Nebraska Press editor says ‘be attentive to your craft’
By Libby Mason
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Rob Taylor, sports acquisitions editor at the University of Nebraska Press, didn’t plan to become an editor. It’s a career he kind of stumbled into.
He earned a degree in anthropology at UNL, and decided that his love for books and reading could become a career. In an interview, Taylor talked about his job as an acquisitions editor and how his past experiences got him there.
Q: Can you describe your educational background and how you found your way into editing?
A: I have a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from UNL, so like most people that find their way into publishing, I have a liberal arts background. I came to it the same way a lot of people do. I was just interested in books, was a pretty avid reader, and I thought great, I should find something I love — kind of naïvely.
Q: Can you describe the different editing jobs you’ve had that led you to an editing position at the University Nebraska Press?
A: I was a little bit lucky because I moved to Chicago to try to get a job in publishing. I had met a few people through networking and got that first customer-level service job, and just by luck I got a new job as an editorial assistant. Publishing is kind of a cottage industry; you have to get in at the ground floor and just kind of hope something breaks. I’ve never worked in any other job that would be considered editorial other than a short stint I had out of college as a technical writer for a credit card company. There was some type of editorial writing in that, but it wasn’t very interesting as you can imagine. Before I became an editorial assistant, I had a short job with a different publishing company in marketing. I did a little copy writing for that job, but it was more for catalogues, which helped me a bit when I became an acquisitions editor.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about what an average day at the Press looks like for you?
A: Variations of the same. I’ll spend probably half a day dealing with email, meetings, hallway conversations and phone calls from authors. I’ll spend the other half of the day looking at manuscripts that we have under contract that I have a window to get them into production of a few weeks or months. I’ll also be looking at new submissions that are coming in that I’m considering.
Q: What aspect of editing do you enjoy the most?
A: To this day, it’s great to see a book come out when you can remember when it was just an idea on paper. It’s a thrill to see the finished books come out. I always love that. Still for me I feel like getting something in that’s new, you like it, it fits with your list, and you know you have a chance to get it is the best part; because it’s not the kind of project that’s going to be snatched up by a big New York publisher, it’s better suited for a small press or a university press and you get the author to say yes when you offer. That’s still the best part for me.
Q: What is the most stressful part about being an editor?
A: A lot of it has to do with the fact that the book industry is kind of going through a time of transition where sales are mostly flat, not rising very much, and more books than ever are being published every year. There are fewer outlets or places for authors to get attention for their books, and you want every single author to be a success. I think the biggest frustration is when a book may not quite meet expectations, and by no fault of the author, or the book itself, there is just so much out there and you kind of have to break through, and it doesn’t quite always happen in the way you want. You want all of your books to succeed, so that’s always the hardest part.
Q: Obviously you know the Internet is becoming more popular with digital books, and things like that. Do you have to change the way you edit or look at acquisitions just in the sense of editing for a chance that it could be an e-book or online?
A: Not so much in terms of acquiring. Books that are artwork heavy, that have illustrations throughout you have to look at. A lot of places that supply art, in the digital age, they may have restrictions. They say well you can do it in book form but not digitally. It becomes prohibitively expensive for authors who are paying for artwork. Most of what I publish, they have some interior photos that are black and white, and that’s no problem for an e-book.
One of the things that we are doing for e-books is at the manuscript stage. The books are being pre-prepped for e-book format. That’s a newer thing we’re doing, as before we had to pay to have them converted, and this kind of helps us get a leg up on getting all of our books into e-book format.
Q: Do you have any advice to someone who wants to get published?
A: I can only speak as an editor; I would say probably the best advice as I look at it from my own eyes, is just be really attentive to the craft. A lot of people have this impulse to be published and they think they have a good idea. A lot of times they overlook even the little things. They don’t pay close enough attention to ‘OK, what’s my writing style, and what is my contribution?’ It helps, I think, if you share your writing with other people and get feedback on it. Don’t try to rush through it and don’t try to send it out into the world before you know it’s ready.