By Christian Pizarro Winting and Bethany Wasik
Christian Pizarro Winting is Associate Editor at Columbia University Press, acquiring titles in economics, anthropology, and African-American studies. He is a member of the AUPresses Professional Development Committee.
Bethany Wasik is Acquisitions Editor at Cornell University Press, acquiring titles in archaeology, classics, European history, and military history. She currently serves as co-chair of the AUPresses Professional Development Committee.
At the 2022 AUPresses Annual Meeting, the Association’s Professional Development Committee (PDC) hosted a collaboration lab that invited members of the Association to discuss challenges, strategies, and opportunities in building professional networks. The aim of this session was to generate resources for those new to the profession, staff at smaller publishers, and all colleagues looking to develop tools and skills to build professional networks and solve common problems across the industry. Below, we detail the results of the thoughtful and constructive conversations that took place.
The group most interested in developing these networks were those new to the scholarly publishing industry. For these individuals, there are a variety of opportunities, such as attending the industry conferences like the AUPresses (https://aupresses.org/programs-events/annual-meeting/) and the Society for Scholarly Publishing (https://www.sspnet.org/events/upcoming-ssp-events/) annual meetings, using social media platforms to connect with industry colleagues, participating in the AUPresses mentorship program and the AUPeers Buddy System (co-organized by Becca Bostock at Ohio State University Press and Dominique Moore at University of Illinois Press), and requesting informational interviews.
However, this group also faces many challenges, some of which are common to other demographic groups within the industry, and some specific to those early in their careers. These challenges were directly addressed and discussed during the collaboration lab. First, lack of geographic proximity was raised as a networking hindrance to many who work at publishers away from densely populated areas. The lack of regular interaction with peers at other institutions generated an important discussion on how the geographic diversity that the university press community brings to publishing career opportunities is one of its greatest assets, and yet distance can limit opportunities for regular interaction with peers at other institutions. Second, this group also noted that the nature of their work (e.g., specific tasks and often idiosyncratic conditions) reduces the ability to create new connections on a regular basis. Third, the demands of their roles can often consume the very time, energy, and bandwidth required for networking.
An additional challenge noted was an ambiguity about how to seek and establish appropriate connections. Early-career participants described how the variation in titles and responsibilities from one press to another can obscure who is a connection that would be beneficial to meet. Finally, the group agreed that while the use of social media was largely heralded as a democratizing tool, the need to balance professional and personal accounts could lead to hesitation or avoidance of this strategy.
In light of these conversations, the PDC is designing new webinars and hangouts to connect more individuals across the industry and across distances. In the next six months, we are hosting three AUPresses hangouts designed to provide networking opportunities in a supplementary space separate from the professional networks that an individual may have formed through mentorship and internal press initiatives. These hangouts will be geared towards editorial and production, marketing and publicity, and mid-career professionals. More details will be provided here as the year progresses: https://aupresses.org/programs-events/workshops-webinars/.
The collaboration lab also recommended that individuals leverage resources like AUPeers and Paths in Publishing to make connections and further their own development, as well as participating in AUPresses committees and task forces to make further connections and gain managerial experience.
Challenges and strategies discussed among the mid-career group mirrored many of those identified by early-career individuals, including using social media to connect and learn about the industry and attending industry and academic conferences. Interestingly, some marketing members of the group conveyed that they regularly experience burnout from using social media as a networking tool because it is so integrated into their daily work. To compensate, they noted that industry service through committees, task forces, and mentorship initiatives allowed for new connections, particularly in other departments. One unique concern expressed by the mid-career cohort was a desire to transition from one area of the industry to another and an interest in any available resources on how to do so efficiently and successfully. Increased awareness and engagement from supervisors or mentors would be helpful in this regard, though it was acknowledged that at smaller presses where flexibility may be less available, such engagement could well be difficult. More community-wide programming, including the networking hangouts mentioned above, could facilitate momentum to address departmental mobility and foster pilot programs that cross-train staff for further career development.
Mid-career professionals also noted that, because they had some experience in the industry, they greatly valued in-person networking because of the spontaneity and variety it provided. They noted particularly the opportunity to connect with vendors and those who provide services to the academic publishing community often helped them form great networks and provided further career growth, both within and beyond academic publishing.
Notably, this group also faced specific challenges, particularly around their identity within the industry. Beyond not always knowing when to consider oneself “mid-career,” these individuals sometimes felt ambiguity about how to advance their careers, what the viable options may be, and how to reevaluate their careers. For this group, the AUPresses Residency Program provides a beneficial means of learning more about how other presses and departments function.
The collaboration lab provided a space not only to discuss demographically specific challenges and concerns, but also to encourage a path forward with advice and strategies. First, if possible, approach a supervisor or mentor to serve as a connection to other presses, to gain desired knowledge that might not be available at your current press or institution. Second, emphasize the importance of the role of mentorship within networking. Mentors should invest in the careers of their mentees and in parallel, mentees need to advocate for the style of mentorship they most need. Furthermore, mentees should seek out advisers in other departments to broaden their horizons of what is possible within academic publishing. Those asked should, if at all possible, agree to serve as mentors. Significantly, these relationships broaden a mentor’s own network and provide managerial learning opportunities.
Most importantly, there needs to be space for self-reflection and career goal assessment. Taking stock of what you know and do not know is an essential and helpful process to establish what professional development and connections will be most beneficial for you. In this vein, the group also suggested that future AUPresses meetings and scholarly publishing conferences should include more group-specific events, similar to this collaboration lab, to address common challenges and support individuals’ network formation beyond their home presses. Not only would these group-specific events expand networks, but they would also provide more awareness of resources, perhaps available within parent institutions, that can encourage and leverage upward movement in the publishing industry.
The 2022 collaboration lab’s robust in-person attendance (overflowing into the hallway!) is a solid indicator of how important building professional networks has become among members of the AUPresses community. Our hope is that the Association continues to provide opportunities for cross-training, training on how to be a mentor, more department-specific programming, and more virtual opportunities for individuals to network. Altogether, these will help us foster and build our publishing community so we can persist in our missions to promote academic excellence and disseminate knowledge to a global community through scholarly publishing.
For more information about AUPresses Professional Development resources and programming, see https://resources.up.hcommons.org/professional-development/ (requires UP Commons log-in).