Heat of Life

Matthew Desmond wrote that the people he was studying for his book Evicted taught him how to see. (Photo: Scott Brauer for The Chronicle) If you are an academic, and your manuscript is accepted for publication by a university press, a questionnaire mailed to you will ask for a list of the courses in which your book can be taught. (A similar question is asked of those serving as reviewers of a manuscript for a university press: “Will the book have any crossover appeal?”) The idea is to assess a book’s appeal across disciplines. For my part, I value books that, despite employing academic rigor and solid research, engage a wide body of readers both inside and outside the academy. But the question that has long puzzled me is whether or not the above criterion is precisely what publishers have in mind when they market a particular title as a “trade book.” I took this question to Ken Wissoker, editorial director at Duke University Press, who has also published my books in the past. Wissoker didn’t want me to confuse “crossover” with “trade.” “Crossover appeal” might mean a book with cross-disciplinary appeal or appeal to people who are nonacademics. […]

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