Weird Publishing

It’s a weird world.  Publishing, I mean.  In the early days of shock and angst after Nashotah House, when it had become clear that UWOsh—the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh—wasn’t going to hire me full-time after a full-time year there, I considered that classic fall-back of the academic—publishing.  I wasn’t exactly clear on what an editor did in those days, but I was pretty sure I could learn.  Gorgias Press hired me and after just over two years, downsized.  I’d been in publishing long enough at that point to have learned about Transaction Publishers.  Housed on the Livingston campus of Rutgers University, where I’d been teaching for a few years at this point, Transaction had been founded by the sociologist Irving Horowitz.  Now that Gorgias was out of the picture, I contacted Transaction out of the blue and landed an interview with Horowitz himself.  Although he was most cordial, it didn’t lead to a job offer.

Eventually I was recruited by Routledge.  I was about to learn the nature of publishing in a whole new way.  Early in my time in the Taylor & Francis group (they had a letter signed by Walt Whitman in one of the board rooms) I learned that presses grow by acquiring other presses.  I suggested Transaction, only to be told it was too small of a “concern;” Taylor & Francis preferred larger fish.  When Routledge downsized I found myself again applying to Transaction.  Irving Horowitz had passed away by this point and before I could make an appeal, I was hired by my current employer.  There I have been ever since.

The other day I had cause to look up Transaction.  It was with some surprise that I learned they had been acquired by Taylor & Francis and merged with Routledge.  I’m sure that my suggestion of that acquisition had nothing to do with it, but I pondered what would’ve happened had I been hired by Transaction after Routledge cut me loose.  A few years later I would’ve found myself working for Routledge again.  And likely I would have found history repeating itself.  Publishing is a fairly small industry.  Books are a low-margin commodity (it pains me to type those words, but that’s the way the business world sees them).  Not too many people are interested in a company that has to sell lots of a specialty item in order to make them profitable.  Consumers tend not to buy books in bulk.  My time in publishing has been about connections.  And some of those connections are just plain weird.

For the Love of Books

As is so often the case, publication and religion go hand-in-glove. George Routledge was a man with a vision. As a literary man of nineteenth century England, he moved from bookseller to publisher, establishing the well-known London house of Routledge (aka Warne & Routledge, George Routledge & Sons) in 1843. Although his initial successes were literary, among his first publications were the reprinted Bible commentaries of Albert Barnes. By 1854 a branch of Routledge was established in New York where it continues to operate. Acquired by Taylor & Francis in 1998, Routledge still pursues and produces notable academic books in many fields of the humanities and social sciences. The company is a testimony of the strength of vision of a man with a love of books.

I began this blog as a recently unemployed editor at Gorgias Press and part-time lecturer at Rutgers University. Both were jobs involving books and religion, but I am now moving to Routledge as a religion editor. Once again, I will be full-time in the world of books. Regular readers of this blog will know of my sense of loss at the closing of Borders this year. Although I claim no special insight into the way businesses work, the loss of comfortable space surrounded by books is something I felt very deeply. There seems to be a kind of redemption in taking on a position that will once again set me in the role of seeking to produce more books. It is as if the fabric of several loose strands of my life that had unraveled under the trials of the world of higher education have once again rejoined.

While whiling away the happy hours at the 4-H fair last week, I enjoyed strolling through the arts tent. There I noticed that someone in our county has started a creative writing club. This was a hopeful sign; the previous year I had made inquiry into starting such a club myself. When the world seems to have evolved beyond books, those of us who need them must invest the love of writing in our young. Although 4-H is not a religious organization, writing nevertheless has a sacred appeal. Those who feel drawn to the craft know the incredible grip that written expression can exert on a person—seeing your name on the cover of a book is a form of eternal life, metaphorically speaking. As editor I will not be the name on the cover, but I will be the one helping others to attain that immortality. It may not bring Borders back from the dead, but even the very idea of resurrection comes to us in the form of a book. Even so, Routledge is the agent of resurrection in my meandering career.