University presses exist throughout the United States. They’d seem a logical choice when looking for a publisher. But perhaps not, especially for a non-academic like myself. First, a realistic assessment written by an anonymous insider. Then a few comments from a friend who has dealt with the university press system.
You wouldn’t be ruled out a priori, but I do want to give you some info to think about before you decide anything. All our books need positive reviews from two outside experts, and those experts in the case of a scholarly book are always going to be professors with PhDs, trained and experienced in academic writing, and they’ll be evaluating your manuscript by those standards.
Writing a history such as you propose would require you to spend a lot of time in the various archives around the state in addition to familiarizing yourself with all the relevant secondary literature. So it’s a huge commitment, with no guarantee of publication until reviewers recommend it and then the press’s editorial advisory board approves it (and even then production takes an additional eight months). An author of a successful scholarly monograph at the end of the day may make several hundred dollars in royalties for all that effort.
Who in God’s name would sign up for such a thing, you may be wondering? The whole university press system largely exists to vet and promote specialized scholarship written by professors. Books lead to tenure, which is the roundabout way of compensation that makes it worthwhile.
We do publish non-academic authors, but in most cases it’s a matter of personal passion tied to a steep learning curve. So with all that said, if you’re still interested, I’d be happy to take a look. And I don’t say any of this to scare you off, but I’ve run into situations where an author’s expectations are radically different from the realities of publishing, and as you can imagine that’s not a good situation for the author or the Press.
And now, some hope:
That response seems reasonable. My two journal articles, however, went through peer review by PhDs and both came out with a publish recommendation. They are blind reviews so they do not know that you are not a PhD yourself. They also have some bias in that they all want to get tenure and promotions so they are reticent to kill another (presumed) scholar’s work. I’ve read one history book published by that Press and I did not find it intimidating and it certainly did not have a robust literature review. If it gives you a platform to find other opportunities, why not? It will take a long time from start to finish, but you can take on other projects during the dead periods. Just my two cents.