“A publishing house is a fragile organism, dear sir,” he says. “If at any point something goes askew, then the disorder spreads, chaos opens beneath our feet. Forgive me, won’t you? When I think about it I have an attack of vertigo.” And he covers his eyes, as if pursued by the sight of billions of pages, lines, words, whirling in a dust storm.”
Italo Calvino, If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller
Starting her interview with this great quote as she’s a passionate Calvino devotee, Maria Giovanna Brauzzi is Assistant Editor on the Education list at Bloomsbury Academic. Francesca Zunino Harper asked her some questions to know more about what working at an academic publisher involves on a day to day basis.
1) What are your role’s main responsibilities?
As an Assistant, I support two people (a commissioning editor and a senior publisher) and ensure the smooth running of the list. I am also the first port of call for authors, liaising with them throughout the entirety of their book’s journey, from proposal stage to post-publication. As an Editor, I get to do some commissioning of my own, which is very rewarding. I’m the type who likes to learn the theory of something before I venture into the practice, so I thought I could learn how to commission by reading books about it. Though hugely helpful and inspiring in terms of defining the role – and the crucial importance – of the editor, the truth is, you can only learn how to commission by actually doing it.
2) How did you get into publishing and academic publishing?
When I finished my MA (in Comparative Literature, just like my BA), I thought doing a PhD and going into academia was the logical next step. I wanted something intellectually engaging, but also practical and involving lots of interaction with others and a varied skillset. I found just that, and more, in academic publishing.
The idea of entering the field of publishing actually came to me through the PhD research I was doing. I was looking at two very successful writers who in their lifetimes also worked in publishing, and how their editorial work shaped their writing and the influence they were able to have through their publishing decisions: T. S. Eliot at Faber, and Italo Calvino at Einaudi. As a publisher who was also a good businessman, Eliot set himself the challenge of making poetry pay and the phrase, Faber poetry, a by-word. By the time that he stated this aim in 1955, Faber was publishing the foremost English and American poets of the age, including Auden, Spender, Day Lewis, Marianne Moore, Ted Hughes and, later, Sylvia Plath. Of his work in publishing, Italo Calvino said: “I have spent more time with other people’s books than with my own. […] I do not regret it.”
So I did two brief internships, but it wasn’t until I got an internship at Bloomsbury Academic that I knew that academic publishing was the perfect fit for me. A month into the internship, an editorial assistant position opened up, and I was fortunate enough to get it.
3) What are the most exciting projects you’re working on at the moment?
On the Academic Education list, we work on resources for those studying, working or researching within a university department, so textbooks for undergraduate and graduate students, and cutting-edge research. Our best-sellers include Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “the third most cited publication in the social sciences“, as well as the Reflective Teaching books which, according to UKEd magazine, “should adorn every staffroom in the land”. So it’s safe to say that our books play a significant role in shaping the teachers of the future, who in turn will shape generations to come. I think this is exciting and a big responsibility. The projects I’m most excited about at the moment revolve around questions of gender, equality and social justice.
4) What is your advice for publishing career starters who want to enter this sector of the industry?
My advice would be – and this may sound terribly new-agey and straight out of a self-help book – to figure out your ‘why’, your greater purpose for wanting to go into publishing. Chances are, before you make it to commissioning editor or whatever role you aspire to, you’ll have to endure a lot of admin, mundane tasks, spreadsheets, minute-taking, the mind-numbing boredom of repetitive tasks and endless copy-pasting. Be sure to come armed with a vision to inspire you and keep you going, and understanding that, however boring and seemingly unimportant your tasks are, you are actually contributing in a significant way to a greater mechanism. You are a small but indispensable part of the “content machine”.
5) How do you think the academic publishing sector is going to change over the next few years?
There are others far more qualified who’ve already made predictions about the future of the book and the future of academic publishing specifically. What’s certain, and already evident, is that there will be an increasing shift towards commissioning digital content and shorter forms of writing. Though, as Michael Bhaskar says, “long-form reading isn’t going away, it’s in a golden age” and neither is the print book. Umberto Eco famously said: “the book is like the spoon: once invented, it cannot be bettered”.
In light of the next REF (Research Excellence Framework), there will be some form of open access requirement for monographs, which will be difficult to achieve given the current business model for long-form books. So, as they’ve always done, publishers will need to adapt and come up with new solutions and models.