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This week we’re celebrating University Press Week. Oh, you didn’t hear about that? Well, I’m not surprised—it has a pretty specific audience!

According to the Association of American University Presses, University Press Week is to highlight “the extraordinary work of university presses and their many contributions to culture, the academy, and society.”

Those of us familiar with the publishing world are attuned to the many types of presses that exist and the differences among them. The University of Minnesota Press is publishing my memoir in April, and I often get questions as to who the UMP is and what it does.

If you are a reader of popular, best-selling books, most of them are published by what I call the big publishing houses. These publishers, largely based in New York, are giant companies and often part of larger media corporations. They are a business and want to make money. Publishing books that will make money is their goal, as that’s the only source of revenue (this is a really simplistic definition, and I apologize for that).

Besides these giants companies, there are a whole host of smaller presses, which are usually called independent presses or literary presses. Of course they want to make money, too, but they are small and have a little more flexibility in publishing books that are well-written but may not capture big audiences. Some of these are non-profit ventures or backed with some type of venture capital.

A university press is run as an arm of the university. Therefore, its mission is generally more academic. A lot of professors and other people associated with higher education want to publish their research. This research is interesting and there’s an audience for it, but that audience is usually very small. Some titles on the University of Minnesota list include: Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination and Mobile Urbanism: Cities and Policymaking in the Global Age. Now these books sound great, but Harry Potter or Fifty Shades of Gray they are not. But like the quotation at the top of this post notes, a university sees it as its mission to disseminate widespread knowledge. A university press is one way to do that.

In some cases, like with the University of Minnesota Press, not only will it publish academic work but it also will branch into literature and even fiction. UMP generally publishes one memoir a year with a Minnesota or Midwestern focus. My book is fortunate to be that one in 2013.

In my next blog post on this issue, I will explain why I am thrilled to be published by UMP and the journey that got me there.

Check out Doug Armato’s fine description of a university press and its purpose. Armato is the director of the University of Minnesota Press.

For more information on University Press Week, search Twitter for #UPWeek.

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