Professionalization within/beyond Academia

At the recent ACCUTE conference in Calgary, our English editor, Marjorie Mather, gave a talk about publishing as a career for graduate students.  A condensed version of her talk follows.

I want to begin by saying that my comments on publishing are based on my own experience at Broadview Press, a single independent, Canadian, academic publisher. My advice may not apply to all kinds of publishing careers, but I hope that it will still be useful!

Broadview is an academic publisher in the Humanities. We publish editions, anthologies, and textbooks in English, Philosophy and History. Our publishing is primarily for course adoptions; we don’t publish new fiction or poetry, and our books have a small general readership, though they are often read by scholars as well as students. We also publish very few truly scholarly books, such as original monographs or hardcover editions intended for libraries.

Broadview currently employs 29 people across Canada in editorial, permissions, production, sales and marketing, distribution, and accounts. The majority of our hires in editorial, sales, and marketing have Master’s degrees, but we also hire people with Bachelor’s degrees (like me!) and PhDs, as well as a few people who began doctorates but then decided to leave academia.

Our editorial hires are primarily for acquiring and managing editor positions, as our copy-editing and proofreading are done by freelance academic editors. We also have one full-time and two part-time developmental editors on staff; they write content for our books and companion websites and also do more substantive editing work where needed. Our acquiring and assistant editors do market research, review book proposals, contact potential authors, and work with our production team to manage books as they go through production.

Though many bookish people focus on editorial positions when they think about a career in publishing, you might want to consider other aspects of the industry, such as book production or sales and marketing. These jobs can be rewarding, and they provide a lot of opportunities to engage with and talk about books. They can also be a good way to get a feel for the industry.

From Academia to Publishing: Transferable Skills

What academic skills and experience are especially transferable to publishing?

  1. This might be obvious, but academic knowledge. A broad understanding of an academic discipline—being able to identify key scholars, exciting new ideas, and recent scholarly trends—is a real asset.
  1. Research. Research is extremely important to editorial work, but also to sales and marketing jobs. If you are creative, persistent, and smart about finding information, it can give you an advantage in publishing, where you might need to track down an elusive potential author, the copyright holder of an obscure work, or a professor who might adopt our books but is never in her office.
  1. Interpersonal skills. How do you take criticism? Can you give constructive feedback to others and express yourself in a clear and diplomatic way? Can you adapt to new situations and ideas? These are all skills that graduate seminars, and working with peers and with a supervisor, can teach. Publishing is a collaborative industry, and this kind of experience is valuable.

When applying for a job, it helps to emphasize these skills along with your research achievements —this makes it easier for us to see how your hard work in graduate school can translate into a job in publishing. I have mixed feelings about résumés that emphasize skills at the expense of biographical facts, but your cover letter is a good place to tell a story about how your experience contributed to your skills. I’ll also note that a passion for literature and love of reading are wonderful things, but not unique assets in this field!

What academic skills and attitudes might be less relevant to a publishing career?

  1. Working independently. Graduate study can be collaborative and co-operative, but it can also be competitive and sometimes isolating. Shifting gears from a focus on your own research goals to the shared goals of a company can be a challenge. When working in publishing it will also be necessary to ask for help and to constantly rely on others’ skills and knowledge. In my experience, this is true of senior employees as well as those at the entry level.
  1. Investment in your own scholarly project or interest. We often need to separate the inherent value of a book or text from its marketability. All of us at Broadview get excited about works that have intriguing subject matter or are important to literary history—many of the successful works in the Broadview Editions series fall into these categories. But we have to remember that this excitement doesn’t always translate into course adoptions, and we sometimes have to let go of our personal attachment to a project that might not be marketable.
  1. Writing for a scholarly audience. At Broadview, most of the writing we do is professional: interoffice emails, memos, editorial board packages, and sales emails. Our developmental editors write for a student audience, drafting author headnotes and other apparatus. Editors create marketing copy for catalogues and the website, and our marketing team sends newsletters and posts on social media. It can be tough to adapt to these different audiences after years of writing scholarly papers and grant proposals. Practicing in some non-academic styles can keep your writing muscles limber; writing blog posts, crafting informal presentations, and even creative writing can make it easier to shift out of the scholarly voice later.

Do You Want to Work in Publishing?

Academic publishing is a highly collaborative, complex, and often fast-paced business. If your fantasy is of working with manuscripts and exploring texts in depth, the career may not be what you expect. For many of us the job involves a lot of meetings, a lot of spreadsheets, and a lot of business travel. It can also be limiting in terms of geography, with many Canadian publishers (but not all!) based in the Toronto area.

But it can also be an extremely engaging and varied career—there are always surprises and unexpected challenges. There is often room for professional growth and upward mobility within a company (I started as a temporary email sales rep, as did many other full-time staff members). I have been with Broadview for 12 years and can honestly say that I learn new things almost every day—about the business and the industry as well as about the fields in which we publish. I also work with smart, collegial, amazing people: colleagues, authors, and other publishers. I hope that you all go on to the academic jobs of your dreams, but if you are thinking of another path, academic publishing can be a great way to use skills acquired in graduate study.

Posted on June 9, 2016