Is publication by a university press a realistic goal for a family historian?
It could be if the author understands that university presses are commercial publishers who operate under many of the same market imperatives as any other commercial press.
University presses generally publish three categories of books:
- Scholarly works that are very academically important, but will likely have few sales.
- Scholarly works which will have a broader appeal within the academic world and may make a profit
- Works which will appeal to a general audience beyond the academic world and, therefore greater potential sales. Profits from these books are used to subsidize the cost of publishing books in the first category.
It is the third category where non-academics might be published.
If your goal is this sort of publication it is important to understand that simply having documents that are unique or historically valuable is not enough to gain acceptance from a publisher. Your book also must have a broad enough appeal to attract a lot of readers. If it deals with members of a historically important family or in some way connects to important historical events, that helps. If the quality of the writing is high enough to attract readers, that too can make the book worthy of consideration for publication. However, the number of family histories which fit these descriptions is limited.
If you are aiming to fill one of those limited spaces you need to understand that university presses often specialize in a particular area of history. You’ll need to research which press is the most likely match for the story you have to tell.
If you are interested in knowing more about university presses you might want to look at an article on the American Historical Association website Getting Published by a University Press, written by Elaine Maisner, an acquisitions editor at the University of North Carolina Press.