounds intriguing to you, come on by. You’ll get a sample of two books to look at and you’ll be asked a few questions. And just for taking the challenge, we’ll give you 50 percent off your next CUP book, together with some special @HP giveaways!

Quite frankly, I’m fascinated to see the results.

If you are not able to make it to #BKBF, follow @CornellPress on Twitter for live updates and the latest news from our #PrintingChallenge

More on the “Pepsi Challenge” and experience marketing, here:

 

About the author of this blog post: Martyn Beeny is Marketing and Sales Director of Cornell University Press. He prefers Coca Cola.

Let the Printing Wars begin at #BKBF!

The reality of book sales (is an asteroid hurtling through space)     

In February, Publishers Weekly released data indicating that print book sales dropped 4 percent in 2017. The early-warning doomsdayers are looking skywards and believing they see an asteroid making its way towards the book publishing world. Perhaps. Although I don’t believe so. What I do believe, though, is that we’ve entered a new paradigm for book sales, particularly for sales of scholarly books.

cesar-viteri-426877-unsplash
Photo by César Viteri on Unsplash

If we consider recent data, it quickly becomes apparent that what was once true is no longer. Sales of individual titles are just not the same as they were five or ten years ago. The reasons for the drop are myriad, of course, and have been discussed over and over. To list just a few, libraries no longer purchase as many books, new types of courses that use non-traditional materials emerged, there’s a perceived aversion to print books from both students and younger scholars (although I’m not truly buying that one), and, of course, there’s the internet. And so on. Regardless of the foundational reasons, the reality is that what we all thought to be our baseline for sales on any given type of scholarly book has changed.

My study of books published in the last twenty-four months shows a drop of between ten and twenty percent in expected first-year sales (XFS) over books published in the previous twenty-four months. It’s a relatively small sample size, but it’s still indicative in a way, and will cause us to evaluate how best to approach sales projections in the next couple of years. What this little bit of analysis doesn’t show, is the three-year projected sales (or beyond). I’ll look at trends there in a coming blog post, but my hope is that we can overcome the drop in XFS over the longer haul through focused marketing and new techniques and technologies.

This reality check isn’t all doom and gloom. Sure, we’d all love sales to be ticking upwards at the same rate as they fall, but that isn’t happening. But the end of the (book publishing) world isn’t yet here and I have cause for optimism. These new real numbers will, if anything, push us to find efficiencies across the Press, and to look for the very best of all projects that have the biggest upside and show an XFS of n+25% (or some other wonderfully optimistic number). We’ll be forced to innovate, finding new and creative (and inexpensive or collaborative) platforms to use to help us boost sales. To borrow an oft-used phrase of a few years ago, we’re going to have to “git ‘r done.”

Having reworked the marketing team over the past six months, hired three new people, and developed a nascent marketing strategic plan, we’re well positioned to face the threat of diminishing sales. Our invigorated team is constantly brainstorming and experimenting. We’ve even invited our colleagues to sit in on open marketing meetings to see how we’re attempting to meet our challenges. New technology, integrated marketing approaches, and an openness to ideas from outside are all ways in which we will address the drop in sales of print books. We refuse to stick our heads in the sand like marketing ostriches. And though it’s no use pretending sales are what they were five years ago, it’s also not an excuse for sitting back and waiting for the asteroid to come crashing from the sky.

 

Related article on the topic: “Three experts share publisher expectations for 2018”

Recommended watch:

 

About the author of this blog post: Martyn Beeny is the Marketing Director at Cornell University Press. He has the crazy idea that we’re here to sell books. You can follow him on Twitter @MartynBeeny

The reality of book sales (is an asteroid hurtling through space)     

History and Its Fragments

Gauguin_XRFmacro
macro-XRF technology in action

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”

History and Its Fragments

Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Why Books Matter (to Me)

danny

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)”

Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Why Books Matter (to Me)

Embracing the Subversive Nature of Open Access

6361629-Francis-Bacon-Quote-Knowledge-is-power

“Libraries are innately subversive institutions born of the radical notion that every single member of society deserves free, high quality access to knowledge and culture.”—Dr. Matt Finch

Libraries are indeed a radical idea. Rather than purchase a book, I can simply go to my public library and borrow it for no fee whatsoever. Free books for everyone! Apart from the single purchase of a book by the library, it is a collective slap in the face to free-market capitalism. Some conservative voices in the nineteenth century, in fact, strongly attacked libraries for being “socialist continuation schools” that created a culture of dependency for those who could not pay market value for the books they wanted. And some continue to argue this even now. Continue reading “Embracing the Subversive Nature of Open Access”

Embracing the Subversive Nature of Open Access

Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Disrupting the Workflow

Creativity

Recently, we spent two and a half hours in a marketing meeting. Yes, that’s right, 150 minutes. We spent that time brainstorming, discussing, agreeing and disagreeing, planning, posing problems and finding solutions, and much more. We didn’t go into the meeting with a plan to spend that amount of time, it just organically occurred, and it was worth every minute. What we didn’t do in that time was our usual work. We disrupted our workflow, and the marketing team (and by extension the rest of the Press) is better as a result. Continue reading “Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Disrupting the Workflow”

Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Disrupting the Workflow

Welcome to the Craziness that is Publishing

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”

Welcome to the Craziness that is Publishing

Big Media!

How about a brief recap of the big media hits we enjoyed in 2017? Yes? Ok, then.

EU-Media-Futures-Forum-pic_0

Peter Conners’s Cornell ’77 hit all the right notes for maximum media exposure – perfect timing with the 40th anniversary, an eager audience of fans, and a serendipitous collaboration with Rhino. All of these factors, along with great teamwork at CUP, resulted in remarkable mainstream coverage in Rolling Stone, Spin, Time, Entertainment Weekly, The Associated Press, Los Angeles Review of Books, Relix, Vice/Noisey, All About Jazz, and, of course, High Times.

Our other major Cornell-related title this year, Forever Faithful, made the media rounds on a more local circuit, but hit all the media mainstays – the Cornell Alumni Magazine, the Cornell Chronicle, and the Ithaca Journal. Most notably was the month-long serialization of the book in the Ithaca Journal. A feature on the book was on the front page on September 29th, and excerpts were printed on the front page of the sports section on September 29th, October 6th, October 10th, October 13th, October 17th, October 20th, and October 24th. They even made a short video on the book which we’ve included on the book’s webpage.

Other highlights include New York Times articles on Marisa Scheinfeld’s The Borscht Belt and Goodier and Pastorello’s Women Will Vote as well as an op-ed from Fran Quigley; J. C. Sharman’s The Despot’s Guide to Wealth Management being reviewed in The Economist and The Financial Times; Mark de Rond’s excerpt in The Times (UK) magazine; Brandon Keim’s appearance on NPR’s Science Friday; Quartz’s feature on Fran Quigley’s Prescription for the People; Alex Posecznick and Charles Dorn in Inside Higher Ed; profiles on Felia Allum and Mark de Rond in Times Higher Education; and Gordon Lafer’s The One Percent Solution being reviewed in The New York Review of Books.

Big Media!

About Face: A Brief History of Letters, Featuring Our Favorite Type

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.

So why the big deal? Continue reading “About Face: A Brief History of Letters, Featuring Our Favorite Type”

About Face: A Brief History of Letters, Featuring Our Favorite Type

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

Escher-good.jpg
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

cover copy.jpg

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

smartbooks.jpg
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