2023 AUPresses Directors Residency Report: Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero

Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero, University of Guam Press, reports on visiting five presses

In early May, I made the 23-hour-long journey from Guam to New Jersey for an incredible opportunity to collaborate with and learn from other press directors through the Association of University Presses’ Directors Residency Program. My residency was primarily at Princeton University Press and New York University Press; however, I visited Rutgers University Press, Fordham University Press, and Brown University Digital Publications. I also met with directors from Temple University Press, University of Pennsylvania Press, Columbia University Press, and Oxford University Press USA.

It was an honor to meet so many directors and the teams they lead, and while each press I visited was unique, they all shared a commitment to fostering a supportive work environment for employees as well as authors.

At Princeton, I was impressed with director Christie Henry’s ability (and vision) to ensure their well-funded, independent press uses resources to support diverse voices and provide equity grants, which can be used for family care, research, travel, translation services, and much more.   Princeton truly focuses their resources on their people, and as a result, their team is motivated and committed to their goals of bringing scholarly ideas to the world and promoting their value. The “Ideas” section on their website is a wonderful way to promote authors and their books; the short essays and podcasts published there feature a diverse array of voices to encourage conversation, promote curiosity, and encourage people to buy books.

I especially appreciated Princeton’s commitment to editorial empowerment. Editorial directors Alison Kalett and Eric Crahan expressed the importance of regularly asking editors for ideas to improve the press’s editorial program and strategy. Together they work hard to articulate what their editorial program is, making it is easier for them to determine when a manuscript does not align with their current strategy. Also, as an international press, they must consider how their books are internationally relevant. It was refreshing that a well-established press is so open to new ideas and approaches, and actively seeks to improve.  

I was also inspired by Princeton’s consolidation of designers into what they call the Creative Media Lab, which includes book design, marketing design, and website design. These activities are centralized into a “lab” allowing marketing designers to learn to do books and vice versa. This ensures that their designs are cohesive. I found this to be very effective and am excited to see how a similar approach can work at our press.

Collaboration is very important at every press I visited, and I was grateful for the moments when I could observe regularly scheduled team meetings in which members of different departments were discussing books and projects. At Rutgers, I was able to attend a pitch meeting that involved editorial, marketing, and sales representatives who all brought different perspectives and helped to make sound decisions. After that, the editorial team had a “birthday sales meeting” in which they reviewed the sales numbers for books one year and three years after their release dates. This helped editors compare actual sales to projected ones, assessing their success or identifying room for improvement. I loved this approach! It motivated me to track and study the sales of our books more carefully over time.

I really liked learning about the presses’ different lists and how all are committed to making their lists more inclusive and responsive. At NYU, associate director and editor-in-chief Eric Zinner described how their press boxes above its weight class because its lists speak to each other. This is a great concept—to publish books that are in conversation with each other and the world.

The fostering of new ideas is very important to the team at NYU and regular meetings are integral to their success, as the convergence of ideas happens naturally in these meetings. This was a common belief and practice in every press I visited. 

At Fordham, this commitment to new ideas was also evident in the ability for every employee to receive a free education at the university. Many press staff members have pursued master’s degrees through this benefit. Prioritizing employees’ growth and ensuring that publishing professionals continue to receive training and education, especially as the publishing landscape evolves into more digital platforms, is essential and was a powerful take-away for me.

I also appreciated the way that Brown’s interactive, digitally born publications illustrate an expansion of the way we imagine books. At the University of Guam, we have begun offering courses that center island wisdom and teach cultural practices, much of which has been preserved through oral tradition and is difficult to fully capture in the written form. It is exciting to imagine the kinds of digital publications we can develop for these courses and the ways in which the multimodal approach of this format will allow for a more culturally appropriate and respectful exchange.

While there is so much more I could share about my residency (after I returned home and typed my hand-written notes, I had 19 pages of new ideas and approaches), I wanted to focus this reflection on the ways in which university presses publish with great care and integrity. I was inspired by and am grateful for each person who took the time to meet, share a meal, and exchange ideas with such kindness and generosity. Directors Christie Henry (Princeton), Ellen Chodosh (NYU), Micah Kleit (Rutgers), and Fred Nachbaur (Fordham) were phenomenal hosts and mentors and went out of their way to ensure my long list of questions were answered. I look forward to continuing to learn from and collaborate with this beautiful publishing community AUPresses has nurtured.