Nonprofit Press Acquisitions & Operations

    Today my guest is Amy Caldwell, Executive Editor for Beacon Press in Boston. Today Amy is going to let us in on how a nonprofit press operates and how it is different from a university press or commercial publisher.


    Comment on this post through August 28 to be entered to win a hardcover of Sam Skolnik’s nonfiction, High Stakes: The Rising Cost of America’s Gambling Addiction.

    Amy Caldwell:

    Beacon Press is an old press—we date our founding back to 1854—and a non-profit press. We’re owned by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and while we publish books for a broad trade audience, we have a distinct mandate to publish books that uphold the principles of the UUA. These principles are broad statements like upholding the inherent dignity and worth of all persons, and the promotion of justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. They allow us enough leeway to publish books that respond to era we live in while giving us a distinct profile.

    Our mandate clearly distinguishes Beacon from the big commercial houses. We don’t publish diet books, or celebrity memoirs, or thrillers, though all are commercially successful genres. It does mean that we can take a chance on books we think are important and exciting and will have a definite audience, but which a large house might not find economically viable.


    high stakesWe also differ from academic presses, though sometimes we find ourselves competing for books with them—typically in the case of “cross-over” books written by scholars. At a university press, acquiring editors must submit reader’s reports testifying to the scholarly worth of the project before taking the book before their board. They also, given the economics of scholarly publishing, must acquire and publish large numbers of books of each year. This means an editor at an academic press has to pick only a book or two each season, of the many she is publishing, to edit; it’s just not possible to edit them all. One of the great joys of being at an independent press like Beacon is not having huge acquisitions quotas. Each editor here acquires only a select number of titles each year, and then works in depth with the authors of all of them. That close working relationship with an author takes an enormous amount of time and energy, but it’s why I went into this profession in the first place.

    Editors at Beacon look for book proposals that fit our mission, and generally speaking, that fit our lists—the subject areas in which we’re currently acquiring books. These days, we’re actively acquiring books that deal with issues in science and society, the environment, progressive religion, history, LGBT studies and activism, immigration, African American studies, women’s studies, medicine, sports and society, and economic justice. As you can perhaps tell, we’re a publisher of non-fiction, though we do publish some memoir, when the subject seems right for Beacon and we absolutely fall in love with the book. We look for books that are engaging and well-written; we’re very interested in authors with specialized knowledge who can communicate something important about their area of expertise to a broader audience. And like most publishers, we’re interested in a prospective author’s platform—their affiliation with organizations, track record, reputation, and established rapport with some part of their prospective audience.

    Thanks for spending time with us, Amy from Beacon Press!

    Tomorrow’s blogoversary guest is
    veteran web developer, publisher, and social media pioneer Deltina Hay of Plumb Web Solutions.
    Deltina will discuss website essentials and give away her social media manual.

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    1. Fascinating post! Interesting behind the scenes look!

    2. I’m at point where when I am interested in a book, I see who the publisher is. Learning the publishing industry’s workings is a weighty task unto itself. Hats off to Beacon for their clarity about values and working to uphold those.

    3. It’s interesting to hear the ins and outs of a publishing company. Especially one that handles titles that Beacon does. Very commendable. 🙂

      The giveaway of this book hits very close to home, as someone VERY close to me suffers from a gambling addiction. Thanks for the giveaway!

    4. Thank you, Ms. Barko, for the education. I did not know presses like this existed. I like the concept of what they’re looking for, too.

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