Earlier this month, the University of Ottawa Press (UOP) published Braaaiiinnnsss!: From Academics to Zombies, edited by Robert Smith?, associate professor of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics (the question mark is part of Smith?’s name).
The book has had an interesting journey from concept to publication. It started on a hot day in August 2009 when an intern at the UOP saw an article on the BBC website about a uOttawa professor named Robert Smith? who had co-authored a mathematical model of a zombie infection with some of his graduate students. As the UOP’s marketing manager, I immediately saw the potential appeal of his work and, within a matter of hours, I sent an email to Smith?, asking him to come in and talk about a book deal.
“That first meeting was fabulous,” says Smith? “I was impressed by the energy and the ‘Let’s do this!’ attitude in the room. I’d previously done a book of fun essays on Doctor Who, as well as academic special issues on diseases, so I knew there was mileage in combining academics and pop culture through zombies.”
Smith? decided that a collection of academic articles on zombies – much like his own – would be the best format for the book.
“After our first meeting, I went away to put it together, but it grew massively, because everybody wanted to be a part of it. Especially the mathematicians, so I ended up doing two books at once, one on mathematical modelling of zombies, the other on everything else. The math one will be the follow-up.”
About a year after that first meeting, Smith? showed up at the UOP offices with a manuscript. Eric Nelson, acquisitions editor, remembers it wasn’t exactly what he was expecting. “It was an accessible exploration of academia through an element of popular culture – we’re much more used to seeing it the other way around,” he says. “And to top it off, it had a wonderful title.”
Not long after that, production of the book began. Marie Clausén, UOP’s managing editor, highlights some of the whimsical elements that were incorporated into the book’s design: “Each chapter opens with a blood splatter. If you flip through the book back to front, you’ll see that it’s an animation.”
“This is my fourth book, and it was by far the easiest production process yet,” says Smith? “It was helped enormously by the fact that my office is just across the street from theirs, so I could just pop over any time something came up. But I have a secret theory about why it all went so smoothly: I think zombies make everyone realize the need for cooperation. We all need to band together to survive, even in publishing.”
Every aspect of publishing Smith?’s book had opportunities for extra creativity. “This book took us out of our comfort zone, and we learned a lot from the attention it received,” says Rebecca Ross, UOP’s digital content manager. “Using Twitter and Facebook, we were really able to engage with zombie fans who were looking for more than just blood and guts. And we are really proud of the e-book version, too – we included colour in an e-book for the first time. An e-book allows us to reach zombie fans all over the world, an opportunity we wouldn’t have with only a print book.”
Some might wonder why a university press would publish a book about zombies, but Braaaiiinnnsss! includes some pretty serious scholarship too.
And its ability to appeal to both academics and non-academics is clearly an asset. “It’s already been gathering enormous interest,” says Smith? “What I think is great is that it does for the rest of academia what my mathematical modelling paper did for my field: explains how it works to the interested non-expert, using the fun hook of zombies. I’m incredibly happy to see the book finally out there. After a long gestation, it’s al-i-i-i-ve!”
Join Robert Smith? and the UOP staff at the launch of Braaaiiinnnsss! at the University of Ottawa Bookstore on Halloween (Monday, October 31) from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Trick-or-treaters welcome. Costumes optional.