What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
The next year will be filled with several recurring topics. There are anniversaries that will see many books on Jane Austen (200th anniversary of her death, July 17), Henry David Thoreau (200th anniversary of his birth, July 12), and Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation (500 years on Oct. 31). Publishing loves celebrating such events. And then there will be a proliferation of books on the recent presidential election; all sides will publish many books that no one will read, but in their magical way they will be bestsellers. I hope, however, that one trend will be that people are searching for intelligent, quality books.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I would like to see literary fiction that hits hard at issues that we tend to ignore, the issues that stare us in the face every day: issues like race, economics, integrity, pain, love. I would also like to see writers send things that are written from their own vision and not intended for mass sales. And I would like to see books that challenge all of us to live better and smarter.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
My background is in theology and philosophy, and thus I have a great interest and respect for these disciplines. While publishing history, literary fiction, and Southern studies, Mercer University Press has built part of its reputation on publishing serious, academic religion and philosophy works. But the one book I don’t want to see again is “how the Bible is misunderstood and how I have the right interpretation that will change the world.” Many people think they can take on a religious text (in most cases, the Christian Bible) and that their interpretation will change humanity. The intent is thoughtful, but the execution is impossible and naïve. The other topic I don’t want to see is “will you publish my self-published book?”
How do you work with self-published authors?
First, we respect self-published authors. But we don’t want to republish what has already been published. If they sold 5,000 copies of a book, then the initial audience has been saturated, and a republication will not entice those 5,000 buyers to buy another copy. We do, however, encourage a first look at the next book they write. After all, self-publishing and selling books reveal a lot about the initiative and resolve of an author that is very important in the current marketplace. However, one of the biggest issues is that often those who have self-published want their books produced immediately. But with book publishing, rushing to drink the new wine too soon ends up in real disappointment.
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
One, university presses publish many titles that would never please trade publishers in terms of sales. But the serious books we publish contribute much to the trade books in the market. Take a book of history, biography, current events, economics, or other subjects on the bestseller list and scan the notes and bibliography, and one thing you will find repeatedly are books published by university presses. Two, literary fiction and poetry are filling many university press catalogs these days not only because there is so much that is solid and good, but also because they would not sell enough copies for trade houses and they would never find a place with larger publishers. In short, what is unique is the opportunity for more great books to be published than ever before.
Anything else you’d like to add?
While I realize that digital reading and publishing are not going anywhere, I am quite excited about recent trends that point to readers returning to print books. That digital reading is proving to be less of an experience in both comprehension and memory says something about the power of a printed page. Readers often remember on which page (left or right) and what part of a page (top, middle, bottom) they read something. The visual experience of the words printed on a page is one critical way we comprehend and retain what we read.
The presence of printed books in our homes, offices, and public spaces are reminders that books are, as Thoreau said, “carriers of civilization.” Those books sitting around are visual reminders of our place in history and society. For example, if on your shelf you have Austen, Emerson, Dante—your favorite writers—they tend to speak to you as you walk past them. Those printed books are constant reminders that the things we do matter. Those authors and books call out to us to live our lives. We owe them, and we owe it to ourselves to live lives in respect for those who have carried us this far. We are the new carriers of civilization, and it is our responsibility to answer that call.
Marc Jolley is the director of Mercer University Press and has been in publishing for 25 years (22 with Mercer). During his time at Mercer, the press has published nearly 800 books in the areas of philosophy, religion, Southern studies, literary fiction, poetry, and history. He is also a senior lecturer at Mercer University, where he teaches philosophy, religion, and Great Books. His favorite writers are Jane Austen and Henry David Thoreau.