Scholars of the Middle East are frequently called upon to share their knowledge and expertise with a diverse range of publics outside the confines of academia—from policymakers to civic organizations to the media. A critical part of this public engagement—and the place where it often begins—is the publication of a book with a “trade press” (i.e., a commercial, non-university/academic publisher, with a powerful marketing and publicity apparatus). Not all academics have a desire to see their books staring back at them from the shelves of Barnes & Noble or mercilessly debated on television and radio programs. However, for those who do want to engage with the “public sphere”, there is often confusion about where to begin, and a lack of resources to help explain the process. Worse, there are sometimes institutional disincentives, in the form of tenure clocks, skepticism from colleagues, or the pressure to produce “real scholarship” that advances the field.
This session brings together several authors who have established themselves as respected scholars, but who have also successfully made the transition to writing for general audiences by securing contracts with major commercial publishers. It puts them in conversation with one another, as well as with two figures from the world of trade publishing—an editor with a long history of publishing non-fiction from and about the Middle East, and a literary agent who has represented a number of prominent academics. The goal of the session is to unpack some of the mysteries of commercial publishing (how to find an agent, how to write for non-specialist audiences, how to handle media interviews, etc.) as well as address some of the challenges faced by scholars who undertake this work (maintaining scholarly integrity, publishing without peer review, managing the judgements of colleagues, etc.)