What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
The more than 100 university press publishers in the United States are unique in our charge: our mission is to publish the fruits of the best scholarly work produced by the best minds in our country and around the world. Together, university presses publish in just about every knowledge area and discipline. At UNC Press, one of our specialties is history. The scholars we publish are doing the obsessive, brick-by-brick investigation into original sources that may yield glorious information and knowledge of the world.
One example: important, fresh information about the deep historical roots and long-standing, troubling patterns of race relations in the United States has been steadily uncovered by historians published by UNC Press since our founding in 1922. Such information has filtered into our larger culture and has provided illuminating material for books, films, and legal and cultural work that have made an impact on citizens.
UNC Press is one of the most distinguished publishers of the history of African-descended peoples throughout the Americas, from National Book Award–winner White over Black by Winthrop D. Jordan to The Color of Christ by Edward Blum and Paul Harvey to A Luminous Brotherhood, a forthcoming fall title by Emily Suzanne Clark. One of our books, The Free State of Jones, by Victoria Bynum, features original research putting together a history that was reflected this past year in a film by Gary Ross.
At the same time, university presses often publish books for general, nonacademic readers. We acquire books through agents. Our publishing chops are flexible—we develop and successfully publish books that draw on original knowledge but are written skillfully and effectively for a broad audience of people outside of the scholarly world who want to learn as much as they can. As the world of commercial publishing continues to contract, university presses may be seeing an expanding number of terrific nonfiction projects across a wide spectrum of subjects.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
Accordingly, I am deeply interested in seeing projects, from authors or agents, aimed at general readers. These may be by scholars who have a special ability to write for general audiences or by excellent nonfiction writers or by journalists in the areas in which I specialize, including religion, Latin America and the Caribbean, and foodways of the Americas. For example, William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh’s Back Channel to Cuba came out last year in an unnervingly appropriate moment and was a hit.
For another example, we recently published a wonderful book that tells how today’s popular “blessing of the animals” celebrations got started, St. Francis of America: How a Thirteenth-Century Friar Became America’s Most Popular Saint, by Patricia Appelbaum.
We also published a much-needed book called What is Veiling? by Sahar Amer. These authors are wonderful experts who also know how to write beautifully for general readerships.
What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
Let’s talk food. UNC Press has a long-standing tradition of publishing books about Southern foodways. This is a type of regional trade publishing that has long been part of what we consider our service to general readers in our region—the South—and beyond. I find that even while food writers are often underemployed, due to changes in our media systems, more people want to learn how to cook. Americans are eating a bit more healthfully, according to recent studies.
So, we are finding books to publish that introduce wholesome cooking—and are based on knowledge of diverse Southern foodways—to readers. For example, just out is Jenny Brulé’s Learn to Cook 25 Southern Classics Three Ways: Traditional, Contemporary, International. The trend is to use Southern food as a way to reach people of all ages who want to know how to cook from scratch. I also am seeing food books that feature distinct culinary subsections of the South: for example, our forthcoming Fruit: A Savor the South Cookbook by Nancie McDermott encompasses diverse subregional culinary traditions when it comes to fruit, from the cool Great Smoky Mountains to the hot Atlantic and Gulf coastlines.
Another important trend is work about the ever changing, sometimes in surprising directions, political and social realities of the American South. We are finding passionate interest among writers and readers in this area.
Have you worked with self-published authors?
Self-published scholars are rare, as it is in the peer review and competitive university press publication process that they prove their mettle. However, in regional trade publishing, I hold out the hope that finding a promising book project might arise from the realms of self-publishing and social media.
Anything else you’d like to add?
University press publishing encompasses a wide range of publishers, from very small to very large. I think you’d be surprised to know what a savage, dog-eat-dog corner of the publishing industry it is.
Elaine Maisner, senior executive editor at UNC Press, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has worked in scholarly book publishing since 1985, including editorial positions at Yale University Press and the University of Tokyo Press. At UNC Press since 1992, she acquires books in the areas of religion, Latin America and the Caribbean, and regional trade, including foodways. Her article “Getting Published by a University Press” was published in a collection of essays from Perspectives, the newsmagazine of the American Historical Association. She has served on the Membership Committee of the Association of American University Presses and, since 1997, has been a member on the UNC–Duke Consortium in Latin American Studies editorial committee for the Consortium-sponsored Latin America in Translation series.