49 Writers Publisher Interview: University of Alaska Press

Consider this: a publisher whose sales have been increasing even in a rough economy, who releases 20-25 new books a year, who’s actively seeking new manuscripts, and who’s right here in Alaska. Active and forward-thinking, the University of Alaska Press may just be one of our state’s best assets.

Tell us about your company. Who started it? Why? Which books were among the first you published? What niche do you hold in the marketplace?
The University of Alaska Press is a publishing arm of the University of Alaska system. Our mission is to publish and distribute works of science, history, anthropology, Native Studies, and literature about Alaska and the world’s circumpolar regions. The Press has been actively publishing titles since the ‘60s with some of our first books being those on the purchase of Alaska, early statehood, and works about pioneering Alaskans. Our niche is definitely works on the circumpolar North. No other university press or regional publisher has the breadth of works on the world’s northern regions.

What are some of your best-selling titles? Has there been a shift in what readers expect and which Alaskan authors/books do well?
Our all time best-selling title is The Thousand-Mile War: WWII in Alaska and the Aleutians by Brian Garfield. People are and will continue to be fascinated about the only American front on which WWII was actively fought. Judy Kleinfeld’s books on fetal alcohol syndrome/effect have continued to sell steadily and really are the definitive books on learning and coping with children with FAS/E. Very recently we’ve seen the rise in interest of literary non-fiction writers, poets, and fiction writers to publish with a university press. We are pleased to have established a new Alaska Writer Laureate Series, the Literary Classic Reprint Series (of which Burning Daylight by Jack London will be our inaugural book), and the publishing of Ice Floe, the poetry journal in translation of the far north.

How many books do you typically publish each year? In which genres? Over the years, what kinds of changes have you made to your list?
We currently publish 20-25 new books a year, and try to seek about 6 new distributed titles as well. Our mission has always been to disseminate knowledge of the circumpolar North, but more recently we have added works on the periphery of this mission. We truly want to seek out manuscripts that enhance the understanding of the North with non-fiction, while publishing a select amount of poetry, literary non-fiction, and fiction.

Describe your ideal author. In other words, if one of us wanted to wow you with a proposed project, how would we do it?
At the press we always love a prepared author. You can wow the socks off us by being informed with the types of works we publish and understanding the mission of a university press and what they can do for your manuscript. We love to answer questions and help authors sculpt their manuscripts into publishable books.

The economy has hit publishing hard. Are you seeing any encouraging signs? What is the future for small and regional publishers?
UA Press saw an increase in sales this last year. The economy has had a downturn, but people still love books. We’re publishing books in subjects that the world is focusing on right now: climate change, globalization, and the science of the North. As a small university press we are modernizing to fit into the electronic world and this is new and exciting. Our modernization is also an added benefit to our authors and our worldwide readers.

What do you most want to communicate to readers about your books and to writers about submissions?
For our readers, we want them to know that we are publishing cutting edge works in all genres on the circumpolar North. Our books are an avenue to explore a world they may never visit and learn from some of most brilliant researchers and writers in the North. Our authors should always check our website for manuscript proposal guidelines and feel free to contact the editor at the press. We are actively seeking manuscripts and look forward to meeting new authors.

3 thoughts on “49 Writers Publisher Interview: University of Alaska Press”

  1. Hear ye, hear ye — this university press has shed the cloak of academic mustiness and is exploring new frontiers: creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and "artsy" photography. And (I know this from personal experience) they actually care about the appearance of books as physical objects. (French flaps, special stock, etc.) They may not compare royalty- or print run-wise to larger publishing houses but continue to put out Alaska books for Alaska readers. And they work closely with authors.

    Stay the course!

  2. I too applaud the University of Alaska Press for its move into works of creative writing, from creative non-fiction to poetry and, yes, fiction. Like Michael, I speak from experience: the press is publishing my second literary nonfiction book this fall and I deeply appreciate its willingness to take a risk on projects that larger publishers – and even some regional publishers – have shied away from. (I should note that the UA Press’s recent embrace of literary projects was ideal for me, since it had decided to move in that direction shortly before I submitted my Living with Wildness ms.) I also applaud the press’s commitment to what some of us would call the "literature of place,” to Alaskan authors, and to a reading audience that is interested in creative work as well as more academic books about “the world’s northern regions,” particularly Alaska. As an author who has worked with several publishers and had all sorts of experiences – both good and bad – in doing so, I have greatly enjoyed my working relationship with UA Press staff, most notably Elisabeth Dabney and Sue Mitchell, who have helped to shape and strengthen my two book projects with the press. There are, of course, both pluses and minuses to working with a university press (as with all things), but the upside for me has been substantially greater. More on this later, perhaps, when I become a guest blogger in December.

  3. Great to hear the good reports from writers – definitely one of the best sources of praise for a publisher.

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