AAUP 2001: Growing Assistants into Editors

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Service Industry or Professional Track?

A Personal Evaluation

I've been an editorial assistant at Penn State Press for a little over a year now, and my experience at the 2001 AAUP Annual Meeting has helped me put that year into perspective. The "Growing Assistants Into Editors: Service Industry or Professional Track?" session proved especially enlightening, as it crystallized my vision of my position in the publishing world (if not just Penn State's) as one of some importance. I realize that I am embarking on a bona fide career, and the prospect is gratifying.

Eschewing careerist reflection in favor of a more immediate assessment, I would like to review the "Growing Assistants Into Editors" session in light of what I feel are the most important yet perhaps least talked-about functions of the editorial assistant: liaison and diplomat. In scholarly publishing, these two responsibilities seem to be parlayed into establishing and maintaining relationships between the acquisitions department and all other departments--marketing, production, information technology, and so on. I do my best at Penn State Press to cultivate these skills, all the while attempting to be the middleman between the other departments and acquisitions, a sort of first line of defense and deflection (in the sense that my ability to answer questions may save the acquisitions editors precious time).

Interacting with multiple departments has other benefits as well. Monica McCormick, Sian Hunter, and Alison Waldenburg, three of the four panelists, are all editors who at one time were themselves assistants. They all found that sticking their noses into everything ensured that they would get the most out of their time. I tend to agree with this assessment, as I increasingly try to accomplish things more efficiently, so as to have time to cover unfamiliar ground. I work closely with our production department—sometimes copyediting and proofreading, sometimes communicating with authors about our desired specifications for illustrations—to get a better sense of what they contribute to a book. I have gone on marketing excursions designed to set up book signings, and I have attended exhibits where I was responsible for selling the books to attendees. I have spent a day in our warehouse, filling orders, handling returns, and rotating stock. I also have taken classes in Dreamweaver from our Information Technology Manager so that I can update certain sections of Penn State Press's web site for the acquisitions department. All of these experiences have given me a better appreciation of the efforts of my coworkers and a better sense of what goes into the production, marketing, and distribution of a book. It helps me help them do our collective job.

That job is notably time-intensive. I found the discussion at the Annual Meeting session about what should be made of "overtime" work particularly interesting. Daily duties are enough to keep any assistant busy, but add to that the demand of spending adequate time with manuscripts, and you're easily looking at 40-plus-hour work weeks. The problem is, of course, that most assistant positions are restricted to 40 hours a week. So how do you reconcile that with the desire to read almost everything that comes across your desk? Do you demand overtime hours for those weekends and evenings spent reading proposals and manuscripts, or do you chalk it up to leisurely reading for making decisions while on the clock? For me, spending extra time reading outside the office is not a problem, but my supervisor has continually encouraged me to stop at 40 hours a week. I routinely go over this time while reading on my own, but I feel that this "overtime" is personal development. I like my job and enjoy publishing so much that I find myself wanting to complete tasks so that I can get experience doing something new. In that sense, I'm assisting myself.

by Tim Holsopple, Editorial Assistant, Penn State University Press

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