I'm on vacation this week, so for a guest post I called in a publishing pro and teacher who wants to help his students uncover The Great American Novel. Gregg Wilhelm does great work at The CityLit Project, so all you aspiring authors should lend an ear:
Do you have a manuscript or book proposal? Many authors, aspiring or previously published, may not be aware that the country’s only student-staffed, campus-based book publisher is located right here in Baltimore at Loyola University.
Apprentice House started in the mid-’80s when local publisher and Loyola adjunct professor Barbara Holdridge concocted a pretend publisher for which her students made mock seasonal catalogs. Later, Communication Department professor Andrew Ciofalo created a soup-to-nuts publishing course whereby advanced technology allowed students to craft media kits for books complete with cover concepts. When another leap in technology made it possible to print books digitally in small quantities, the decision was made to actually publish books that would be made available in the marketplace.
So while there are campus-based university presses and student-produced print journals, no where at the undergraduate level is there a concerted effort to use students as staff who are involved in the publishing of real books.
Loyola’s Communication Department now offers three courses that dovetail with the typical departments of any publishing house: acquisitions or project development, book design, and marketing (we are still trying to figure out where long-form manuscript editing fits into the curriculum). Since 2006, Apprentice House has published nearly 30 books by authors as diverse as a local vegan essayist to a Salt Lake City-based journalist, from a Gilman student to a global peacebuilder. Check them out here.
This fall I am teaching Introduction to Book Publishing, where projects are developed by 23 student-acquisitions editors. An acquisitions editor needs to be a Jill-of-all-trades because she evaluates book proposals or manuscripts based on their editorial merit, production feasibility, and marketability in light of the sort of publishing house she represents. But how do projects cross her radar?
A proactive editor looks ahead at upcoming anniversaries and marries an idea with a writer (think there are a few star-spangled manuscripts being readied for 2012 through 2014?); fishes in pools where writers tend to swim (bars, sure maybe, but I am thinking about readings, association meetings, blogs…if you are writing short posts about a certain topic maybe a longer sustained exposition lurks within you); and sifts through piles of unsolicited manuscripts looking for what just might be a piece of gold (in the early ’90s an editor at Random House rescued from the pile of unsolicited manuscripts a novel about a murder that shakes up a hum-drum Baltimore suburb; first-time author Mary Cahill’s Carpool became a best seller).
It’s the latter where Apprentice House’s student-editors lack experience, because we have no pile of manuscripts through which to sift. So here’s the traditional “call for manuscripts.” Contact us!
Apprentice House strives to “publish for the backlist,” meaning projects that will have a long shelf-life (which tends toward nonfiction like history, memoir, and essays but away from picture books because of the costs involved). Apprentice House is not a subsidy press (it enters into a standard publishing contract with authors it agrees to publish), books are available through the country’s largest wholesaler and via amazon.com, and the production quality speaks for itself.
But there are certain idiosyncrasies that come with such a unique model, such as editing (as stated above, long-form editing has not been integrated into course work), no advances (as a nonprofit activity, the press operates on a break-even basis), and marketing (the lion’s share falls to authors because unlike other publishers, our staff turns over every 14 weeks!).
So prospective Apprentice House authors must embrace the press’s educational mission and possess the patience to work with young people who are just learning the process. We have found it to be an educational experience for both student and author.
Interested writers can check out Apprentice House’s submission guidelines and email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will then assign proposals or manuscripts to students in search of projects this semester.