Running the Brandeis University Press

February 28, 2020

Not many students at Brandeis University are aware that Brandeis has its own press, but in fact Brandeis University Press (BUP) has existed for over 40 years. Until January of last year, however, BUP was published under the umbrella of the University Press of New England (UPNE), a once-large consortium serving various New England schools such as its host school, Dartmouth College, Wesleyan University and Tufts University, among others. At the time that UPNE shut down in December 2018, only Dartmouth and Brandeis remained, as each of the other schools in the consortium closed down or moved publishers by 2012.

With UPNE shutting down, Brandeis decided to open its own independent press, which was already up and running by January 2019, only weeks after UPNE finally closed its doors. More than a year later, BUP is still a fledgling enterprise with a small staff of four people—Coordinator Lillian Dunaj, Senior Budget and HR Administrator Beth Fong, Editorial Director Sylvia Fuks Fried and Director Sue Berger Ramin—operating under University Librarian Matthew Sheehy and Brandeis’ library administration. The Brandeis Hoot interviewed Ramin, a former associate publisher at David R. Godine, Publisher and a veteran of publishing greats such as Penguin Books and Macmillan Press, to better understand her role within the organization and BUP’s role at Brandeis. According to Ramin, the role of the university press is to “add to the intellectual conversation, to move the conversation forward and publish books that wouldn’t be published elsewhere, but are worthwhile.”

“There are fewer and fewer university presses,” Ramin said regarding Brandeis’ decision to continue its press independently after UPNE shut down, and she is looking forward to being part of a university press that is growing instead of declining. Ramin compared the opportunity to run BUP at the beginning of its time as an independent publisher to “running a start-up with a 300-title backlist,” as she can start the business from scratch while utilizing the university’s resources and its host of well-respected titles to support the press as it grows.

Some of these titles include Brandeis’ Jewish Studies collection and the Mandel Lectures in the Humanities series, which Ramin calls the “crown jewels” of BUP. Ramin added, however, that as Brandeis becomes independent, it must expand beyond its past successes. “We have to be a press for the whole of the university, so we’re expanding the subject matter that we’re going to be publishing. I hope to work with the Heller School, to maybe have a series with them, I’d like to do popular science books, I’d like to do Russian and German books in translation,” among other things, Ramin said. 

She hopes to make BUP’s book list represent the whole of the university by publishing books that adhere to Brandeis’ history and strengths. Her interest in Brandeis’ mission, along with its history in social justice and research, makes this an even greater task. “I think it’s a center of excellence,” she said, “and to do the book publishing for that is very exciting.”

According to Ramin, BUP relies on Redwing Book Services, LLC, a New Hampshire freelance group, for editorial design and production. For sales, marketing and distribution, Brandeis pays University of Chicago Press, the largest university press in the country which serves colleges all over the world. University of Chicago Press is still distributing books released by UPNE, and Ramin is picking up the rights to certain UPNE books—such as an updated second edition of a Georgia O’Keefe biography—and publishing them under BUP.  “University of Chicago Press has been terrific, and we’ve seen our sales go up, and everything is working,” Ramin said. 

Ramin also intends to publish an equal share of academic, course adoption and general trade books. The latter is not quite as common for BUP, but Ramin hopes to “increase Brandeis’ reach into the community” by publishing trade books, which consist of more general interest titles that go beyond the interests of BUP’s traditional readership. BUP will be releasing new books in spring 2021, titles to be announced in the next few months.

“I’m really happy to talk to students and faculty about publishing. I want to be a resource to the university—to everybody—for information,” Ramin said. BUP’s office sits in the back of Goldfarb Library Mezzanine near the Writing Center, and the door is always open.

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