Happy University Press Week! This year’s theme is “Raise UP” which emphasizes the role that university presses play in elevating authors, subjects, and whole disciplines that bring new perspectives, ideas, and voices to readers around the globe. This year for the UP Week blog tour, we wanted to give you the opportunity to get to know our acquisitions staff to honor the invaluable contribution that acquisitions editors make in the dissemination of scholarship. This week, we’ll be featuring interviews with Laurie Matheson, Daniel Nasset, Alison Syring, and Ellie Hinton. Make sure to check out the other posts in the UP Week blog tour and browse the #RaiseUP gallery here.
Check out the interview with editor-in-chief Daniel Nasset below. He acquires books in the fields of communication and journalism, film and media studies, and sports studies. He also acquires and develops Chicago and Illinois-related titles, particularly those exploring politics and architecture. You can find the interviews with the other editors here.
Q: How long have you been at Illinois Press and how did you get into academic publishing?
I celebrated my eleventh anniversary at Illinois last month. Breaking into academic publishing was a challenge for me, but, in hindsight, it was a rewarding process. I started graduate school in history at the University of Chicago with the intention of completing a PhD and chasing that tenure track job. Naïve regarding what to expect, I quickly discovered that I loved the reading and writing associated with graduate work, but the specialization necessary, my shy nature, and a bit of an inferiority complex, (one I attribute to my rural North Dakota roots and first generation college student status) pushed me toward exploring other related careers. Publishing appealed to me, and that is where I put my efforts upon the completion of my MA. After many applications but very few interviews and no job offers, I received a scholarship to attend the Denver Publishing Institute. The city of Denver had the added benefit of free room and board in my brother’s basement. While waiting for the publishing institute to begin, I reached out to area publishers about unpaid internships, and ending up balancing an internship at the Westview Press with a landscaping job. Happily, Westview offered me my first full-time publishing job following the publishing institute, but, within the year, the 2008 financial crisis led to layoffs by their owner, the Perseus Book Group, and I was back on the job market. This time, I was able to secure an assistant acquisitions editor position at Illinois, and I moved back to the Land of Lincoln. I have slowly worked my way up the department over the last eleven years, starting my new role as editor-in-chief a few months ago.
This is a long-winded background story, but it is always in the back of my mind during my work on search committees. Academic publishing is fantastically rewarding career, but it can be hard to get your foot in the door. For those interested, I recommend keeping the faith!
Q: What do you wish potential authors knew about your job or publishing?
I think the scholarly publishing community has done a good job demystifying the process over the past four or five years. I know outreach on our own campuses has been a big part of our job. However, I believe it is hard to convey the volume of submissions and projects we are handling at any one time. The process can move slower than I would prefer; there is always a backlog submissions and emails that need answering. (With an understaffed department and new challenges raised by the pandemic, I might be especially sensitive to this issue as of late.) To all my authors and potential authors waiting for reply, I promise that I am working as fast as I can!
Q: Of the many projects you’ve been involved with at the Illinois Press, do you have any favorites or any that are most memorable?
I am going to avoid picking favorites; however, there are particular types of book projects that I find rewarding. The first would be a revised dissertation undergirded by excellent research that explores an important topic but is nowhere near a coherent book project when you first discuss it with an author or see a rough proposal. However, through editorial feedback and constructive peer review process—often over years—you see the project evolve into a conceptually sound book that makes a real impact on its field. Those kinds of projects typically have excellent peer reviewers, and that kind of collaboration is a pleasure to facilitate. This is the process in its ideal form, and it serves the author, scholarly community, and press well.
Another type of project I find rewarding are authors returning with their second book. In process of revising their dissertation, many authors have discovered their voice. With an established relationship and trust, more frank conversations about potential audience and goals can happen while the author is still conceptualizing the book. These are the kind of books that can both influence a field and reach a crossover audience beyond the academy.
Q: How would you describe the current role and mission of the university press community?
There is something wonderful about the steady nature of university presses; we remain trusted disseminators of knowledge. Technology and how we advance, cultivate, and create knowledge may change; however, our time-worn and trusted process remains largely intact, and, in our contemporary environment, might be more important than ever. University presses advance conversation in scholarly fields, identify and explain forces of exploitation, inequality, racism, and corruption, and explore the culture, place, and people around us.
Q: In your view, what defines the type of books that the Illinois Press publishes? What sets the UI Press apart from the other presses within the AUPresses community?
One thing is our long-term commitment to and foundational role in establishing certain fields like Black studies, labor history, American music, sport history, and communication. Like many university presses, we publish primarily in the humanities and social sciences, but, within those disciplines, we have a unique mix of theoretically sophisticated interdisciplinary titles and empirically rigorous books that stay true to our roots.
Q: What do you do in your spare time (if you have any)?
I garden–vegetables, fruit trees, berries, flowers, and perennials—and, in the process, try to create a little oasis for birds and pollinators. A small greenhouse allows me to do it year round and start my own plants from seed. In general, I like to spend as much time as I can outdoors as one of the negative aspects of working in publishing is most of our labor entails staring at a screen, so I create projects in my yard and run and hike when I can. Working on our film list for the last ten years has turned me into a cinephile; when I cannot be outside, I am likely reading or watching a movie.