Of Presses and Publishing

by Fred Ray on July 16, 2006 · 0 comments

Tonight I want to go back briefly to the subject of academic presses, how they figured into my decision to publish my book myself, and what I see as their good and bad points. Most of the university presses I queried about the sharpshooter book weren’t interested, mainly because it wasn’t a campaign study, a biography, or some sort of social study. The idea of a purely military study seemed an alien one. Of course the author’s relative obscurity was a factor also: I doubt that James McPherson has this problem.

The ones that were interested, however, didn’t do a very good job of dealing with prospective authors. Which is to say they are slooow. I sent it to one publisher who sat on it for almost a year. When I called to check they apologized but said they had been moving their offices, and would get right on it. That was three years ago and I’m still waiting. John Fox, who wrote (and published) the excellent regimental Red Clay to Richmond, had similar experiences. Many other authors, both published and prospective, report the same treatment.

Commercial publishers, however, weren’t that much better. I shopped it to a large publisher with whom I’d done a book with earlier, and it ended up in the hands of William C. Davis, who liked it, made a number of valuable suggestions, and recommended that it be published. Shortly thereafter a new editor arrived from New York, who wanted the whole thing rewritten. Forget it, I said.

I tried some of the smaller CW presses, and one seemed interested. But his terms weren’t that good, and he blew hot and cold on the project. One week he seemed very enthusiastic, the next the whole project looked dead. I passed.

Then too, publishers take a bigger bite than ever before, then expect authors to do much of the PR work. More and more of expenses traditionally assumed by publishers, like indexes, now get charged authors as well. So it you’re going to do all that anyway, why not just do it yourself and keep the money? So I did, and so far have not regretted it. However, if any prospective self-publishers are reading this, let me warn you that it’s expensive and more work than you can imagine. Still, there’s no feeling like the day when you get the first box of books and open it, and see the finished project you’ve worked on for so long.

But, back to the university presses, where the hand of political correctness lies heavy. While cruising the web I came across this section on the use of “inclusive language.”

The language and tone of books … should not be offensive to persons of any race, ethnic origin, religion, physical or mental condition, or gender and should be as inclusive as possible.Editors employed by the Press will ensure that the accepted terms for designating racial or ethnic origin are used, except in direct quotations where historical accuracy requires special usage. Racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes should not be used, except when clearly attributed to a source in a scholarly work and then only when such usage furthers the scholarly purpose of the work. …

Inclusive language omits words that imply exclusion of either gender. Although it may be a historical fact that all the members of a city council were men, the word councilmen suggests the assumption that there could be no women on the council. On the other hand, it would never be inaccurate to say that there were x council members making decisions, etc., and that phrase avoids gender-biased implications.

There is lots more of this if you can stomach it. It concludes: “To avoid the possibility of heavy editing later on, authors who have questions about inclusive language may want to contact the copyediting department at the Press while they are still drafting the manuscript.”

They may call this heavy editing – I call it crass censorship, and I suspect the list of offended groups would not include, say, the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I don’t doubt that many other presses follow generally the same policies, but don’t bother to write them down. I’d never submit anything there.

All this leads to group think or, as Mark Bauerlein put it, “overdetermination.”

When the protocols of communication are strict, when a statement reflects a speaker’s knowledge and legitimacy, when misstatements violate a group’s sense of mission, when entry into the discourse requires a long and regulated preparation by the entrant — such settings are “overdetermined,” and they need detailed analysis and thick description. The terms are loaded and the topics authorized. Statements impart norms as well as ideas, mores as well as referents. The expressions licensed there reinforce the institution and echo its rationale.

Just another way to say that the analysis is essentially done before the research starts, and the conclusions always end up looking much the same.

All the more reason, I think, to do it yourself.

That said, I’ll next look at a couple of books by university presses that I found to be excellent.


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