ISU Press prints ‘high-quality manuscripts’

Matt Kuhns

Many Iowa State students may not have heard of ISU Press, but the university-owned publisher has been printing award-winning and internationally distributed books for over 60 years.

ISU Press was founded in 1934 as a nonprofit business in order to publish “books of scholarship,” particularly books that major publishers did not see a large enough market to justify printing. The company presently employs about 30 people.

Director Linda Speth said ISU Press publishes books in five main categories, based in part on the areas where the university is strongest. The key areas are aviation, agriculture, veterinary medicine, journalism and Iowa interest.

Speth said ISU Press had an expanded selection at one time but has since narrowed its focus as part of “a conscious effort to be the best.”

ISU Press currently publishes about 80 titles every year. Its all-time top-selling title is “Better Farm Accounting,” an accounting ledger which has sold nearly one million copies.

Other top-sellers include the titles “Scholastic Journalism” and “Statistical Methods.”

Among ISU Press’ most recent offerings is “A Brit Among the Hawkeyes,” a best-selling look at Iowa life written by Richard Lord Acton.

Unlike many university publishers, ISU Press is a full-service publisher, Speth said, meaning they see a project through completely, from start to finish.

Acquisition editors begin the process by finding and contacting authors.

About one-fifth of the authors ISU Press works with are connected with ISU, but Speth said the company’s priority is “to sign the best person for the best book.”

Every manuscript is reviewed internally and by other authors in the field, then the final decision to publish a book is made by a manuscript committee of university faculty members.

“We’re very concerned about [publishing] high-quality books,” Speth said. She said in order to reach that goal, they are highly selective in what they publish.

ISU Press then puts the manuscript through a thorough editing process. Speth said their goal at this stage is to “add value” by making improvements to the book beyond spelling and grammatical changes.

Printing is typically sent to Ann Arbor, Mich., though one notable exception was “Iowa’s Lost Summer,” a book on the floods of 1993 co-produced with the Des Moines Register. The book was printed in Iowa and part of the proceeds were used to help flood victims, Speth said.

While most of ISU Press’ areas of focus correspond to programs at ISU, aviation is a notable exception. This exception began as the result of one former ISU student.

Bill Kershner, who graduated from ISU’s journalism program in 1960, has written seven books on aviation, with more than one million copies sold.

Kershner, who lives in Sewenee, Tenn., said he wrote his first book, “Student Pilot’s Flight Manual,” in response to a lack of good literature on the subject.

“We’ve had a very good relationship,” Kershner said about his work with ISU Press.

Author Carl Kurtz, who spent six years working with ISU Press on his book, “Iowa’s Wild Places,” also described his experience with the company as positive.

“[The book] didn’t have to be published until we were ready,” Kurtz said, adding that he considered the entire experience “a good deal.”

Speth said ISU Press is gradually expanding into electronic publishing, with a few CD-ROMs already published and more on their way.

She said Web-based publishing and searchable reference databases are among other avenues the company is exploring for the future.

Internships are another relatively new program at ISU Press that Speth said “couldn’t be working better.”

Several students are currently interning throughout ISU Press’ various departments, and Speth said she expects the program to expand.

The ultimate goal of ISU Press, however, is simply to be the best publisher in its five categories.

“And we’re doing it,” Speth said.