Interview With Academic Author Joel Kaminsky

Since my last interview was with an academic publisher, I thought I'd give equal time to an academic author:

What does an academic author have to do for their book to be "elected" for publication?

There are many answers to this question (as in most academic matters). If it is one's first book normally one sends the whole book to a press that one believes might publish it, and then you see if they will in fact do so, and how much revision they want you to do. Once one has published a previous book and is a recognized authority in an area you can often convince a press to issue you a contract with an outline of the book and perhaps a small section of it to serve as an example. My first book, Corporate Responsibility in the Hebrew Bible was based on a revised dissertation and thus I sent the whole book manuscript to the publisher. It was reviewed by a peer reviewer and accepted basically as is. My latest book, Yet I Loved Jacob, was accepted on the basis of an outline, a table of contents, and a sample which included a rough draft of what eventually became the first four chapters of the book (now including 11 chapters total). I should mention that many academic books are composed of large chunks of material previously published in more technical journals. Thus about four chapters of the eleven in my new book came out previously.

How long did the entire process take, from the day you signed the contract until the appearance of your book?

I believe I signed the book contract with Abingdon for Yet I Loved Jacob back in 2002. Officially the book was due in Fall 2005. I was one year late and got it to them August 1, 2006 and it came out in August 2007. In the academic setting deadlines are often somewhat flexible because the reality is it often takes authors longer than they think to work out the ideas about which they are trying to write or to create a whole out of the various pieces of previously published material.

"Yet I Loved Jacob" has been very successful early on for an academic title. To what to you attribute your recent sales?

I am a rather unusual academic author in that I recognize that one needs to do a bit of self-promotion. Many academic authors see their work as finished once they submit a completed manuscript. I managed to get my book considered for a major panel review at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in November 2007 in San Diego. Five scholars critiqued the book and I responded. Abingdon brought along a sizable stack of my books to this convention and created a large poster of my panel review session that they displayed prominently at their sales booth. Recently, I convinced a major online reviewer of books in the biblical area to reprint the proceedings of the panel review along with my response to it. There has been a major uptick in Amazon sales since this source, Review of Biblical Literature, posted these reviews earlier in March. I also mailed out copies of my book to a number of prominent Jewish and Christian scholars at my own expense hoping that some of these folks will eventually tell others about my book. Finally, I asked Abingdon to see the list of what journals they were sending review copies to. I suggested a number of additional more popular print media sources to whom they might send review copies. No in print reviews have appeared yet but these should begin appearing in the next few months and hopefully will enhance my book sales further.

Do you see academic authors as laboring under promotional constraints, as compared to their commercial brethren, or are there offsetting advantages?

Academic authors are sometimes reluctant to be seen as hawking their wares like other commercial authors. But the truth is, more and more academic authors are recognizing that if one wants to get their ideas out there they need to find ways to get news of their book out to a wider audience. I have even received direct e-mails from some academic authors announcing a publication of their new book and explaining its relevance. Sometimes an author will send a free copy along as well in hopes I might use it for a future course. One advantage that academic authors have is that a number of journals will likely review your book and a number of copies will be purchased by all major research institutions in the world. Another advantage is that academic authors can occasionally employ their books in courses and often get invited to speak at other colleges and universities. But truth be told, these will help an academic book sell decently by academic standards but will not lead to tremendous sales. Academic authors need to find ways to reach beyond the walls of academia. Here there is no doubt that Amazon is helping certain academic authors reach larger audiences than they once did. But perhaps the major factor that hinders most academic authors is that too few know how to communicate their ideas in ways accessible to the intelligent lay reader. Unfortunately there is a contradiction in academia in that academics always talk about how important it is to have their ideas reach the larger society and yet when an academic author writes too popularly they may be labeled as not serious or too journalistic. I am guessing the way to counter this is to publish some technical articles in scholarly journals but then to produce books that are based on serious scholarship but are accessible to a wider audience. Inevitably this means eliminating technical jargon and vastly reducing the amount of footnotes or endnotes.

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