If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re a Politics Guys listener, which means that you already know who I am and why I’m starting this blog. But for readers who aren’t Politics Guys listeners, here’s a quick intro: I’m Michael Baranowski, political scientist at Northern Kentucky University. I’m also the co-founder and co-host of The Politics Guys podcast.
I’m starting a blog largely out of frustration with academic book publishing. When I set out to write my first book (Navigating the News) I did what all academics are socialized to do – I went in search of an academic publisher. I found one, they offered me a contract, and I produced a book.
That was over four years ago. In that time, total sales of Navigating the News are somewhere under 600. That’s not too bad for an academic book, as amazing as that may seem. My publisher was actually pleased with how ‘well’ the book sold, and last year when I suggested a new edition, they told me that they wanted to wait until sales slowed before considering it. (Seriously.)
I asked them if they could cut the price to increase sales, but to my astonishment, they were entirely uninterested in doing that. Today, if you want to pick up a copy of Navigating the News, it will set you back $37.00 for the print version, and $35.00 for the Kindle edition. This, for a 173 page book that I’d say should be priced at $10 for a hard copy and maybe half that for the Kindle version.
I’m not blaming my publisher – this is how almost all academic publishing works. But the experience made me realize that academic publishing wasn’t for me. I spent years dreaming about, planning, and writing Navigating the News, all for under 600 readers. How depressing. I vowed that never again would I pour my heart and soul into something that was practically guaranteed to have so little impact in the real world.
This presented me with a big problem. While it’s not all that difficult to get a contract with an academic publisher, finding a ‘real’ publisher is another thing altogether. You first have to convince a literary agent that your book is commercially viable. Then, your agent has to convince a publisher that they should buy your book. Very few book ideas make it through this process, and even those that do can take quite a while to go from proposal to publication.
Right now, I’m on sabbatical doing research for my next book, on the politics of food. You may not realize it, but food is incredibly political. There are huge issues involving things like organics, GMOs, agricultural laborers, health & safety, and tons more. I think it’s fascinating stuff, and I want to share my political scientist’s take on these issues with as many people as possible.
But as fascinating and important as I think food politics is, there’s no guarantee that I can find a literary agent who agrees. And even if I do, there’s no guarantee that my agent can find a publisher. I could always self-publish, but without the resources of a publisher behind me, I’m right back to where I was with academic publishing – having written a book that almost nobody sees. No thanks.
And so, instead of doing a ton of research and writing, then waiting and hoping that my book will get published and maybe have some real-world impact, I’m going to publish my book-in-progress here on this blog. That will let me hear what you think about what I’m doing as I’m doing it: what you like, what you don’t like, questions, comments, whatever. It’s sort of like crowd-sourcing the editing of the book as I write it. Plus, building an online community around a book project makes it far more interesting to agents and publishers. Finally, telling you here and now that I’ll be posting new material on food politics once a week puts my feet to the fire and should really help my progress. (In addition to weekly food politics posts, I might also put up some other random musings about politics, semi-political thoughts, or whatever happens to be on my mind.)
This is a big experiment for me, and I have no idea how it’s going to turn out. I’m excited about the possibilities, and I hope you’ll join me in creating my next book.