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Religion Publishers Have Active AAR/SBL Meeting
Lynn Garrett -- 1/3/00

The annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature, held at Boston's Hynes Convention Center November 20-23, drew 8,800 participants, up considerably from last year's meeting at Disney World, which brought only 7,300 to Orlando. Once again, almost 160 publishers were represented in the well-trafficked book exhibit, and those who spoke with PW confirmed that the meeting yielded good fruit for them in the form of course adoptions for their titles, as well as the opportunity to pick up new projects and sign new authors. Most also noted the sales of books to attendees largely offset the costs of exhibiting.

One house receiving special recognition for its contributions in the field was Wm. B. Eerdmans, which won two awards from the Association of Theological Booksellers, for Publisher of the Year and Best Academic Book of 1999 (Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia). Other honorees included Doubleday for No Future Without Forgiveness (Book of the Year), Harper San Francisco for The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (Best General Interest Book) and Augsburg Fortress for Water Come Down!: The Day You Were Baptized (Best Children's Book).

Westminster John Knox Press, the trade publishing arm of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., attended the meeting in a state of flux, as the press was in the middle of a restructuring process.

The third annual Special Session on Commercial Publishing, co-sponsored by Publishers Weekly and SBL, featured a well-attended panel addressing whether and when the scholar-author needs an agent and how to go about getting one. Panelists included four agents -- Jill Kneerim of Boston's Palmer & Dodge, Gail Ross of the Gail Ross Agency based in Washington, D.C., and New Yorkers Cullen Stanley of Janklow & Nesbit and John Thornton of the Speiler Agency -- and three high-profile authors, John Dominic Crossan, Bruce Chilton and Michael D. Coogan.

Kneerim and Ross offered their criteria for what makes a commercially viable yet scholarly project that can benefit from agenting. Calling herself "a consummate generalist," Ross commented that when reviewing a proposal she asks, "Would this appeal to me?" Thornton reminded authors that "trade publishing d sn't exist to serve the author, but to make money for publishers." Crossan, noting that he has enjoyed commercial success but never had an agent, admitted his experience would probably be difficult to replicate for today's young scholar. Coogan said that before he had an agent, he thought he was carefully negotiating his own deals. "But I always got everything I asked for, which I later learned was because I wasn't asking for enough."
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