Photo by Jilson Seckler C. Tiu

A DECADE of hard work, hundreds of manuscripts, and millions of pesos later, the UST Publishing House has finally achieved its ambitious goal: “400 Books at 400.” In fact, it exceeded the target by five more titles, a significant contribution in the school’s Quadricentennial celebration.

The latest addition to the list is The House of True Desire, a collection of essays written by Thomasian alumus and Palanca winner Cirilo F. Bautista. Other titles include Insectisimo, the latest poetry collection by former Varsitarian writer Lourd de Veyra; two volumes of The Ophelia Dimalanta Reader, poems and essays written and compiled by the late Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta; and Everyday Warriors: The Faces and Stories of Breast Cancer, the award-winning compilation of stories about the ordeal of breast cancer victims Cathy-Paras Lara and Jay Lara.

Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, director of the UST Publishing House, said that she would not be releasing the other titles yet, adding that there was still some work to be done.

“I want to eliminate the journals,” Hidalgo said. “My predecessors, when they counted the 400 included 15 journals and some textbooks. So what I was going to try and do is to eliminate the journals and some of the books that I feel do not belong there.”

John Jack Wigley, deputy director of the UST Publishing House, counted at least 10 more titles to be published to compensate for the journals and other books that would be taken off the list.

Quality and quantity

The responsibility of publishing 400 book titles before 2011 fell in the hands of Mecheline Manalastas, the director of the publishing house from 2001 to 2006. Manalastas now heads the admissions office.

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The race to 400 books began in 2001. The first book published was Apples and Ampalaya: Bittersweet Glimpses of the American Period in the Philippines (1898-1946), authored by Augusto De Viana, chairperson of the recently-established Department of History.

“It was tough, definitely,” Manalastas said. “Imagine 40 titles and there are [only] 12 months in a year. So you are expected to have at least three to four titles a month. And there are only four weeks in a month. So we are talking here of actually producing one title per week. Isn’t that gigantic?”

Critics found the project “ambitious.” In a special report by the Varsitarian in 2005, critics considered the recognition the UST Publishing House received as Publisher of the Year in 2003 and 2004 to be more of a pat in the back for UST for running against the University publishing tide rather than an accolade for the consistent quality of its books.

“They said that it is very ambitious to release 40 titles a year, but we were still able to. It’s really the enthusiasm of all the people working there which led us to reach the goal,” Manalastas said.

She added that the critics’ display of cynicism even helped them win the title of Publisher of the Year twice. Other University presses were not as frequent in publishing books as the UST Publishing House, according to the report. This has proven that the publishing house was not sacrificing quality over quantity.

Efforts and results

Since the launch of the “400 Books at 400” project in 2001, the UST Publishing House had to double its effort and eventually yielded great results. Despite the closure of the printing office last year, quality books continued to come out courtesy of other printing companies.

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“We used to bring the books [at the UST printing office] before,” Wigley said. “But now the printing office is closed and everything is outsourced.”

Wigley also said that the publishing house’s project for the Quadricentennial celebration increased the average output of book titles yearly. Prior to the project, the publishing house only produced an average of 25 to 28 titles annually. Because of the project, the average nearly doubled to at least 40 titles, in accordance with the annual goal set by the project. The UST Publishing House produces 500 copies of each book, which is the standard number for an academic publishing house.

Wigley recalled how the publishing house was before Hidalgo came in. The publishing house had no copyeditors and proofreaders to check the manuscripts. Also, the publishing house went through drastic improvements.

“We have a very active editorial board that screens the manuscripts. And then, at the same time, we send the manuscripts to evaluators––one usually from UST and one from the outside for balance,” he said.

Aside from creating 400 book titles, the project also succeeded in attracting famous writers, particularly Thomasian writers. Manalastas said showcasing the talent of Thomasian writers was one of the primary goals of the project.

The UST Publishing House is also considering other future projects aside from the “400 Books at 400” project. They hope to be the first academic publishing house to produce and host electronic books (e-books) in online shopping websites such as Amazon.

“It’s too early to say but we’re also considering this option,” Wigley said. “It’s actually in the can already.”

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