News on the book front! The editorial board of Anonymous Prestigious University Press has approved publication of my academic study of public confession. Which means that I am now going to unmask them: the mystery publisher is Princeton University Press.

We’re now in the contract negotiation stage of the process.

Getting a book approved for publication by a university press is quite different than selling to a trade publisher. With my other books, I’ve submitted an outline to my editor, whose primary concerns are 1) is it readable? and 2) will it sell? He then takes it to an editorial meeting, where he presents it to the other editors and tries to convince them that the project is worth investing in. If they agree, I get a contract.

University press publishing is quite different. In the first place, while every press needs to sell books in order to stay afloat, the mission of a university press is (to quote the Princeton University Press mission statement) “to disseminate scholarship…both within academia and to society at large….regardless of commercial viability.”

In fact, university presses often publish books that are of interest to only a few specialized scholars–which has led to the evolution of a weird publishing phenomenon, the subvention–which happens when your academic department forks over money to the publisher to help pay for your book, since only fifty people are ever going to buy and read it. (My book, fortunately, won’t need a subvention, since it should interest a reasonably wide segment of the general reading public.)

Once both the PUP editor and I were pleased with the manuscript (this took several revisions), he sent out it to peer reviewers–scholars in the field (in this case, American religion) who would pass on the project as being academically respectable and defensible as a scholarly argument.

The two peer reviewers, who remain anonymous to me, then wrote reports back to the editor–and, to my relief, the reports were extremely positive. (“This is a very fine book which I strongly recommend that Princeton University Press publish,” one of them wrote. “It teases out, in nuanced and thus useful ways, some of the complex interrelations between religion and public life in this country.”) Both reviewers also had criticisms of the manuscript, of course (i.e., “Might she also say something more about the hegemony of evangelicalism over American culture?”). So the editor asked me to write a brief response to the criticisms in the reports. He then took the manuscript, the reports, and my response to the editorial board–which approved the project.

(The Princeton University Press office building, which just screams “We are not a commercial trade publisher!”–especially in comparison to 500 Fifth Avenue in New York.)

Showing 13 comments
  • Kimber

    Congratulations! I look forward to reading this one as well. And, btw, thank you so much for the insight into the publishing process; I’m learning a ton.

  • Jenny

    Yay! I can’t wait to read this one–ever since you first mentioned your dissertation topic in this blog, I have been wanting to read it!

    Question: Will it be available before the presidential election?

  • Laura

    Your book sounds fascinating. I also look forward to reading your Norton History of the World series as it is unfolds. We are a new home schooling family using your Story of the World (and to some degree the Well-Trained Mind). Our 7-year old is captured by the chronological history approach. Thank you!

    The hegemony of evangelicalism over American culture??? Sounds like an oxymoron, if I’ve ever heard one. Has the reviewer taken a peek at American culture lately? 🙂


  • Trish

    Congrats, Susan. PUP does some great stuff! Great reviews too. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.


  • Janice in NJ


  • kelli

    Congrats! My accomplishment of getting to Target today pales in comparison.
    (Is it considered “public confession” if I admit that on your blog?)

  • Staci at Writing and Living

    Congratulations! I’ve been intrigued by the topic since you first mentioned it, so I’ll be one of the general reading public who will read, too.

  • strider

    Congratulations! I have always enjoyed and benefited from your writing.

  • Tressa

    That is wonderful news! Congrats!

  • dangermom

    Hooray! What great news. And I’ve been hoping to get the chance to read this one!

  • Charlie Park


  • April

    Congratulations!! It’ll be fascinating to read about how the university publishing process compares to the commercial route. And, isn’t it lovely that the dissertation won’t just sit on a shelf somewhere collecting dust!? Way to put all that hard work to good use!

  • mommi2one

    It was too funny to read this as my spouse sits on the editorial board at PUP. I’m glad it went through and look forward to reading it.

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