An Ode to the Independents

img_8305Our press is located in Lawrence, Kansas.

The university town has long been a regional center for independent, free-thinking. Before Kansas was a state, Lawrence was ground zero for the abolitionist movement in the territory. After statehood, when a pack of guerilla bandits crossed the border from Missouri and burned most of the town to ashes, Lawrence dusted itself off, and got back to living its independent life.

We are proud to be supported by two outstanding independent bookstores. The Raven Bookstore and the KU Bookstore are vastly different operations, but share a common vision of supporting authors, readers and a fierce passion for getting the job done their way.

The Raven sits on a side street just off Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence. If you close your eyes and picture a quaint bookstore, chances are you’ll imagine The Raven. Old wood floors creak with each step and the store is full, floor-to-ceiling, with books. The shop has a reputation for stocking the best mystery novels available, but also carries a full line of non-fiction, best-seller, children and regional books.

Heidi Raak has operated The Raven Bookstore for 9 years (the store has been a staple for Lawrence readers since 1987). An independent store since its inception, Raak has weathered (and continues to weather) the changes in the marketplace.

img_8308“Obviously our biggest competition isn’t another store in town, but the internet,” Raak says with a matter-of-fact tone. “We have to overcome the ease of buying a book online with great customer service and knowledge. I think the atmosphere of the store and the experience of shopping for a book is a big draw. There’s something about picking up a book and holding it that is special. You can’t get that online.”

Raak works hard to create an environment around the store that keeps people interested. The Raven hosts countless book launches, readings and parties with authors. Those events bring people to the store and help establish the staff as go-to resources.

“We understand we’re part of a community,” Raak explains. “We support local artists and well-represented authors. We’re proud to carry books by the (University) Press. We appreciate the support Lawrence gives us, and we work hard to be the best, most-welcoming bookstore in town.”

img_8317Up the hill from The Raven, on the north edge of the University of Kansas campus, the KU Bookstore fills most of the 2nd floor of the Kansas Union. The store is one of only a handful of bookstores serving a major university that operate independent of the university.

“We are completely independent of the University of Kansas,” explains Jen O’Connor, store director. “We have no affiliation or obligation to the university. In addition, we are an operating non-profit, which helps us serve the students of KU more effectively.”

The great majority of university bookstores are operated by a larger, national bookstore. When asked to name other independent stores serving universities, O’Connor struggles to name more than two or three.

“I know there are more, but  honestly, not many,” she says with a laugh. “We are independent of the University but Student Affairs has oversight of the KU Memorial Union, of which we are a part.”

Much like The Raven, the KU Bookstore puts a lot of effort into bringing students, and the Lawrence community, into the store with events. O’Connor estimates they host one or two unique events a week either at the store or somewhere on campus.

“We have to stay relevant to the students,” she explains. “We know these students have a lot of options and we work hard to be their first choice. Luckily, not a lot of outlets carry every textbook they need.”

Because the store is a non-profit, they can often offer very competitive prices on trade, text and consumer books. In fact, almost half of the store’s sales are books or products not for a class.

“We don’t have to answer to sales numbers or investors,” O’Connor says. “We have to pay the bills and keep the lights on. That gives us a great opportunity to stay competitive on price – which is a big, big help.”

 

“An Ode to the Independents” is our contribution to University Press Week blog tour. Be sure to check out posts by the University of Texas Press, the University of Chicago Press,  Cornell University Press, University Press of Colorado, NYU Press  and our friends at the University Press of Kentucky.

In Conversation with Lisa Silvestri, Author of “Friended at the Front”

9780700621361Q:  What inspired you to research social media’s role in the American war zone?

A: My brother was on his first deployment in Iraq while I was in graduate school studying communication. At the time, he and I mostly wrote letters back and forth. But I began paying closer attention to advancements in digital communication technologies, especially when the infamous Abu Ghraib photos emerged. At the time, it seemed like new communication technologies (MySpace, YouTube, Facebook) were becoming available at the same time we were becoming increasingly entrenched in Iraq and Afghanistan. So I was personally and academically invested in keeping a close eye on both of these “fronts.” I wondered how all this connection would change what it’s like to be at war.

Q:  What were you most surprised to learn?

A: I learned a lot so this question could easily become very long-winded. So I’ll just share the earliest surprise, which was that no one writes letters any more. The war letter, which was once a staple genre of letter writing, is now an endangered, if not extinct, artifact. Almost all the men and women I talked to said they carried their iPhones in their pockets, just like the rest of us. How will this change the archival aspect of these wars?

Q:  Do you believe social media enhances the lives of those protecting our country abroad, or did you find that it contributed to depression or homesickness?

A: That’s the question, isn’t it? To an extent we are all probably wondering if social media is enhancing or diminishing our lives. For troops in a war zone, the stakes are raised on these types of issues—fear of missing out (FOMO), being distracted, feeling lonely and bored. We can all relate to these social anxieties. But I would say, on the whole, after talking with the men and women fighting our wars, I’m most worried about the broad emotional spectrum they are forced to occupy; Thinking about OPSEC and mission safety on one hand and about how their kids got in a fight at school on the other.  In previous generations, our troops were more “protected” from home front concerns. This is a big change. I wonder how it will affect things like PTSD or the homecoming process more generally.

Q:  What are some of the most common ways social media is used within the American military warscape?

A: In interviews, most personnel said they used social media to “keep up to date.” This can include more intimate information like knowing what your wife had for dinner last night as well as getting a broader idea of what the latest stateside pop culture craze might be.

Q:  What’s the biggest take-away readers will glean from your book, “Friended at the Front:  Social Media in the American War Zone?”

A: One of my chief goals as a writer, teacher and citizen is to cultivate empathy. My hope is that readers will come away having meaningfully related to the men and women fighting these wars. And out of that empathy, maybe they will start to question America’s ongoing relationship with war.

#TBT

images#TBT: On this day in 1999, President Bill Clinton signed a sweeping measure knocking down Depression-era barriers and allowing banks, investment firms and insurance companies to sell each other’s product.  Learn more about Clinton’s presidency inside UPK’s upcoming “Bill Clinton: New Gilded Age President.”  Author Patrick Maney goes beyond personality and politics to examine the critical issues of the day: economic and fiscal policy, business and financial deregulation, healthcare and welfare reform, and foreign affairs in a post–Cold War world. But at its heart is Bill Clinton in all his guises: the first baby boomer to reach the White House; the “natural”—the most gifted politician of his generation, but one with an inexplicably careless and self-destructive streak; the “Comeback Kid,” repeatedly overcoming long odds; the survivor, frequently down but never out; and, with Hillary Rodham Clinton, part of the most controversial First Couple since Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.  Maney’s book is, in sum, the most succinct and up-to-date study of the Clinton presidency, invaluable not merely for understanding a transformative era in American history, but presidential, national, and global politics today.

Jacket Required: On Book Cover Design

9780700620012As Art Director and Webmaster, I’m responsible for all matters pertaining to graphic design at the University Press of Kansas. I design everything you see with our name on it, including books, ads, catalogs, flyers, conference booth signage, and website graphics. The one aspect of my job that readers and authors seem to be the most curious about, however, is book cover design.

In my 16 years here at the Press, I’ve designed the dust jackets or paperback covers of over 500 published books. A book cover serves two purposes. The first is to sell the book, and the second is to educate potential readers of its contents. To accomplish the first objective, a cover has to look attractive, legible, and effortless. It has to be eye-catching and readable whether it’s viewed from across the room at a bookstore or scholarly conference or as a thumbnail image on Amazon. To educate the reader, each book’s cover needs to accurately convey not just the subject matter but also the author’s approach to it. Because one person (me) designs all our covers, to some degree a Kansas “look” is inevitable, but it’s far more important that content drive the design of each cover. A good designer is like a chameleon that blends into the background, or an actor who gets lost in a role. While graphic design is often described as a “creative” profession, self-expression doesn’t make for great book covers. The designer’s job is to be an advocate for the book, and to present that book in its best light. Effective visual communication is essential to realizing the university press mission of promoting scholarship, advancing research, and disseminating knowledge.

Designing for a university press is a dream job for a book lover. You never know what unforeseen subject matter is going to show up on your desk. Military history, political science, and the Great Plains are my bread and butter, but I’ve also done books on birds, bears, greyhound racing, organic farming, UFOs, the Harlem Renaissance, fat studies, fish, and football. Though some subjects are bound to repeat themselves (in my case: the inescapable William Howard Taft), each project is unique in its own right, and that’s what makes the job interesting. To each idea its book, and to each book its cover.

–Written by Karl Janssen, Art Director and Webmaster, University Press of Kansas