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University Presses: A Love Affair

November 15, 2012

We are pleased to have OSU Press author Richard Etulain blogging for us as part of the University Press Week blog tour.  A complete blog tour schedule is available here.

Like most academics, I began my love affair with university presses when I first enrolled in upper-division and graduate-level college courses in history and English. In graduate school at the University of OregRichard Etulainon our assigned texts and collateral readings were often books with a university press imprint. We realized, too, that the most of the often-mentioned, must-read books for master's and doctoral comprehensive exams were university press books. At the very beginning of my academic career I began to understand how central university press publications were to my studies.                     

Photo by Brian Libby
My marriage to university presses continued throughout nearly forty years of teaching.  Although core texts in my introductory history and literature courses often bore the imprint of trade or textbook publishers, the other assigned texts were often from university presses.  Indeed, something of a balance obtained: adopted textbooks, reprinted writings of notable historians and literary figures, and autobiographies and memoirs often came from trade publishers; but the assigned scholarly monographs, sometimes outnumbering the other texts, were university press publications.

Not surprisingly, when I began to launch my own publication career, I naturally looked to university presses as outlets for my writings. During the last forty years, most of my fifty authored and edited books have carried a university press imprint. At the outset, because my first books were very modest endeavors, I worked with lesser-known publishers, such as Dakota Press, Idaho State University Press, Boise State University, Utah State University Press, and the Popular Press of Bowling Green State University. Those presses provided invaluable experiences in the publishing field as I negotiated the uncertain shoals of academic publication. I remember them fondly because I learned so much from these presses.

The next stage of my career led to affiliation with better-known university presses in the American West. University presses at Utah and Nevada midwifed into print my book Conversations with Wallace Stegner—and on to strong sales. The University of Nebraska Press published my coauthored (with Michael P. Malone) The American West: A Twentieth-Century History, which became a Main Selection of the History Book Club and a nominee for a Pulitzer Prize. And the University of Arizona Press printed my Re-imagining the Modern American West: A Century of Fiction, History, and Art, winner of the book-of-the-year award in western history and a Western Heritage prize.

I have also worked with several university presses as a series editor. The University of Oklahoma Press has now published nearly thirty volumes in its/my Oklahoma Western Biographies series.  Ten other books have appeared in the Modern American West series of the University of Arizona Press, and the University of Nebraska has now issued two prize-winning volumes of the six-volume History of the West series.

Most of all, I connected with the University of New Mexico Press. As a member of the History Department at UNM for twenty-two years and the UNM Press faculty committee for almost two decades, I naturally gravitated toward my home base. Working closely with the very able and supportive editor David Holtby, I authored or edited eleven volumes for the UNM Press. Two of the most important, best-selling volumes were New Mexican Lives and Beyond the Missouri: The Story of the American West. Strong links to the UNM Press did much to further and sustain my publishing career.

After retirement from UNM in 2001, I reached out to other university presses.  I worked with Southern Illinois University Press on Lincoln Looks West. Soon thereafter, I also became coeditor of the Concise Lincoln Library at the SIU Press, a series that includes numbers eight compact books on Lincoln and several others under contract.

Most recently, I've worked with the Oregon State University Press for the first time.  Although small in size, the OSU Press staff has been remarkably diligent and on-track in helping me prepare Lincoln and Oregon Country Politics in the Civil War Era for publication in early 2013. I'm very pleased to have this, my fiftieth book, published by an up-and-coming university press in my home country of the Pacific Northwest.

Over time, I have learned much from these long-time connections with university presses. In my early academic years, those lessons were the rudimentary steps of preparing a publishable manuscript and marching through the necessary stages of reader and editorial evaluation, acceptance of a manuscript, copyediting, page proof reading, indexing, and the joys of a new book in hand. Along the way, by reviewing and commenting on well more than one hundred manuscripts by other authors, I saw first-hand and came to appreciate the demanding roles of editors at university presses. Likewise, I began to comprehend the challenges of advertising and marketing academic books. Nor will I forget the warm friendships I've made with directors, acquisition editors, marketers, design and layout editors, and other staff members. Altogether it has been a wonderful journey of a half-century bundling with university presses.

Richard W. Etulain
Professor Emeritus, University of New Mexico

 

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