Alumni in the Spotlight – March 2012

Kimberly Guinta, a native of central Florida, moved to New York in 1999 to change careers and find a job in publishing. While working at Elsevier, in their Journal Sales department, she attended the Pace Publishing program (graduated in May 2003), and through the program, she landed an internship at Routledge, an academic publishing company. She’s remained with Routledge, which is now part of Taylor & Francis, and is Senior Acquisitions Editor for US and Latin American History.

Prof. Denning: Hi Kim, and thank you for agreeing to do this interview. It has been nine years since you graduated from the MS in Publishing program. Can you tell us a bit about what you have been doing and how your career has developed since then?

KG: I was one of the only people in the program without a publishing background, so when I was a student, I didn’t really know anything about the publishing industry. This was a second career for me (I was a teacher for four years before that), and I really needed the overview of the publishing industry that the Pace program gave me. I got hired at Routledge before I was even finished with the program, working as an editorial assistant. Since then, I’ve steadily moved up the editorial ranks there, basically learning the craft of academic acquisitions work, which has its own set of standards. I started out working on Sociology, Psychology, Education, Women’s Studies, and Bioethics, and over the years, I have worked on a variety of subjects in the social sciences, culminating in the history editorial role that I’ve worked in for the last six years.

Prof. Denning: Tell us a bit about what your current job entails—as a senior acquisitions editor for US and Latin American History. Do you have an educational background in those disciplines?

KG: I have a BA in History, with minors in Classics, English, and Education, as well as an MA in Education, along with the MS from Pace. However, having a background in the discipline in which you work as an academic editor is not as important as having the experience on the ground. Once you learn how to get a handle on who the main people are in a field, and what the trends are in intellectual thought in that area, I think an editor can move from discipline to discipline fairly easily. It takes more work if you don’t have a background originally, but it can be done, and is done fairly frequently within the industry.

For my job, I talk to as many historians as possible. I visit college history departments and attend academic conferences to network and listen to what professors have to say about their courses. I want to learn what they teach, how they teach it, and what books or other materials they use. They tell me when there is something they want that they haven’t been able to find, and my job is to fill those gaps with Routledge books. I find people to write the books that are needed and make sure they come out at the right time, with good scholarship aimed at students and at reasonable prices.

Prof. Denning: How does being an AE in academic publishing differ from other segments of the industry? What would you suggest students do to prepare for a career in academic publishing if that is what they are interested in?

KG: In academic publishing, it doesn’t behoove you to wait for something to come across the transom. It’s better to figure out what is needed and to try to match up the project with the right person who, either because of his or her talent or name, will sell the book. I don’t work with agents much, either, for various reasons. They generally just make my job harder. If someone’s interested in academic publishing, it’s best to start trying to get a job at an academic or university press as an editorial assistant, so you can enter the industry from the ground up. Learn who the publishers in the industry are, what kinds of books they’re known for, and start networking with editors or marketing folk at the various presses who can tell you when jobs are available.

Prof. Denning: Tell us a bit about Taylor & Francis and some of the initiatives they have taken in response to new technological developments.

KG: Taylor & Francis is the books division of Informa, which is an information company. I work for Routledge, the Humanities/Social Sciences division of T&F. Like Elsevier, T&F has a strong journals program as well as books, and right now, we’re in the middle of launching Taylor & Francis Online, a platform which houses all of our journal and book content in one place. The journals are up there now, and the books are slowly being added. When it’s complete, customers will not only be able to buy a journal article, but also a book chapter by chapter, or put some of both together into a custom publication.

We’ve digitized much of our backlist and all of our frontlist titles, and offer as much of our content as possible as downloadable e-books. We also package content through huge data packages for libraries if, for example, they want a collection on Gender, or China, or The Olympics. We partner with third parties for more customization options for our content, and right now, we’re piloting an interactive e-textbook program that will allow students to access e-books with special embedded interactive features on their tablet computers.

Prof. Denning: How does technology/social media fit into your current job?

KG: Well, aside from the interactive e-textbooks, which we’re just starting, all of our big textbooks have companion websites that house extra student or instructor content, so although I don’t actually build the sites, we provide the web team with the content to include. Also, Routledge History has a Twitter feed and a Facebook page, which we use to announce new content, to communicate with customers at conferences, and to generally interact. We have held contests before; we gave out free journal articles and that sort of promotion—anything to drive customers to our website.

Prof. Denning: Please tell me a bit about your educational experience at Pace and how it prepared you for your career in publishing.

KG: As I mentioned, I didn’t have any foundation in the industry before starting the program, so I do feel like I wouldn’t be where I am today without the program and a bit of luck. My job here started as my Pace internship experience and evolved from there. The Pace program is particularly good for people like me, coming in from outside the industry and hoping to get a fresh start. It was also good in that it emphasized both books and magazines, and many different aspects of the publishing industry besides just editorial.

Prof. Denning: How has the industry changed since you began your career?

KG: There has been a lot more consolidation in my part of the industry over the last few years. When I started, Routledge had just been purchased by Taylor & Francis, and since then, we’ve absorbed many other companies, including Falmer Press, Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, and CRC Press, along with others. Each time, those companies shed jobs as their various departments consolidated with ours. There is a lot more emphasis on the usefulness and flexibility of “content” now, and less on getting hard copy books into bookstores. We do very little publicity these days, choosing instead to market directly to the consumers who buy our books—professors and students. Things were also less corporate then, at least here. It was more anarchic, but a lot more fun. Of course, I was a lot younger then too…

Prof. Denning: Have you always been interested publishing?

KG: I’ve always been interested in BOOKS. I never really thought of publishing as a career until I decided I couldn’t survive another year as a teacher. I came up to visit my younger brother, who was attending FIT in the City and attended an information session for the NYU Publishing program. The presenter there said, “If you want to be an editor, go to Pace. If you want to be a publisher, come to NYU.” I applied to both, but really wanted to be an editor, so when Pace accepted me with open arms, I didn’t look back, especially when told, after waiting to hear from NYU for a month, that they “saved their spots for people already working in Publishing,” which seems counter-intuitive to me.

I never thought I would end up in scholarly publishing. Like most people who say they want to be an editor, I thought I would work as a fiction editor, but academic suits me much better. I am really a frustrated graduate student at heart. This way, I get to keep up with the research, without being on the hook for a dissertation!

Prof Denning: What do you think the future has in store for academic/textbook publishers? Do you think the launch of designated e-book readers and the iPad (and subsequent tablets) forever changed Publishing as we know it?

KG: The short answer is yes. It has changed, and it is changing, and we’d be foolish as an industry to think it will stop any time soon. I think the trend is toward more customization of content. If you have a limited budget for your students, you don’t have to assign a whole book when one chapter is really all you’ll use from it. Just get the students to buy that one chapter, which ultimately saves time and money. Also, the development of the interactive texts actually makes the material more interesting. You can incorporate videos, audio clips, moveable maps, interactive timelines, and so forth, which really enlivens History.

Prof: Denning: What do you think the biggest trends in book publishing are today? The biggest challenges that publishers face?

KG: I already mentioned the customization of content and the extended interactivity of textbooks as trends in my field, but I definitely think e-books and custom (including self-publishing) are things even trade publishers have to deal with. There is also the challenge that people just don’t read as much anymore and have less brain power to sit and spend extended time with a text, whether for fun or work. One thing as a consumer that I’d really love to see, is the rise of more small publishers. I already see it happening a bit, but the more that people can get around the bigger publishers to get their books out there, the more democratic the market is. Perhaps that’s disloyal to the industry, but there are so many good writers out there who don’t get the exposure, that I’d like to see (more) smaller niche publishers targeting specific segments of the market. With desktop publishing programs so easy to use now, I am eagerly anticipating the renaissance in indie publishing the way we’ve seen a rise in the number of indie music labels.

Prof. Denning: Would you like to speculate on the future of e-books? Textbooks in general?

KG: See above—I think big textbooks are going the way of the dodo though, especially in the Social Sciences and Humanities. No one likes using them, and they’re all extremely boring. The ones that Routledge does are not your traditional textbooks though, and that’s why I like working on them. They don’t talk down to students, they don’t maintain that bland, neutral tone, and they don’t try to be everything to everyone. In some areas, like Microbiology or Calculus, you need a text, but in the areas in which I commission, you don’t really need a $100 textbook to teach effectively.

Prof. Denning: What do you think are the essential skills our students need to leave the program with in order to succeed in the industry?

KG: Networking! I think it would be great to have some sort of industry mixer to introduce students to more people who already working. It would also be helpful to provide more information on how to actually get a job—interviewing, what to expect when just starting out, how to advance, that sort of thing. I think everything else was covered, at least at a basic level. It’s a lot for people to take in, especially when they don’t know much about the industry in general. Enhanced computer skills would be great too, but really, the networking thing is the key, in my opinion. Give students more opportunities to get to know people who might hire them later, or at the very least, they can call on those folks for information later.

Prof. Denning: Any other advice you would like to offer up to our students?

KG: Pick one area and stick with it, or get out very early if you know it’s not for you. Once you get all your contacts established in Children’s, or Academic, it’s hard to switch to Adult Trade, and vice versa.

Prof. Denning: To those looking to survive and thrive in this industry?

KG: Learn about computers and e-books. If you can program, that’s even better. Keep networking, and be nice to everyone. You never know when you’re going to need to call on someone for help, and it doesn’t do if he or she has a bad impression of you.

Prof. Denning: What were some of the highlights of your graduate experience?

KG: The greatest highlight of my graduate experience was the friends I made. I was really lucky! I had a great time in class, and I met people who went on to do very different things. Plus, most of the instructors were very interesting. It was a good introduction to New York as well as to Publishing, and it helped me transition from one career to another. I also really liked learning about areas of the industry that I hadn’t really considered for a career. For example, I learned I wasn’t very good as an art director or cover designer, but I was really good at writing marketing copy.

My internship was also very important to me, as it led to my job. I had a very difficult time with the instructor of that course at Pace and didn’t enjoy it at all, but working itself was the best instructor. The sooner students can get out of the classroom and into the field, the better off they’ll be. The people I was working with at Routledge were interesting, amiable, and inspiring, and they still are.

Prof. Denning: What advice would you give to students who still have to write their graduate thesis papers?

KG: Just do it, and get it over with. It’s not going to define your future career, unless you want to be an academic. I’m sure mine was terrible, but I haven’t ever looked back at it. I look at the thesis as a place where you can test out your ideas or explore a question you have about the industry. It’s a good ending point for the program, but it’s the program as a whole that is the starting point for a career, or is an impetus to a better position. The thesis itself isn’t going to define what you can achieve in Publishing.

Prof. Denning: How have you been involved in the program since graduating?

KG: I haven’t been involved until now. I owe the Pace publishing program a lot, and I hear it’s come a long way since 2003, but in the end, it’s a program to teach people a trade, and I got what I wanted from the experience. I do keep in touch with the friends I made, and I’d certainly help out with events, if needed.