A Culture of Mentorship and Collaboration Among University Presses

There’s a real sense of kinship and joy in the success of others that I find invigorating and inspiring.

~ Christian Winting

This week, the Association of University Presses (AUP) is honoring the memory of Mark Saunders by hosting a blog tour that celebrates people within our community who, like Saunders, embody the spirit of leadership, collaboration, and creativity. Columbia University Press has a special connection to Saunders, as he was one of our sales representatives (1991–1993) and our national sales manager (1993–1995)—long before becoming director of the University of Virginia Press in 2013. We remember him as a man who was passionate about academic publishing and generous with his time and advice.

In today’s post, acquisitions editorial intern Chase Caldwell Smith interviews Lisa Hamm and Christian Winting, two of our team members who, like Saunders, are quick to share their knowledge with their peers both in-house and within the AUP community.

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Chase Caldwell Smith: Hi, Lisa and Christian. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me today to talk about the value of collaboration among your peers and the AUP. To begin, I’d like to ask how you both came to work in academic publishing.

Lisa Hamm: I had just moved back to New York after ten years in California and was looking for a design job in publishing. I had been a senior graphic designer at Adobe Systems, working on their books and wanted to continue working as a book designer. CUP had a position available for a junior designer. It wasn’t quite where I wanted start, but Columbia was meaningful to me. My uncle was and had been a professor at Columbia for many years; I was born and raised in NYC; I loved the legacy of Columbia’s late-sixties radicalism; and the book list was impressive. That was almost twenty years ago. Time truly flies when you’re having fun.

Christian Winting: I owe my career in academic publishing wholly to the AUP and the wonderful folks that make up this community. A few years before my first university press (UP) job, I had worked with a professor on a publication as a graduate assistant and enjoyed interacting with the editorial assistant at Cambridge UP. I thought her job would be engaging and meaningful. Fast forward a few years later, I’m working in Chicago at a job I don’t particularly love and decide to try and get an academic publishing job. After (amusingly now) applying to jobs that I was wildly underqualified for, I saw the advertisement for the AAUP Mellon Foundation University Press Diversity Fellowship. I applied to each press and was fortunate to land with the University of Georgia Press for a wonderful introductory year to UP publishing. Fortuitously, I met Christie Henry (then at University of Chicago Press) just before I started at Georgia and knew relatively quickly that if the rest of the community was as generous and supportive as she was that I would have found a wonderful industry to build a career in.

Q: What do you believe makes university presses distinctive within the wider publishing and editorial world?

LH: Overall, university press books support the expansion of scholarship and add value to the global conversation and exploration of ideas. For me, the books are more meaningful and interesting.

As a designer, the difference is in the opportunity to design both a book’s cover and its interior layout. It’s rare in trade publishing for a designer to do both. Additionally, the variety of books we publish is very satisfying and often provides interesting design problems and opportunities for creative solutions. One example is that CUP has an impressive list of books in translation, and occasionally we will have to set up the text in the original language on one page and the translated text on the facing page, matching text page by page. Coupled with designing the book, this was a production issue for print as well as for the e-books. I began by working with the manuscript editor to figure out the best way to organize the text files for placement. I then tested methods to bring the text into our page layout application, trying to simplify things for the compositor, and finally, come up with a system of hyperlinks in the e-book that would allow the reader to read the text in a variety of ways.

CW: From the acquisitions editorial perspective, the evident answer is peer review—that we take the time to vet the material we choose to publish speaks volumes of the values and principles we hold as an industry.

But I’d also say that the collaborative and supportive nature of each press that I have worked at and the larger community as a whole make UPs stand out in publishing and from other industries. While I was a fellow and assistant at Georgia, I reached out to ten to fifteen editors at a variety of presses, and each was willing to share their time with me to talk about the industry and how to succeed in it. There’s a real sense of kinship and joy in the success of others that I find invigorating and inspiring.

Lisa, you’ve been involved in the AUP Book Journal and Jacket Show for three years now, correct? What has your participation been, and how has your experience working on the show shaped your view of the wider design community?

LH: AUP has been a wonderful organization to be involved with. The AUP brings the community together. It’s a chance to meet other designers, share ideas, commiserate, and laugh about our woes. My three-year participation focused on the annual Book, Jacket, and Journal Show committee. The first year, I designed the Call for Entry form and the online entry forms. The second year, I designed and typeset the Book, Jacket, and Journal Show catalog. That was so satisfying. I had always enjoyed pouring over the catalogs. I particularly loved the older ones. They were a design education in themselves, because they contained design comments from insightful judges such as Doris Grumbach, David Godine, and Steven Heller, and wonderful designs displayed by the likes of Richard Eckersley, Mary Mendell, and Rich Hendel. This year I designed the signage and posters for the book show at the annual conference this week. But, generally, I helped contribute in any way I could. I helped find judges and hopefully added to the conversation.

Is there anything that you’ve learned from working on the show that you’ve brought to Columbia UP, or is there anything you’ve learned from your peers at CUP that you’ve taken to the committee? 

LH: I have been so impressed with the high quality of design work across the university press community, as well as everyone’s commitment to excellence in a corner of publishing that often has economic restrictions and ever-changing practices. Honestly, sharing the wonderful design work has been rewarding in itself. The book show catalogs are brought back to the presses and distributed. The show’s winners (books and jackets) travel to each participating university press office and is put on display. I think I can speak for our department: we really look forward to its arrival. We set aside time to meet as a department and use the show to talk about design in general and, specifically, the books that won. We learn from one another and by example. It’s great.

More broadly, how do you think the creativity of the design process brings people together in publishing? What makes this part of a book’s journey so special?

LH: Design within Columbia UP is a very collaborative process. How much involvement varies, but we have input from acquisitions, editorial, marketing, sales, and authors. Within the AUP community, designers across the board face similar challenges: software issues, manufacturing solutions, workflow ideas and processes. Through various listservs, we exchange ideas and discuss problems and solutions. (And, as mentioned above, we commiserate and share horror stories.)

Can you speak more to the spirit of collaboration at Columbia UP?

LH: Over the years, I’ve participated in so many committees. Collaboration among departments is always crucial. Being involved automatically makes you feel like you have a stake in the larger picture. And, this is how I feel about the AUP. Even though design work is ultimately a solitary job, it has been important for me to feel that I am part of the community of designers and the community of university presses.

Christian, this year you’ve worked with the AUP’s Task Force on Gender, Equity, and Cultures of Respect. What have you most enjoyed about your experience, and why do you believe the work of this task force is so important to the work publishers do?

CW: The task force has been a wonderful experience. It is evident that each member of our group has a deep and sincere desire to improve the working environment across the industry. No workplace is perfect, but that reality does not mean that progress and change should not be demanded. Each of us is accountable for helping to shape our workplaces and this industry into the safe, productive, equitable spaces that we want them to be. To be able to share the experiences of others and to make evident the areas that need improvement is an important step in facilitating that change.

In the past, you’ve also worked as a Mellon Foundation University Press Diversity Fellow and editorial assistant at the University of Georgia Press. What do you think diversity, in all its forms, contributes to publishing?

CW: Diversity and inclusion are crucial for publishing (indeed for all industries) for a myriad of reasons, but one stands out the most. We are shaping the so many fields—how we understand our past, one another, the world—and the voices that do that shaping, be it in the production of books or in the writing of them, will affect the narratives we tell. Including more voices in that process ensures that we will do justice to those narratives.

You’re also deeply involved in the internship program here at Columbia University Press. How do you think internships add value to presses, the interns, and to the publishing community?

CW: I see our internship program as a service. Undoubtedly our interns help with office work and day-to-day duties that help keep the press running, but I firmly believe that my responsibility as a supervisor is to prepare the intern for full-time employment at a UP if that is a path they want. That means affording them every opportunity to learn and experience different aspects of the job. Doing so best serves the intern so that they can decide if this is the right career for them and develops great talent that we can consider when we have an opening. I love what I do and I want to share that with as many people as possible—if that drives more folks to work at UPs or even just develops an affinity for our work, then I’ve done my job.

In closing, do you have any advice for those who are early in their careers in academic publishing or for our industry peers who want to be more involved with the work of AUP?

LH: My advice is get involved. Meet people in the industry, and in particular, meet other designers at other presses. It’s amazing to know that others out there do similar work and you can have great conversations with them.

CW: Take initiative. Reach out to folks whose work interests you. Introduce yourself to other members of our community so that when an opportunity comes up, someone may think of you. In short—be active in the places you want to thrive.

Wow! It looks like both of you put a lot of thought into your involvement with your colleagues and the greater AUP community. Thank you Lisa and Christian, for your advice and for sharing your experiences and perspectives with us.

If you’re attending the AUP Annual Meeting in Detroit, be sure to check out the Book, Jacket, and Journal Show to see the display and discuss the selections with the jury.

Last but not least, make sure you don’t miss Christian speaking on the panel for the Collaboration Lab: On Building and Sustaining Cultures of Gender Equity and Inclusion, which will take place between 10:45 a.m. and 12 p.m. on June 12.

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