Katie Keeran shares her experience building a higher education list

by Juliet Barney, AAUP Marketing and Social Media Intern

This week, AAUP published the newest Books for Understanding list: Books for Understanding: Higher Education. To accompany the list, I interviewed one of the AAUP’s key higher education acquisitions editors, Katie Keeran at Rutgers University Press. I was very excited and willing to speak with Keeran, to further understand her role as an acquisitions editor as well as her experience with developing a higher education list.

Keeran received her BA in history from Rutgers and her MA in English from Montclair State University, where she taught writing before moving onto a career in publishing. She started at Rutgers University Press as an editorial assistant, began acquiring books part-time, and eventually was promoted to working full time as an acquisitions editor at the press. Since then, Keeran has acquired a number of manuscripts for titles on higher education including Why Public Higher Education Should be Free, Doing Diversity in Higher Education, and many more. Many of Rutger’s titles are included in the new Books for Understanding list.

What is your favorite part of working as an acquisitions editor at Rutgers?

The best part about working as an acquisitions editor is having stimulating conversations with authors about their work and of course reading and helping to shape that work. It is very rewarding to see a project through from the early stages to a final book. In this profession we are lucky enough to always be engaged in the thrill and challenge of intellectual activity. I loved being a student, and as an editor you never stop learning.

As an acquisitions editor, who do you work closely with and how does everyone work together in the publishing process at Rutgers?

We have under 20 people on staff at Rutgers University Press, and we all work very closely together. I often speak with my fellow editors and my director about projects that I have underway and lists that I am building, and the acquisitions department works closely with the pre-press and marketing departments as we move manuscripts through production and begin selling books. We also have a wonderful cohort of dedicated student interns who we love working with and value greatly. Everyone’s door is open and we have a great, familial dynamic on staff.

How do you find and decide on higher ed titles? What do you look for?

I seek out authors whose research and writing focus on recent developments and public policy issues in higher education in the United States, and am particularly drawn to books that examine key concerns faced by our colleges and universities, families and students, and the faculty and staff who work at these institutions, and ideally suggest possible solutions to these problems. Books that speak to a wide audience are especially appealing.

What areas of higher ed do you focus on for the Rutgers list?

when_diversity_dropsWe welcome classroom books as well as books for practitioners, administrators, and policy-makers. I am especially keen on manuscripts that explore current trends such as rising tuition and student debt, the expansion of administrative posts and salaries, the crisis in the humanities and the arts, controversy in sports programs, corporate universities and for-profit colleges, and online education. I am also interested in ongoing discussions around tenure and academic freedom, affirmative action, campus labor, and issues concerning gender, racial, ethnic, and class dynamics in higher education, as well as books that examine the position of other minority groups in institutions of higher learning.

We have a vibrant list in the social sciences and humanities, and projects come out of diverse disciplines. For instance, we have a book called Sex and the University that that examines student journalism and sex columns in particular, but we also publish sociological books, such as When Diversity Drops: Race, Religion, and Affirmative Action in Higher Education, which examines how the affirmative action policy in California affected the demographics and dynamics of a student organization.

Once you’ve chosen them, how do you market the titles? Do the marketing strategies vary for each title or is there a form you follow?

We often promote like books together. So our recent higher ed books would be grouped together in, say, a Chronicle ad or a direct mail piece but each book would receive individualized publicity, sales, merchandising placement, social media, and e-marketing attention. We also vary efforts based on whether the book is written for a trade audience, the academic community, practitioners, in this instance, educators, policy-makers, or a mix of multiple audiences.

What are some of the most interesting projects you have lined up? What are you the most excited about?

rutgers_why_higher_edTwo new books that I am especially excited about are Why Public Higher Education Should be Free: How to Decrease Cost and Increase Quality at American Universities by Robert Samuels and Checklist for Change: Making American Higher Education a Sustainable Enterprise by Robert Zemsky. These are both innovative and forward-thinking books that are sparking some important conversations and ultimately could lead to changes in educational policies. Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower is another book of ours that is making a big splash and generating a good deal of discussion about the family-friendly policies of the university and the implications for women’s careers in academia.

I have an incoming proposal for a book on disability in higher education, which I am hoping will be great.

What areas of research do you currently find the most interesting, and why?

I am drawn to all kinds of books–from those that tell a compelling story about how communities, individuals, and institutions are impacted by certain policies, to explorations of cultural movements, to books that examine a more global picture of higher education at a national level. I suppose one kind of project that I find especially compelling are those that challenge the status quo in bold ways and make normative claims for how we as a society can rethink our priorities and effect change.