Travel Grant Recipients Reflect on AUPresses 2022 Annual Meeting, Part 1

Observations from Early Career Grant Recipients

The Association of University Presses was pleased to award a number of grants to support attendance at its Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, this summer. Generously funded by Ingram Content Group, and covering meeting registration fees as well as up to $1,000 in travel expenses, Early Career Grants were awarded to five first-time meeting attendees with more than six months but less than three years of experience in scholarly publishing.

Grant recipients Jessica Abraham, Laura Fish, Candice Lawrence, and Lily Stephens offered the following brief descriptions of their experiences.

Jessica Abraham, Editorial, Design, and Production Coordinator, University of Toronto Press

Attending the AUPresses 2022 Annual Meeting in-person in Washington, DC, was an amazing opportunity, highly educational, and a wonderful experience overall. At the meeting, I had the chance to attend a number of thoroughly engaging and informative sessions. Most significant for my role were the sessions on “Social Media: The Fair Use Frontier” and “Sustainability in Book Publishing.” The panelists shared lots of valuable information and useful resources that I have shared, in turn, with my team. The Book, Jacket, and Journal Show discussion was extremely interesting and I appreciated being able to see some of the books on display throughout the conference. I found the panelists and those speaking at the luncheons and banquet to be engaging and thought-provoking. This was also a wonderful chance to get to meet people in the industry and represent my press. Having worked remotely from the start of my job, this in-person meeting allowed me to engage at a high level and network with others of varying positions and career levels. It was interesting to learn about the different roles and different areas involved in academic publishing.

Laura Fish, Marketing Manager, University of Washington Press (now Acquisitions Editor, Syracuse University Press)

Being able to attend the AUPresses conference in person was an extremely gratifying experience. I’ve only been able to attend the virtual conferences, and while those have been beneficial in learning more about university publishing and the various challenges and initiatives happening in different sectors, I didn’t get a fuller understanding of the supportive environment within which I hope to expand my career. The emphasis at this in-person conference very much seemed to be an encouragement of earlier career publishing folks like me. I, therefore, felt that I was in a larger cohort of individuals growing within the industry and that conscientious attempts are being made within the association’s leadership to extend a steady helping hand to newer professionals. 

I was able to attend panels on marketing innovation and film rights, while also partaking in the varied programming aimed at early- and mid-career staff across departments. I also pushed myself to participate and talk with those who might not be in my home department (at that time marketing) so I could learn beyond my experience and receive answers to questions I’d long considered but hadn’t felt able to ask.

During some of the early career panels, I noted others who are, like me, in an intermediate territory where we are either new to publishing after having had previous careers or a bit more versed in publishing but younger. Having those similar perspectives and opportunities to discuss these overlaps was incredibly helpful for me, not only in acknowledging my own expertise but also in supporting and feeling more invested in mentorship within the association. In short, it was a confidence builder.

Overall, attending the conference through the Early Career Grant Program was an undeniably rewarding experience. I met people from so many presses, I was able to advocate for myself, and I could discuss challenges my press has had that are shared throughout the association. It was exactly what I hoped for when I applied for the grant, and I hope that I’m able to participate in a panel at the next conference. 

I should also note that I moved to Syracuse University Press as an acquisitions editor this summer. While attending the conference, I was able to meet again with my (at that point) future colleagues and it really reassured me that I was on the path I wanted to take with my career and heading to a press where I knew I could grow.

Candice Lawrence, Publicist, University of Georgia Press

The Association of University Presses thrives on fostering community within the scholarly publishing realm. This year’s AUPresses 2022 annual meeting united us in more ways than one. Aside from physically bringing us face to face with employees of member presses all over the world for the first time in several years, the meeting also reminded us that we likely have a lot more in common with our peers than we think.

I was eager to attend the “Year in Marketing Innovation” Collaboration Lab, and it lived up to my expectations. This session had more panelists than any of the other four sessions I attended. Each presentation motivated me to try different approaches to marketing, such as creating book trailers and title-specific Zoom backgrounds for authors, and reusing social media pictures on Amazon. Hearing how MIT Press used their blog to present a human element of their press and to celebrate a milestone anniversary helped me rethink what blogs can and should accomplish. I was lucky enough to be able to chat more in depth with MIT Press associate marketing manager Rachel Aldrich about ways to approach celebrating major press milestones, as UGA Press will be 85 in 2023. After talking with Rachel, one of the many tips I learned was that it is vital to always stay cognizant of the purposes behind the goals we set.

Sitting around a table overflowing with publicists and marketeers at various stages in our careers as we all realized we had a lot of the same questions has to be the quickest antidote to imposter syndrome. The validation was palpable. The “I Don’t Know What ___ Is and at This Point I’m Afraid to Ask” session created a safe space to discuss topics like social media, paid ads, catalogs, and guiding both timid and active authors through the marketing process. In particular, the discussions about social media content taught me useful tips to bring back to my home press (like maintaining a press voice regardless of who is behind the screen, scheduling posts, designing graphics, etc.). It also reminded me that it is okay to continue challenging myself. 

The “What’s in a Pitch?” Collaboration Lab let us plunge into the lifeblood of pitches. After our panelists presented insights about their experiences, we had an opportunity to break into small groups and talk with the panelists individually. It was inspiring and reassuring to hear publicists talk so openly about pitch successes and uncertainties. Panelist Michelle Blankenship chatted with us about how information from acquisitions editors—like anecdotes or buried hooks—can help us strengthen our pitches. We also discussed the importance of candor and managing author expectations early in the marketing process, and how to coach authors on pitching themselves. I have already started incorporating some of these strategies into my workflow and pitches, and the results have been fruitful.  

Upon leaving the Annual Meeting, I found myself revitalized and excited to apply the insights I had gained; that enthusiasm has yet to fade. I’m already looking forward to next year’s meeting.

Lily Stephens, Publishing Assistant, University of South Carolina Press

The AUPresses community has been vital to my success in my first book publishing job, and connecting in person at the 2022 Annual Meeting was valuable both personally and professionally. In my third year as a publishing assistant, I find myself at a point of inflection, and I had hoped to focus some time at the conference on exploring my editorial, design, production, and acquisitions interests and narrowing in on where I see myself heading. The opportunities to learn and network exceeded my expectations, and I came away from panels energized and sometimes surprised by what piqued my interest.

One standout for me was the “Bookstore of the Future” session. The panelists’ optimism about independent bookselling and community building was refreshing, and actionable suggestions for better partnering with stores rounded out the discussion nicely. I also appreciated the multiple approaches to thinking about equity in our industry, particularly in the “Equity in Peer Review” panel and the closing plenary with Anjali Vats. And I felt so much camaraderie with other early-career folks over the weekend. The Association did a great job facilitating our networking opportunities.

I think my small press will really benefit from the jolt of new ideas that my colleagues and I brought back from the meeting. I know I’ve already benefitted from the energy and sense of direction I gained from plugging into the AUPresses community in person. I hadn’t originally planned to spend my career in academic publishing, but I’m so grateful to find myself here among such generous, forward-thinking, creative people.