People of the book
Want to work in publishing? Alumni offer advice.
When I asked Lindsay Waters how graduate school prepares people for careers in publishing, his answer surprised me. Both involve “a lot of xeroxing and removing staples from stacks of paper,” said Waters, AM’70, PhD’76, executive editor for the humanities at Harvard University Press. “There can be glory in the job, but none of it happens without you being willing to remove the staples and stand over the Xerox machine.” For Waters and other alumni in publishing, a practical understanding of how books are made is crucial to making sure they get sold. Although e-books may one day eclipse the paper-and-ink variety, about 95 percent of Harvard’s sales still come from print. The same is true for most other academic publishers, although according to its website the University of Chicago Press “recognizes the obligation to match the form of our publications to our readers’ needs by pursuing innovations in print and non-print technologies.” (One of the nicest ways they meet our needs is by giving away a free e-book every month.) In the spring issue of Tableau, the magazine of the Division of the Humanities, five alumni talk about bringing books into the world. Their advice for job seekers echoes what I’ve heard UChicago graduates in other professions say: Learn the nuts and bolts of the industry. Don’t be too proud to take a grunt job. Be flexible in a changing environment. Accept the fact that you’ll always earn less than an investment banker. Grim guidance? Maybe. But if you love books and don’t want the relationship to end after graduate school, it could also be a how-to manual.