University Press Week: Behind the Scenes with Eric Henney

#UpWeek

In honor of University Press Week, we’re featuring interviews and posts from members of the Princeton University Press community all week. Today, Eric Henney, a new editor of physical, earth, and computer science, shares insight on succeeding in the publishing industry:

Eric HenneyPublishing is cool. Obviously it’s appealing to be able to work on the ideas that shape the future, and it also carries some caché. The competition for entry-level jobs in a cool industry is tough enough, but in publishing it’s tougher still, because publishing is a generally shrinking industry.

So getting your first job in publishing is really hard. Intensified competition has made all varieties of publishing houses pickier about their job requirements. (Most editorial assistants I know are overqualified in reality, but barely so on paper.) This has created an entry-level bootstrapping problem: entry-level jobs now require experience that applicants likely won’t have.

If you want a good chance at landing a job (this is certainly not a given), you can travel a prescribed path: intern at the best publishing companies you can while you’re in college, likely for free and preferably a few times. Network aggressively. Be willing to take dozens of people out for coffee. Travel to them if you can; talk by phone if you must. But make sure you’re doing it once or twice a week. Move to New York. Pretend you live there already, if you have to. Enroll in a publishing program that has ties to good publishing companies. Loans can help finance you. Your network takes time to cultivate, so begin this process by sophomore year of college.

If you fail to accomplish any of this, you might feel that you’ve boxed yourself out of publishing. There’s some truth to that. When you send your applications into the vortex of a Big Five job portal, you shouldn’t expect a response if you don’t have a couple years of experience already.

This trend in entry-level hiring isn’t at all surprising, but it is suspect. Yes, networking is important. But there are good reasons that publishing doesn’t have an actual professional schooling system, like medicine. Being a good doctor is a matter of knowing enough to not kill a person once you’ve cut them open. Publishing is thankfully a little looser than that, and belonging in this world involves less obviously measurable qualifications, like creativity and curiosity.

I’ve been at PUP for four years. It’s the first formal publishing experience I have. I landed here after more than a year of office temping, substitute teaching, freelance writing for entertainment and parenting blogs (note: I am not a parent), and unsuccessful job hunting. My degree is in philosophy, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it after I graduated. All I really knew was that I needed to work with smart and interesting people and that I didn’t want to be an academic. I started as an assistant, working for then-political science editor Chuck Myers (now at Chicago) and then-physics editor Ingrid Gnerlich (now PUP’s publisher for the sciences in Europe). I think I landed the interview because I stayed in touch with the permissions coordinator, who had interviewed me a few months earlier, when I applied to be his assistant. I do not know why I got the job, and I do not think it wise to ask. But I know it came down to something other than years of experience in publishing, because I had none.

I worked really hard to get up to speed. But I knew it was not at all a given that I could do it. All I could really promise was that I really did like ideas and I really did like sharing them with other people. As it turns out, that, in combination with the modest administrative experience I actually did have, was enough. Over the last four years I’ve taken on the increasingly large responsibilities offered by the Press, and this year I was made a full editor in the sciences.
University presses maintain a unique publishing ethos, one which acknowledges that the typical path into publishing is anything but. I suspect that will endure regardless of what the rest of publishing looks like. And that’s one of the things that makes them special.

University Press Week: Behind the scenes with Caroline Priday

#UpWeek

In honor of University Press Week, we’ll be featuring interviews with members of the Princeton University Press community all week. First up, Caroline Priday, Head of the European Office and European Director of Publicity, talks about how publishing has changed over the years, publicity practices in Europe, and PUP’s path to becoming a global university press. 

Caroline PridayHow did you get your start in publishing?

I started back in 1979 working as a secretary for two Academic Marketing Managers at Oxford University Press. In those days, before email and computers, that was quite a common route into publishing. One of my bosses was Susan Boyd, wife of the now well-known author William Boyd. I remember how excited we all were when he had his first short story broadcast on the BBC. In those days, OUP still had its own printing press and one of the highlights of the induction day was getting a tour of the printing works! We used to have a tea lady too who wheeled her trolley down the corridor every afternoon. The Academic Department was down a long corridor with linoleum flooring and offices opening off the corridor – no open plan in those days. It was known to the occupants as Death Row!

You direct the European office’s publicity department as well as the European office. This sounds like vast responsibility! What is a typical day like for you?

One of the good things about the job is that there isn’t very often a typical day. However, that can have its downsides when you come in with a list of things you want to achieve, and are lucky if you’ve crossed just one thing off the list before the end of the day! I usually try to have a couple of hours of quiet time first thing in the morning so that I can focus on the preparation of a galley or review list. The rest of the day my door is open to any of my colleagues who have questions or concerns. If we have just released an important book the day is geared around handling media requests for interviews, review copies etc. At other times I can be focused on human resource issues for the office, such as making sure pension or health care provision meets latest government regulations.

Can you say a bit about PUP’s path to becoming a truly global university press?

I guess you could say that the path started back in 1999 when the European office was opened with the aim of better promoting our existing authors in the European market, and also broadening the European authorship of our list. In the nearly 12 years I have been with the press we have made huge strides in broadening the appeal of the list. However, I think it is probably fair to say that we are still international rather than truly global, in that our authors are still predominantly based in the USA. The opening of our office in China, and the work on pursuing publication of scholarship outside of the US and Europe, will go a long way to making us truly global.

Does book publicity in the UK differ from the US, and if so, in what way?

The fundamentals are the same, but I think there is a difference between being an American University Press in Europe and in the USA. Inevitably there are some American interest titles that don’t travel well outside of the US. There are probably fewer media outlets who will meet with us on a regular basis, though I am pleased to say we are expanding these all the time as we increase our name recognition. The changes in the nature of the list, with a greater proportion of accessible titles, have made a big difference here. Outside of the UK we are also seeking review coverage in non-English speaking markets, though it has to be said that there are many publications in Northern Europe that will write about books that we struggle to get reviewed in the UK. I think in Continental Europe they still think book review coverage is important in broadsheets in a way that is declining in US and UK. Coverage outside of the UK has been an area we have focussed on this year as I have undertaken trips into The Netherlands and Germany to meet with print media, something that has proved to be a positive experiment.

Tell me a bit about a particularly interesting campaign you worked on.

I guess promoting Bob Shiller’s books are some of the most fun, partly because Bob is such a delightful author to work with. His name also opens doors that we can otherwise struggle to access. The big highlight of my work with Bob was having breakfast at No 11 Downing Street with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling. This was just after the financial crash in 2008. As we were leaving the breakfast we also shook hands with the Prime Minister. Bob is still waiting for me to arrange a meeting with The Queen! Another highlight of that trip was getting a behind the scenes tour of the Houses of Parliament, as Bob addressed a meeting within the building. Something that was completely different was working on Neil Downie’s The Ultimate Book of Saturday Science. We set up a launch event at Isaac Newton’s former home for a whole group of school children who had great fun playing with some of Neil’s inventions, carrot cannons, exploding balloons, and other such inventions.

In a parallel world, what career would you have chosen instead?

I think being paid to be around books is my idea of a perfect career! I never knew what I wanted to do, and was very lucky to have drifted into publishing as my first job. It has allowed me to travel the world, meet interesting people and spend time with my nose in a book. Who could want anything more!