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The staff at Wesleyan University Press will hold an open house from 4 to 6 p.m. Nov. 11 at its new location, 215 Long Lane, across from the new Physical Plant. Pictured in back, left to right are Eric Levy ’97, acquisitions editor; Stephanie Elliott, publicity associate; and Leslie Starr, marketing manager. Pictured in front is Suzanna Tamminen ’90, MALS ’04, director and editor-in-chief.

Posted 10.01.05

"Hidden Gem" Opens Its Door

It's one of only 110 academic publishers in the nation, and has produced more than 1,000 books by authors around the world. But the Wesleyan University Press staff believes their publishing house remains a hidden gem.

Formerly housed on Mt. Vernon Street, Wes Press moved to its new location, 215 Long Lane, last year. To celebrate its move and introduce itself to the Wesleyan community, the staff at Wes Press will hold an open house from 4 to 6 p.m. Nov. 11

“We’re something of a secret on campus,” says Leslie Starr, marketing manager for the 46-year-old press. “We’d love to have members of the campus community stop by and see what we’re all about. “

Starr works at the press with Suzanna Tamminen ’90, MALS ’94, director and editor-in-chief; Eric Levy ’97, acquisitions editor; and Stephanie Elliott, publicity associate. They collaborate with the Wesleyan University Press Editorial Board -- made up of Wesleyan faculty members from various fields -- to decide what manuscripts to publish.

In America, university presses publish, on average, 9,000 books a year. Each press publishes books in specific areas. Wesleyan University Press’s editorial program focuses on poetry, music, dance and performance, science fiction, film and television, and American studies. By next fall, Wes Press hopes to begin publishing books for the general reader on Connecticut’s cultural and natural history.

This fall/winter, the press is publishing books on creative writing, acoustic effects in music recording, disaster movies, Australia’s Aboriginal songs, and poetic meditations on exile. In November, the press will publish the first modern and corrected English translation of Jules Verne’s The Begum’s Millions.

Wes Press receives close to 750 poetry and book submissions a year; however, it accepts few of these. Most authors are sought out, making the acquisitions work quite active.

“It's far more effective, and we get better projects, when we seek them out,” Tamminen says. “We are looking for books that make an important contribution to their field, in lucid prose, and which fit into our editorial program. In order to best serve the fields we publish in, we need to have enough books in the area to have a critical mass, where the books do a kind of intellectual work together.”

The press publishes 12 new books each publishing season - spring/summer and fall/winter.

There are currently 430 Wesleyan University Press books in print, four of which have earned Pulitzer Prizes and two of which received National Book Awards. Most recently, Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-Hop, by Joseph G. Schloss, won the International Association for the Study of Popular Music's 2005 Book Award.

“A lot of people don’t realize that you can’t just write a book, send it in to a publisher and get it published,” Starr says. “We’re very selective, and we need to be in order to maintain the mark of quality that Wesleyan has earned over the years.”

Book selection and marketing are done in-house while all copy editing, book design and printing are done externally. While books are being produced, the marketing staff is preparing the seasonal catalog, producing fliers and sending proofs to major publications.

“Getting a review published in publications such as Publisher’s Weekly or the New York Times is a very effective way to get the word out about a book,” Elliott says. “A lot of what we do involves cultivating relationships with reviewers.”

The small staff also hires about 10 Wesleyan students each year. The students gain hands-on experience writing press releases, sending out review copies, soliciting book endorsements, and doing other office work. In the last five years, nine of these students have gone on to work in publishing after graduating.

Wesleyan University Press is a member of the Association of American University Presses, the Association of American Publishers and the New England Booksellers Association.

Since many of the books published by Wes Press are on specialized scholarly topics, they often appeal to small audiences. And since the press operates as a business, making a profit can be the small publisher’s biggest challenge, Starr says. A book can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $30,000 to produce.

The press is constantly seeking grants and donations to help defray costs while it meets the needs of the academic community, which is its primary mission.

“We hope people will come to the open house to browse our bookshelves and have some cider and a cookie,” Tamminen says.

Wesleyan University Press can be reached at 860-685-7711. It is online at www.wesleyan.edu/wespress. The press offers members of the Wesleyan community a 20 percent discount on Wes Press titles when they are ordered through the press. For more information e-mail lstarr@wesleyan.edu.
 
By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor