Vanderbilt University Press
Annual Report 2019–2020
About Vanderbilt University Press
Now in its eightieth year of operation, Vanderbilt University Press is a nonprofit unit of Vanderbilt University that publishes peer-reviewed scholarly and trade books. The editorial focus of the Press is the humanities and social sciences, including public health, anthropology, music, art, regional trade, and education. The Press is especially committed to publishing multidisciplinary titles, in order to align with Vanderbilt University's efforts to foster growth in transdisciplinary research and application.
Vanderbilt University Press extends the university's scholarly mission by publishing dynamic, well-researched books for a global audience of engaged readers.
List of Staff Members
- Director, Gianna Mosser
- Acquisitions Editor, Zack Gresham
- Managing Production Editor, Joell Smith-Borne
- Design Specialist, Drohan DiSanto
- Marketing and Sales Manager, Betsy Phillips
- Marketing and New Media Associate, Jenna Phillips
- Senior Assistant, Cynthia Yeager
- Grants Coordinator, Brittany Johnson
Welcome to Vanderbilt University Press's first annual report, 2019–2020. In providing this snapshot of our current and future program, we can assess our growth and the ways we are continuing to strengthen our books and their impact on the fields in which we publish.
One of my first tasks as director was to help the Press articulate its mission.
Since I joined VUP in March 2019, we have been thinking about the type of publisher we have been and who we want to continue to be, as well as thinking about our role in accomplishing the work of the larger university. In conjunction with our first list review exercise, staff members analyzed the publishing results from previous fiscal years and made a roadmap to our future program.
The staff collectively authored the mission statement that opens this report to guide our work and our decisions about how we will dedicate time and resources. The mission is one that will always be first in our minds as we publish more frequently and more broadly. It also directly guides the work of the strategic plan we released to university stakeholders.
In order to increase title output from fifteen to thirty titles annually over the next three fiscal years, we needed to control costs as we built up a pipeline of books in vital areas of importance to us and the university community. We decided to bring all editorial labor and production work in house to improve the look and longevity of our titles. Drohan DiSanto was hired in October 2019 as designer for all book covers and interiors. He joined us from the University of Chicago Press, where he was a graphics specialist and also recognized by the Association of University Presses for exceptional design.
In addition to making better, more marketable books, it was important to reinforce book revenue with other forms of income from rights management, fundraising, and an active grants program. To that end, we were thrilled that Brittany Johnson joined us in January 2020 from Houston, where she previously worked as a docket clerk for a law firm. Her attention to detail and wide knowledge base of journalistic best practices made her a natural choice to help amplify the nonbook revenue part of our program. In her short time with us, Brittany has already supervised several grant submissions and obtained external funding for several titles.
Publishing in a Pandemic
As we began celebrating our eightieth anniversary in 2020, we were well underway with the reboot of our lists to be more dynamic and relevant to the university community and readers worldwide. We were building new in-house protocols for editorial and design that would allow us to scale up the number of titles we publish without sacrificing quality. We were signing great authors and developing new series and marketing venues to promote them. And we were making plans to launch new books at a variety of scholarly conferences and trade shows across North America.
Within an eight-week period from March to May, Nashville experienced a destructive tornado and a derecho-type storm that caused massive power outages to the region. During the same period, state and local stay-at-home orders were implemented to address the COVID-19 pandemic. As of this report's publication, the VUP staff has been working remotely for many months and will probably remain off campus for the foreseeable future. We are grateful to be healthy and able to continue to publish books that the world needs. It is a precarious time across many industries, and we saw some closures affect our supply chain for selling and distributing books, but we continue to get our physical and electronic titles delivered to their intended audiences. We also worked with our vendors and partners to create new models to help serve the needs of our readers as those needs change. VUP undertakes these efforts to grow our scholarly list and publish more socially engaged trade titles with the university's priorities in mind. We are committed to our vision despite what lies ahead, because books have never been more important to our survival or our engagement with each other as a society.
Gianna F. Mosser
Strategic Plan Highlights
This fiscal year, VU Press has focused on the following goals of its strategic plan:
- Increasing the number of titles we publish by expanding our acquisitions efforts in existing fields and areas that represent important subjects to the university and the larger Nashville community;
- Creating a pool of Press authors that represents a variety of backgrounds and institutional affiliations, and emphasizing diversity and inclusion across all aspects of the publishing program;
- Lowering costs to provide the Press with greater resources for operating costs, program expansion, and dynamic partnerships;
- Applying for and securing grant funding or subventions for individual titles and across our subject list areas;
- Expanding opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to work and learn at VU Press; and
- Expanding our technological capacity by updating our e-book program and finding sustainable ways to offer audiobooks, podcasts, and other types of electronic content, and updating our website to encourage e-commerce and lively public engagement via social media.
One of the greatest challenges facing the Press was the lack of a deep pipeline of titles to fill future seasons. Vanderbilt University Press has published fifteen new books during the 2019–2020 fiscal year. VUP has acquired and brought under contract sixty-eight books this fiscal year. We are on track to publish twenty-two new books in FY21.
The acquisition rate is a result of proactive outreach with existing VUP authors and potential new authors, including attending conferences—for example, LASA (Latin American Studies Association) and AAA (American Anthropological Association). At scholarly meetings, acquisitions editors meet with authors, reviewers, and readers face to face. This year, VUP established a regular conference calendar and raised our publishing profile among these select audiences by cosponsoring panels, featuring speakers, and holding book launches on site—all of which helps the Press maintain a strong presence in our committed fields. We were able to do all this even as the second half of the year saw the cancellation of all our travel plans.
After completing the first list review, acquisitions editors had solid direction for augmenting and amplifying our title offerings. That analysis led to the development of three new book series to be published by VUP. Additions to the VUP Latin American studies and anthropology lists are the Critical Mexican Studies series and the Policy to Practice series. Critical Mexican Studies is already shaping up to be the premier series in Mexican studies, and the first in English to focus on Mexico from a critical apparatus. It centers on books that question the many received ideas that shape the field of Mexican studies, from the focus on the connections between identity and nation to the favored historiographic and philological approaches that have long defined significant portions of the field. The series is edited by Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado, VUP author and Jarvis Thurston and Mona Van Duyn Professor in Humanities, Professor of Spanish, Latin American Studies, and Film and Media Studies, and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Latin American Studies program at Washington University in Saint Louis. The first two books in the series are scheduled to be monographs by Cristina Rivera Garza and John Mraz, respectively. Policy to Practice is an ethnographic medical anthropology series focused on policy interventions in cultures around the world. The series will launch with two monographs in November 2020.
Spearheading the new trade emphasis on regional titles, the Truths, Lies, and Histories of Nashville series will reach new audiences and markets for general audience books published by VUP. Created and overseen by VUP Marketing Manager Betsy Phillips, the series aims to bridge the gap between what scholars and historians know about Nashville and what the public thinks it knows. Taking its influence from long-form journalism, the series will consist of twenty-five small volumes, between ten thousand and twenty thousand words apiece, with subjects ranging across Nashville's whole history. Two or three books will be released each year with a goal of having all twenty-five books available by the city's 250th anniversary in 2029. Phillips's archival skills are well suited for the project as she was honored as Best Historian in the Nashville Scene's 2019 Best of Nashville issue.
Each book of the new series, as with every VUP book, is peer reviewed. The peer-review process is a hallmark of university presses. VUP peer review has been streamlined in the past year, resulting in only full manuscripts going out for review, as opposed to parts of manuscripts in progress. This change has led to more focused, useful reviews and clear paths to revision. The process is now carried out digitally, conserving paper and time.
"Chairing VUP this past year has been an especially rewarding experience, particularly as it relates to shepherding new and cutting-edge scholarly research through the publication process. In many respects, I feel like VUP is in the midst of a renaissance, poised as it is to make a serious impact in both trade and scholarly publishing in a finely focused number of disciplines."
—Tracy D. Sharpley-Whiting, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Distinguished Professor; Chair, Department of African American and Diaspora Studies, Vanderbilt University; Director, Callie House Research Center for the Study of Global Black Cultures and Politics
Changes to the Editorial Committee
One of the most important relationships between VU Press and its campus partners is through the faculty editorial committee, which reviews and approves books that VU Press intends to publish. This year the Editorial Committee expanded to thirteen members. The committee's membership now reflects input from scholars working in all of the Press's subject areas. Committee members, who have three-year terms, also serve as ambassadors for the Press on campus and in their disciplinary communities.
Marketing and Sales + Outreach
Despite the infrastructure and economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Press continues to publish dynamic, well-researched books and to find new ways of reaching audiences. Sales of e-books have increased 34 percent over FY19. And VUP's distributor, Longleaf Services, has remained open, enabling orders of physical books to be fulfilled, which allows us to reach individual consumers even as Amazon and independent bookstores have had a harder time supplying books to the marketplace.
Our strategy has been to effectively adapt to working remotely and to focus on getting materials into the hands of people who might need them but may have decreased access due to the pandemic. We made our health care titles (sixty-four books total) available for free via Project MUSE's digital platform beginning in mid-March and running through the end of May. We steeply discounted our physical books through a bundle sale in which customers could buy any four VUP books for $60 and free shipping. Over the first two months of the bundle sale, we sold 184 books, with net sales of $2,715. Considering that we had no promotional budget for the sale and were relying on word of mouth, it turned out to be a resounding success. Our books were also included on the Association of University Presses' pandemic-related reading lists, which was a nice publicity boost.
Over the past year, we have worked to strengthen our partnerships in an effort to further our sales reach. This fiscal year, the Press expanded its relationship with Eurospan, the global sales, marketing, and distribution agency that has handled distribution of our books to Europe in recent years. As a result of this newly expanded relationship, Eurospan now handles all non-US and Canada sales for VUP. This is facilitated by VUP making many of its titles available on Lightning Source, an Ingram platform that provides global access to books via print-on-demand technology. Most importantly, this means that for the first time in our history, VUP books can be sold throughout Latin America, one of our most vital publishing concerns.
Vanderbilt UP also maintains a relationship with the Frist Art Museum, publishing exhibition catalogs that share the work of a range of artists, including local artists. As an extension of its local reach, the Press participates annually in Humanities Tennessee's Southern Festival of Books.
As another means of local connection and in celebration of our eightieth anniversary, VUP opened a Little Free Library in front of our office building in January 2020. The library encourages community members to borrow VUP books, thus promoting awareness of our titles within our local community.
In spite of the challenges of responding to COVID-19, VUP's sales have remained fairly stable. We had predicted slightly lower sales this year over previous years, due to rebuilding our pipeline, but even with the book world essentially shutting down in March and April, we're on track to meet our $230,000 sales projection. Our May sales this fiscal year were even higher than our May sales last fiscal year.
While it's hard to draw conclusions in such an anomalous year, these indicators suggest that our efforts have sales moving in the right direction.
E-Book and Audiobook Programs
Adding to our goal to expand VUP's reach, the Press has started new collaborations with e-book and audiobook platforms, JSTOR and Redwood Audiobooks, respectively. JSTOR is a digital library for academic journals, books, and primary sources. Redwood publishes nonfiction audiobooks. A 2014 Press title, With a Little Help from Our Friends: Creating Community as We Grow Older, by Beth Baker, is now available via Redwood, with another anticipated twelve books being brought to the audio market by the end of 2020.
Another e-book partnership is with the open-access platform Knowledge Unlatched. KU Select is a Knowledge Unlatched initiative that provides free access to digital formats of scholarly books and journals with funding from a collective of libraries and other institutions. VUP has seven titles to be included in KU Select 2020.
Publicity and Reviews
This fiscal year, Vanderbilt University Press books were reviewed thirty-one times in twenty-six outlets, including the Bulletin of Spanish Studies, American Anthropologist, and the Journal of World History.
Along with reviews, our authors and their work appeared in various media outlets. Here are some highlights:
Ignacio Sánchez Prado, author of Screening Neoliberalism / La proyección del neoliberalismo and series editor of VUP's new Critical Mexican Studies series, was featured in a range of media coverage focusing on the publication of Jeanine Cummins's novel American Dirt. Sánchez Prado wrote a piece for the Washington Post titled "American Dirt Gets Mexico Very Wrong." It's the Latest in a Long Trend, and he appeared on Al Jazeera and St. Louis Public Radio programs to discuss issues of representation, the publishing industry and media in the US, and American Dirt. He was also interviewed for and mentioned in other pieces about the controversy, including articles published in Current Affairs, Yahoo! News, and the Baltimore Sun.
David Barton Smith, author of The Power to Heal: Civil Rights, Medicare, and the Struggle to Transform America's Health Care System, was quoted in the New York Times's 1619 Project, in an article titled "Why Doesn't the United States Have Universal Health Care? The Answer Has Everything to Do with Race."
Sebastiaan Faber, author of Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography and Exile and Cultural Hegemony: Spanish Intellectuals in Mexico, 1939–1975, spoke with NPR's Here and Now about the exhumation of Francisco Franco's remains.
Patricia Foxen, author of In Search of Providence: Transnational Mayan Identities, was quoted by the Washington Post in an article about the legacy of the Guatemalan civil war among Guatemalan immigrants in the US.
The press was also mentioned in a variety of national and local publications.
Publishers Weekly, February 2020
General Trade Publishers Find Their Groove in Nashville
Publishers Weekly, March 2020
Hopkins Press Grants Free Access to Journals, E-books
Chapter 16, June 2020
Book Excerpt: Greetings from New Nashville
Nashville Scene, May 2020
A Long-Lost Study of the Mississippi Delta Reveals the Source of the Blues
Chapter 16, April 2020
Book Excerpt: Hidden Nature: Wild Southern Caves
Nashville Scene, April 2020
Where to Stream the Films Reviewed in People Only Die of Love in Movies
Library Journal on Twitter, January 2020
Vanderbilt University Press Launches Little Free Library as Part of 80th-Year Celebration
The Tennessean, August 2019
Vanderbilt's Portion of 25th Avenue to Become Perry Wallace Way
Writing Revolution in Latin America: From Martí to García Márquez to Bolaño by Juan E. De Castro
Awards and Recognition
While there are many ways to evaluate the success of academic titles, awards are a helpful reminder that our efforts and resources have a substantial effect on scholarly discourse and disciplinary formation. Below are several recognitions that VU Press titles have garnered this year.
Association of American Publishers PROSE Award, Literature Subject Category Winner, 2020
Writing Revolution in Latin America: From Martí to García Márquez to Bolaño by Juan E. De Castro
Next Generation Indie Book Awards Historical (Non-Fiction) Finalist, 2020
Surviving the Peace: The Struggle for Postwar Recovery in Bosnia-Herzegovina by Peter Lippman
Next Generation Indie Book Awards Regional (Non-Fiction) Finalist, 2020
Crossing the Aisle: How Bipartisanship Brought Tennessee to the Twenty-First Century and Could Save America by Keel Hunt
Association for Recorded Sound Collections Certificate of Merit for Best Historical Research in Recorded Roots or World Music, 2019
A&R Pioneers: Architects of American Roots Music on Record by Brian Ward and Patrick Huber
Vanderbilt University Press Norman L. and Roselea J. Goldberg Prize, 2020
Talking Trash: Cultural Uses of Waste by Maite Zubiaurre
ESPN LA Morning Show Book Club selection
Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South
American Association of School Librarians (AASL) panel discussion
Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders
Apexart NYC art exhibition selection
Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders
BookBub April 2020 Featured Deal
Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South
Nashville Scene's Best of Nashville issue, 2019: Best Historian; Author of Best Short-Fiction Book
Betsy Phillips, VUP Marketing and Sales Manager
Editorial, Design, and Production (EDP)
The EDP department plays a vital role in the creation of a VUP title, impacting the appeal of our books and the desire of authors to publish with the Press. Within the past year, EDP has restructured its department so that copyediting and design are completed in house, removing the cost of outsourcing such needs and giving authors an informed, hands-on approach to the editing process.
EDP also now designs and prints each book at a standard size of 6 × 9 inches, unless there is a good design reason to go with a different size. Standardizing book sizes is a cost-saving practice. It also has the advantage of giving the Press more paper options when books are set up at Lightning Source for print-on-demand.
Among the added benefits of utilizing Lightning Source for most VUP books is that print-on-demand spreads out the costs of printing books over time (as opposed to a single large bill for a one-time, large-quantity print job) and minimizes storage needs and inventory costs.
The EDP team continues to produce quality and cost-effective publications.
AUPresses Book, Jacket, and Journal Show
For the first time in Vanderbilt UP's history, VUP hosted the traveling AUPresses Book, Jacket, and Journal Show. The exhibit, which was open to the Vanderbilt community and the public, was on display on campus in the Vanderbilt Libraries Special Collections exhibit space for two weeks in January 2020.
Since 1965, the AUPresses Book, Jacket, and Journal Show has fulfilled its mission to "honor and instruct": honoring the design and production teams at AUPresses member presses whose work furthers a long tradition of excellence in book design, and—through the traveling exhibit and an acclaimed annual catalog of selected entries—visually teaching the tenets of good design.
The annual Book, Jacket, and Journal Show exhibit premieres at the AUPresses Annual Meeting, then begins traveling to exhibits around North America—and sometimes around the globe. The 2019 show exhibit was available throughout 2019–2020 at forty host presses throughout North America.
Covers of New Releases and Cover Redesigns
A Selection of New Releases for Fall 2019
A Selection of New Releases for Spring 2020
Subventions, Grants, and Fundraising
Vanderbilt UP is primarily supported by its host institution, Vanderbilt University. The Press is grateful for that support. As a publisher of scholarly monographs, the Press wants to do its part to help ensure that the research and perspectives detailed in our books are accessible to as many people as possible. Engaging in fundraising, requesting subventions, and applying for grants are initiatives that the Press has implemented this fiscal year to help with its efforts. The Press now has a "Support Us" page on our website. We are appreciative of the subventions received this fiscal year from some of our authors' home institutions, such as the University of Florida and the University of Georgia. Two grant applications have been submitted. As a result of one of the application submissions, the Press has been awarded a $5,500 Chairman's Grant through the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship Open Book Program to support a forthcoming open-access edition of The Rise of Euroskepticism: Europe and Its Critics in Spanish Culture by Luis Martín-Estudillo. We extend our appreciation to funders who support publishing endeavors. A donation of any amount helps us accomplish several goals including the following:
- To better support authors who write about Nashville,
- To allow us to better market books with limited audiences such as monographs by first-time scholarly authors, and
- To help us teach more Vanderbilt students at the graduate and undergraduate level about the publishing industry through internships and assistantships.
Career Development Initiatives
VUP hosts student interns throughout the academic year—one undergraduate student and one graduate student. The internship provides insight into all areas of publishing within a university press including the business of publishing and the larger scholarly communications ecosystem. Below, one of the interns shares his experience.
"I've filled many shoes while interning with Vanderbilt University Press. I've prepped manuscripts for typesetting and checked page proofs. I've digitized the press's contracts, learning a great deal about publishing contracts in the process. I've organized the Press's archive of books published past. I've looked for bookstores to pitch our books and sifted through conference programs searching for good books for us to publish. I've even spent time with a hammer and nails, hanging the Press's awards in the office conference room.
In return, the Press has given me a family: a safe space to come after a long day of classes and coursework. I could always count on Cindy and Betsy to make me smile, Gianna to teach me something interesting, Joell and Zack to cut my publishing teeth, Jenna and Brittany to check on me, and Drohan to offer me fresh coffee just when I really needed it. More than anything, they made me feel at home after transferring to Vanderbilt, and I couldn't be more grateful."
—Jonathan Gardner, Class of 2021, Computer Science and English Major
Beyond the internships, VUP Director Gianna Mosser facilitates publishing seminars addressing the ins and outs of academic publishing to Vanderbilt graduate students, faculty, and the general public.
As this report illustrates, the Vanderbilt University Press is growing to best meet the needs of its global community. By describing our efforts in the form of an annual report, we invite conversation and engagement with VUP’s books, authors, and staff. Please find more out about our titles and program at www.vanderbiltuniversitypress.com.