Slice of Life

Syracuse University Press constantly adapts to survive

Emma Wishnow | Staff Photographer

Suzanne Guiod, Syracuse University Press's editor in chief, handles the acquisition process.

The Syracuse University Press spends over $10,000 to publish a single title with the SU press logo
emblazoned inside.

Tucked in a small building on South Campus near Tennity Ice Pavilion, the 15-person staff works to publish 50-60 titles per year. Authors seeking publication go through an almost yearlong editing, negotiating and marketing process before the book ever hits the shelves.

“Acquisition deals with the most projects because they have to sift through and actually eliminate 90-95 percent of stuff,” said Alice Pfeiffer, director of SU Press. “Once they are through, they have a peer review and we actually accept a book, it goes under contract. It usually takes about a year from the time we get the final manuscript to when we get the final books.”

Annually, the Press’s three-person acquisition team filters through thousands of submissions to publish two lists — one in the fall and one in the spring — that contain 20-30 book titles each. The Press staff will launch its marketing campaign for its spring 2016 list during the first week of November. As the publishing world’s landscape shifts with the changes of the digital age, the Press has had to adapt during its 72 years of existence in order to survive, Pfeiffer said.

The basics of the publishing process remain the same: authors submit proposals or are approached directly by the acquisition team. The team discusses if the book is a good fit for that year’s list.

“We send it out for a pretty rigorous peer review process. We send it out to two scholars or colleagues in the field who can read the manuscript in full and can really comment on the manuscript as a whole,” said Suzanne Guiod, SU Press’s editor in chief.

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Emma Wishnow | Staff Photographer

 

The reviewer responds with changes they believe should be made, and the author has to either accept or deny those changes. The book is reviewed by the Press’s six-person faculty editorial board, and they decide if SU’s name should be on the work and if the author is offered a contract.

The author then works closely with the Press during further editing, working with designers to create the layout and book cover and finally marketing their book for sale. Next, the book is sent to an offsite manufacturer because the Press has never owned its own printing press, and it’s finally made available to the public.

Over the years, these fundamentals of the editing process have remained constant, but the Press has adapted in order to overcome what Pfeiffer described as the Press’s two biggest challenges: generating revenue and keeping up with the changes in the publishing industry.

“There are two fronts. It’s challenging to generate enough revenue to support our operation, so we do try to get grants, donations and support and the university, of course, affords us,” Pfeiffer said.

The other factor, he added, is adapting to the technology to keep up. Every year there’s a change to keep up with, he said.

One way the Press has adapted is by working to excel in niche publication. Based on past professors and the strengths of individual colleges, SU Press has developed focuses in specific genres of scholarly books, predominately publishing titles in Middle East Studies, Irish Studies, regional studies and television pop culture.

“It has this really long history, 72 years, and for decades and decades as they have grown, they have really focused on these niche areas as they have grown it,” said Deborah Manion, an acquisitions editor. “Being small, we can’t compete with Harvard University Press or anything like that, but you can be really strong if you focus your research.”

With the rise of the digital age and the use of e-books, every year the Press has to adapt to the latest technology in order to compete. Pfeiffer said people are concerned with the death or decline of the book, but she doesn’t see it that way.

“I think people are publishing and reading more books than ever,” Pfeiffer said. “We don’t really care what format they are in — we are more about the content. Our mission is to get the research out there
as widely as possible so other people can build off of that. We don’t care if it’s an e-book or print book. We just want people to read it.”

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