Transferring Skills and Building New Ones at Michigan Publishing

By Catalina Esguerra, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures

This past summer, I had the opportunity to work with Michigan Publishing, a part of the UM library system and home to the University of Michigan Press and Michigan Publishing Services. Specifically, my fellowship was with their Editorial and Marketing department. I was tasked with researching competing presses – from their publishing plans to their website platforms – in order to identify Michigan’s strengths and areas for improvement directed at their Marketing and Acquisitions efforts.

Before beginning the fellowship, I knew almost nothing about scholarly publishing, let alone the roles the different departments played in the long journey from manuscript to published book. What compelled me to apply for the fellowship was the desire to expose myself to a field I considered adjacent to humanities scholarship and which might serve me to better speak of myself as a future scholar. In addition, I wanted to gain competency in a work environment that would force me away from my dissertation-laden jargon and help me recognize the transferability of skills I have acquired (painfully at times) over the course of my PhD. Through my fellowship, I have thankfully learned that my transferable skills are many (yay!), but also that publishing may perhaps be a field in which my skills are even better-suited than a tenure-track job. Only time will tell. Finally, I have learned that the workflow of publishing – from acquiring a book title, to producing said book, to marketing that book to book-buyers of all kinds – is an intricate process that involves effective communication, efficient collaboration, and sometimes even instinct.

Catalina Esguerra, Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures

Considering my own field of humanities research in Romance Languages and Literatures, my time at Michigan Publishing showed me how important it is for a scholar to be able to relay the scope and significance of their work in a language that people across the humanities and even social sciences can understand. Throughout my fellowship, I had the opportunity to attend acquisition approval meetings, a critical step in the publishing process. The discussion at these meetings demonstrated how the publishing process is highly collaborative, as editors, marketing departments and even production teams were all heavily invested in the quality and timeline of the final deliverable. Moreover, at these meetings, each participant had to engage in effective, insightful and clear communication about the titles being discussed, the workflow moving forward, and the context of the work within the broader mission of the press. In these meetings, I learned that these skills – collaboration and communication – could make or break the efficacy of a scholarly press. Thankfully, the team at Michigan excels in these, and as a result, have consistently produced high caliber publications across many humanities disciplines.

One of the most unexpected things I learned from my experience at Michigan Publishing is how my continuing fascination in a wide variety of topics, beyond my specific dissertation project, may serve me well if I were to pursue a career in publishing. My capacity to be dynamically engaged in a wide breadth of areas of humanities research, while challenging in dissertation-writing, may be exactly the kind of edge that an acquisitions editor needs. Essentially, it is invaluable to have an instinct to notice up-and-coming interesting and significant projects in a particular academic field. In addition, my capacity to manage multiple projects, deadlines, and details – through balancing a workload that often includes conferences, articles, teaching agenda, not to mention dissertation-writing – may be precisely a skill I often take for granted that is crucial in the world of scholarly publishing. Editors are often handling the work of many authors, whose timelines all look different and whose work style may vastly differ. Marketing departments may need to balance multiple release dates for books, handle press at various conferences, all while keeping the delicate balance between quality research and the financial bottom line. In this way, my facility in multiple project management, a skill which I have inevitably cultivated through my PhD, is in fact a fundamental part of success in this type of work.

I expect that my experience at Michigan Publishing will stay with me well beyond this summer. Learning about the ins and outs of a whole new field of work, cultivating skills in communication and collaboration, and appreciating aspects of my PhD trajectory in new ways will all be essential for my future. Academic job-market or non-academia, I have learned that surprisingly, the most valuable resource for success may be simpler than you might think, and the most crucial skills for a task may be already within you. Indeed, Humanities PhDs may be underestimating their toolkit of success and may be prepared for more careers than they can even imagine!

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