Looking to expand the readership of its African-American History series to a general audience, scholarly publisher Rowman & Littlefield is editing the titles for accessibility and targeting trade reviewers, teachers, and retailers with galleys, flyers, and direct mail. The house is also working to offer e-book editions for all of its frontlist titles, including African-American titles.
While there is no dedicated African-American studies category at Rowman & Littlefield, publisher and editorial director Marcus Boggs told PW, "We focus on social science, communications, and humanities, and in all of these, we'll do some kind of publication on African-American affairs." What's more, he said, "Our roots are academic, but we are increasingly carrying an academic message to the general reader."
Rowman & Littlefield inherited its African American History series from its 2004 acquisition of Scholarly Resources Inc. and now aggressively cross-markets the series to both college-level educators and general readers. Edited by Jacqueline Moore and Nina Mjagkij, the series has 10 titles in print, with another three to be published this spring. Those titles include Mjagkij's Loyalty in Time of Trial: The African-American Experience During World War I; Enjoy the Same Liberty: Black Americans and the Revolutionary Era by Bancroft Award–winning historian Edward Countryman; and Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African-American Christianity by University of Colorado history professor Paul Harvey.
The series is overseen by Niels Aaboe, executive editor for American history and American politics. Because his category covers such topics as the American South, the Civil War, and slavery, Aaboe's list naturally includes many African-American–interest titles. "The original idea was to offer them as textbooks," Aaboe told PW, "but we saw an audience beyond academia." The idea, said Aaboe, is "to publish readable books that cover the full range of the African-American experience in American history—and the books are suitable for undergraduate teaching," Aaboe said.
Although the books do include headnotes for their documentation, Aaboe pointed out that readability is the priority. "We emphasize to the authors that the books shouldn't be specialized monographs that they write for their colleagues. We discourage the use of jargon and require clear, precise writing," he said.
R&L's trade titles are distributed by National Book Network, while individuals and wholesalers looking for its academic titles buy direct from R&L. The titles are marketed to general readers through galleys and publicity for review attention; for course use, they are marketed through academic flyers and direct mail to course instructors. On both the trade side and the academic side, Aaboe said, "The books have reviewed well and sold well, and continue to sell well to course instructors. Teachers and review media alike have had good things to say."
According to Aaboe, Rowman & Littlefield's top African-American sellers are Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and the Struggle for Racial Uplift by Jacqueline Moore (the first book in the series); Lift Every Voice: The History of African-American Music by Burton W. Peretti; and Slavery in Colonial America, 1619–1776 by Betty Wood. "Neil Wynn's book The African-American Experience During World War II is coming out of the gate strong," Aaboe said. "Neil Wynn is a British scholar—and I think that reflects [international] interest in African-American history. There's been at least one reprint, and we expect the paperback next fall."
Rowman & Littlefield's Ivan R. Dee imprint publishes the Library of African-American Biography series. So far, there are four titles—biographies of Booker T. Washington, Louis Armstrong, Richard Wright, and Walter White—and there are plans for more. Written by professional historians with academic appointments, the series features "the same accessible writing," Aaboe noted. "So the two series dovetail nicely with books in other parts of our program, such as sociology and American politics." The series editor is John David Smith, who is Charles H. Stone distinguished professor of American history at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.
Academic coverage of the African-American–interest arena is "a fascinating story," said Boggs, "and to be able to take that to the general reader is increasingly our mission. We are very excited about our program and this element within the program, and plan to continue."