Friday, November 18, 2011

Bill Maher Book Rules!

What future is there for someone who doesn’t believe in God, speaks out against marriage and doesn’t want to have kids?  A bright one – if you’re Bill Maher.

His HBO television show Real Time, has entertained and enlightened millions of viewers by challenging assumptions, criticizing policy, ridiculing human nature and making fun of Republicans.  Now, the best-selling author has delivered a winner with his latest book, The New New Rules.

The sub-title says it all:  A Funny Look at How Everybody But Me Has Their Head Up Their Ass.

Perfectly politically incorrect, Maher is a champion of finding the humor in the comedy of errors our politicians, businesses and institutions feed us. He and Jon Stewart really are superior on the political comedy circuit.

The press release accompanying the book captures Maher’s essence;  “Wherever he sees it, Maher gleefully skewers hyprocrisy, pomposity, greed, ignorance and stupidity – or, as he calls it, ‘everything America holds sacred.’ “

I highly recommend this book from Blue Rider Press. It could be a great stocking stuffer for people you want to say “stuff it.”

Interview With Jessica Pellien, Assistant Publicity Director & ePublicity Media Manager, Princeton University Press.

  1. Jessica, what are the challenges and rewards of promoting books at a university press vs a commercial publisher? I have never worked at a commercial publisher, so I am ill equipped for a direct comparison, but I can tell you that working at a university press is amazing. Some of the challenges we face are the same as everyone else – we are competing for those limited New York Times Book Review slots just like everyone else – but others are unique to university press publishing.

Our mandates and goals aren’t solely economic (you can read our mission statement here:, and in our efforts to “disseminate scholarship,” we publish a variety of books – trade, academic trade, textbook, monographs, and ebook –that demand different levels of attention. To further complicate things, we also publish across a dizzying array of subject areas from poetry to math to field guides, some of which are way over my head (Spatiotemporal Data Analysis, anyone?). But we do our best to work with all of our authors to make sure they are getting an appropriate publicity push within their fields.

It can be challenging to convince the media that not ALL of our books are like this. There is a real misconception that if it comes from a university press, the average person can’t read it. This is simply not true. We publish smart but accessible trade books – things like The Inner Life of Empires by Emma Rothschild, Avian Architecture by Peter Goodfellow, Thomas Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy, and James Kloppenberg’s Reading Obama. Here is an insightful blog post I ran across a while ago about this phobia (Smart Books vs. Less Smart People, and how to overcome it. I couldn’t agree more with the writer’s conclusion that, “You’re already pretty smart if you’re brave enough to tackle interesting subject matter that stretches you further and asks you to navigate new terrain.”

The real rewarding part of my job is that I get to work with top-notch authors who really are changing the world or bringing something new to the discussion. It is incredible to see the ideas in our books picked up in the media or by policymakers. In the 5 years I’ve been at PUP I’ve had opportunities to work with Edwidge Danticat, Pat Churchland, William Bowen, Andrei Codrescu, James Cuno, Bryan Caplan, Elizabeth Currid, and many others. I am proud that I was on board when economist Teresa Ghilarducci was labeled The Most Dangerous Woman in America because she had a new idea for retirement planning and that I worked with Richard Crossley to promote his entirely new vision of what bird books should look like.  I am exposed to so many great ideas and people, in some respects working at a university press is like a continuing education program. I can’t count the number of times, I have been in a conversation with someone and said, “Well, you know, we published a book on that.” I love those moments.

  1. What are some of the more interesting titles you are currently promoting at Princeton University Press? Currently, I am working on Michael Nielsen’s book Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science. He is actually on an old-fashioned West coast book tour as I type, but his book has been a real lesson in social media-driven publicity. The book is selling briskly, but the movement is mostly driven by blogs, facebook, and twitter. He also has a video up on and I placed his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. He is an incredibly important voice in the open science movement and I’m psyched to work with him.

Some of the other big books right now are Michael Dirda’s On Conan Doyle which is a personal history of his own reading of Conan Doyle and is already seeing some awesome coverage in newspaper review outlets, Dan Hammermesh’s Beauty Pays which was just featured on The Daily Show, and The Darwin Economy by Robert Frank who just co-wrote an op-ed with PJ O’Rourke for USA Today. I wish I could claim credit for these successful campaigns, but I happen to work with some of the best and smartest publicity people around.

  1. What do you love about being a part of the book publishing industry? I am really proud that I “make books” according to my children. I still get a real kick out of seeing my authors on tv or reading their articles in the NY Times and being able to say, “I had some part in making that happen.” I really think what PUP does is important and part of a much longer history that extends backward and forward from here. Sometimes it feels like University Presses are the Rodney Dangerfields of the industry--we don’t get no respect--but, the truth is we are an integral part of the whole. I love going to BEA and seeing just how many books are being published. It is mind-blowing to consider all those ideas and books in one place, but it shows that books are really an important part of culture and the economy.

  1. Where do you think it is heading? I can’t imagine a world without books, but on some level, I understand that the physical shape and form of books has to change. I think we are headed to a place where personal libraries exist on tablet devices and print books are rarities. As we shift to this new publishing world, design is going to become even more important to create physical books that you “have to have” because they are beautiful or iconic. Books may look different, but their success will still be driven by the ideas they bring to the table or the stories they tell and authors will still need publicists to spread the word (though the channels through which that word flows may be very different than print, radio, TV mediums we rely on today).

  1. How can authors, even at the academic level, get involved to promote their books? Academic authors are a mixed bag. You will have some shameless self-promoters, some publicity-phobic writers, and a whole range in between, so we offer a ton of different ways they can participate in publicity and marketing. We have been regularly asking authors to provide us with a video of them talking about their book, to watch the news and think about op-eds or journalists we should connect with, to contact their university media relations people to see if there are opportunities for promotion, to take advantage of standing invites to speak at other universities, to administer the Facebook pages for their PUP books (every trade and academic trade title gets a Facebook fan page), or to use PUP-created book widgets in their email signature, and on and on.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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