University Press Week honours excellence in university press publishing, and as one of the leading university presses in North America, we have much to celebrate! Today we are proud to feature a post by Noah S. Schwartz, author of On Target: Gun Culture, Storytelling, and the NRA. Noah shares his experiences as a first-time author, providing a behind-the-scenes account of what it’s like to pitch your first book to an editor at a university press.
I felt much more confident the second time I attended the Atlantic Provinces Political Science Association (APPSA). I was a PhD candidate this time, leaving behind the moniker of student. I had defended my proposal and completed my field work, an important right of passage for aspiring ethnographers. But there was still one thing that terrified me: approaching a publisher.
My thesis supervisor, Dr. Mira Sucharov, had encouraged me from the beginning to think of my project as book, not just a dissertation. I had a timely, relevant, and interesting topic: gun rights advocacy in America. I knew that I had done something unique and interesting. After all, very few PhD students fire an AR-15, set up a booth at a gun show, or become qualified to apply for a license to carry a concealed weapon as part of their doctoral research. But making the jump to pitching my project to a publisher was still daunting. Would my project be a good fit for an academic press? Would they take a chance on a first-time author with a wild idea?
My palms were sweating as I approached the University of Toronto Press table, where Daniel Quinlan, Acquisitions Editor, was sitting. Dan greeted me warmly, and I told him about my project. I could see that he was interested, and he expressed enthusiasm at coming to see my talk later in the conference. Back home, I sent him a sample chapter and from then on, he was a key partner in the writing and publishing process. Dan went above and beyond to help me with the project. For two years, he was my link to the press, providing me with feedback, edits, and comments, and helping me to carefully forge the final draft of my work from the raw ore of my research notes.
Dan’s perspective into the project was valuable. Editors serve as an important link between the academic world, so full of its own logics, jargon, and eccentricities, and the outside world. I knew from the outset that my project would have an appeal outside of academia. Dan believed that to and help me to transform that vision into a reality.
When it came time to publish, I was introduced to the marketing team, who would help me do the important work of making sure people actually read my book. You can write something great, but if no one reads it, what’s the point? The marketing team were key in helping me to get the word out and amplify my voice.
I was honored to find out that my book would be highlighted during University Press Week. Working with UTP has helped me to achieve two of my dreams – seeing my name in print and securing a permanent academic position. I sometimes think back to that moment of hesitation in Wolfville, Nova Scotia and wonder what my life would be like if I had not taken the leap, and if UTP had not taken a chance on a first-time author with a wacky idea.