What are some upcoming trends for 2014?
I’ve never been one to follow trends; when acquiring manuscripts, I look for what speaks to me and is compelling and well-written. Though UNM Press doesn’t publish much YA fiction, I’ve been impressed with the books I’ve seen being published and the variety of themes being explored. I think YA books as a market will continue to flourish, since they often have a sales advantage because of the crossover marketing potential—so many adult readers enjoy books that are marketed as YA, such as the Hunger Games series and Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series. I’m in the middle of reading Hollow City, the second in that series, and I’m particularly drawn to it because of the photographs Ransom Riggs has included.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I am really interested in cultivating a border-noir list for UNM Press: novels set in the American West (which I broadly consider to be west of the Mississippi River) and along the U.S.-Mexico border, though the U.S.-Canada border would be a candidate, too, depending on the themes of the book. Darker stories with complex characters—not your typical protagonists; stories that tackle hard issues that can be taken on in story or novel form; stories in which answers and resolutions don’t come easily or sometimes at all. We’ve recently published a book of short stories and a novel in this vein, Ito Romo’s The Border Is Burning and Maceo Montoya’s The Deportation of Wopper Barraza, and I think they’re great.
People continue to be fascinated with the idea of the West and the frontier, both as physical spaces and as metaphorical spaces. As a publisher that can promote regional fiction, I want to publish books that give voice to the realities of living in, working in and experiencing the West. Those realities are incredibly rich and diverse, so the possibilities for subjects and themes are vast. I look for a unique voice, well-drawn characters and sense of place, no matter where the book is set.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
Zombies. I understand the social critique and underlying issues that can be addressed through the genre, and I can understand the camp horror element. But I am hoping the zombie craze will go the way of the vampire craze (well, it’s not gone but seems to have cooled some), though what will come next, who knows!
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
The in-house acquisitions editor has to believe in the manuscript and advance it before it goes anywhere. University presses are unique in that all of our books, including trade books such as fiction, are reviewed by the in-house editors and also externally by people considered experts in a given field (such as other novelists). As with any publishing house, I evaluate all of the manuscripts first. The projects I think are strong enough receive further consideration and get sent to an external review. This is an outgrowth of the original university press mission, which was originally intended to publish and promote scholarship produced by academics. It’s important to have the scholarship vetted by experts, which is why an external review process was created.
But university press missions have expanded, and now, many university presses publish trade books as well, including poetry, fiction and literary nonfiction. It is so exciting to me that we do so. What I really like about university presses is that we are uniquely positioned to support regional writing and books of literary merit that are wonderfully written and need to be out and available to a larger audience, but they would likely be overlooked or rejected by large publishers because they won’t sell tens of thousands of copies. Sometimes, the novels we publish sell 1,500 copies in their lifetimes, but that is 1,500 readers (or more!) reading great books that otherwise wouldn’t be out in the world. I also appreciate the university press commitment to support the books we publish. These books, which would be midlist titles if they were published, are on our front lists, so the titles and the authors receive the attention they deserve.
Anything else you’d like to add?
For the authors seeking publishers out there, I’d like to point out that authors are welcome to contact most university presses (and most small literary presses) without an agent. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve surprised an author by saying that. An author might want to work through a literary agent—and that’s fine; we often work with agents—but off the top of my head, I can’t think of any university press that requires it.
It’s also a good rule of thumb to check out a press’s website and see what submission specifications are listed. Each university press has a different mission and specializes in certain fields; each season, the type and number of trade books it publishes can vary. Reviewing submission specifications in advance will save the author and the editor time and energy.
Elise McHugh is senior acquisitions editor of humanities and arts at the University of New Mexico Press and acquires in several fields, including poetry, fiction, memoir, pop culture, cultural and literary criticism, and art, photography, and architecture. She lives in Albuquerque.