Confessions of an APA Books Intern

Stevie Davall has a Masters of Professional Studies in Publishing from the George Washington University.  She earned her B.A. in English and Creative Writing from SUNY Potsdam, where she also worked as a marketing intern. 

by Stevie Davall

If you told me a year ago that I would end up as an editorial intern at APA Books, I would have laughed. First because scholarly publishing didn’t have the same exciting appeal to me as trade book publishing. But I have always had an interest in psychology (ever since watching Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island). I’ll even admit to registering as a psychology major at one point in undergrad; I wanted to be a prison psychologist. And second, I wasn’t very interested in editing.  I had assumed all editing was copyediting, with no creative expression—but I was wrong.

APA’s Office of Publications and Databases is big. Alongside APA Books, there is APA Journals, which publishes the latest research in the field of psychology; the PsycINFO suite of online databases; APA Videos, which provides educational training sessions for students and professionals interested in specific topics within psychology; a full Marketing and Sales team, and Magination Press, APA’s children’s book imprint. While I have spent most of my time here working with scholarly books, I have enjoyed sitting in on meetings and getting to know what other types of content the organization produces.

Gaining knowledge of the field through hands-on experience has been invaluable. I must admit, I have learned more in the last few months working at APA Books than I did in the classroom. It became abundantly clear when I first arrived that I would be given a great deal of responsibility.  Despite only being an intern, I was immediately entrusted with formatting manuscripts for development, which impressed upon me that I played a vital role in the editorial process. Once a manuscript is received, the goal of formatting is to make it look as clean as possible, minimalizing any extra white space, to get the page count as accurate as possible. This is especially important for manuscripts that are close to, or over the contracted length. I also notify the production department of any potential design issues.

One of the many perks of an internship is skill-building for my resume. In addition to applying old skill sets to a new professional setting, various assignments have provided me the opportunity to observe, develop, and practice new ones. I have created inventory spreadsheets, sent translation copies to authors, and handled the peer review process.  As a scholarly publisher, we rely on professors, clinicians, researchers, and other professionals to provide feedback on the manuscripts we publish.

I have also worked closely with development editors at APA Books. When a book is transmitted from acquisitions to development, development editors write an editorial review of the manuscript. Rather than focusing on grammar, like a copyeditor would do, DEs focus on broader questions relating to the conception and execution of the work. In other words, they ask, “what are the identifiable issues, and what are their solutions?”

I work with the best, most supportive team of professionals here at APA, and they have provided me with a remarkably memorable experience. I am grateful for the networking opportunities that my supervisors have allowed me to have across the publications department, including meeting and working with other marketing, and production team members, and with other directorates within APA. This internship has provided me with an expansive view of the inner-workings of a scientific publisher.

In the future, I hope APA Books is inspired to continue accepting interns. This is an invaluable opportunity for publishing students in the Washington D.C. area.

Inside APA Books: An Interview With an Acquisitions Editor

What makes APA Books tick? This is the first in a series of interviews with APA Books staff, to help shed light on what we do, and how we do it.  For this interview, Tyler Aune, Editorial Development Manager, interviewed Chris Kelaher, Senior Acquisitions Editor.

Note: The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the participants and should not be taken to represent the official views or policies of the American Psychological Association.

Chris Kelaher, Acquisitions Editor with APA Books

TA: What’s a typical day in the life for an Acquisitions Editor at APA Books?

CK: I correspond with current authors as well as prospects, trying to bring in new material. When everything works out, we get a strong manuscript with which to work.  Much of my time is spent searching for new ideas, guiding new proposals through review, and eventually  getting a manuscript in good enough shape to send over to you guys [in development].  That can involve a lot of back-and forth with authors—sometimes for years, quite honestly.  To develop ideas, I look at what else is going on in the field, what’s being published in journals, which scholars and topics are prominent at the major professional meetings.  I spend a fair amount of time preparing for, attending, and following up on the key conferences in my fields. I keep an eye on the APA website and visit college campuses. And sometimes I actually find the time to do cold prospecting—researching who’s working on what, who’s teaching on which topics, identifying the gaps in our list, and approaching authors I think could fill those gaps.

TA: So when you go to a conference, do you already know ahead of time who’s gonna be there? You’re setting up meetings ahead of time?

CK: I do plenty of advance work and schedule meetings in advance, but I also meet with people on the fly, as well.

TA: So can people walk up to you, and say “hey Chris, I have a great idea for a book. . . “

CK: Absolutely! I want them to do that.

TA: What are the areas that you’re looking to acquire in, specifically?

CK: I’m one of three acquisitions editors at APA Books. My areas include cognitive psychology; developmental; social and personality; neuropsychology; forensic; and military.  I handle four series, including Division 35’s Psychology of Women series, Division’s 44 series on Perspectives on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, Latin American Perspectives on Psychology, and the Language and the Human Lifespan Series, which we copublish with DeGruyter Mouton, a major linguistics publisher.  I’m also looking for new material in environmental psychology, particularly climate change.

TA: Can you describe the typical author that you work with? How young, how old, how experienced?  At what point in their career is the typical APA book author?

CK: We have a number of outstanding younger authors, but more often than not, they’re degreed psychologists well along the tenure track in a university. It’s not always in their best interests career-wise to work on a book earlier than that.

TA: Because it’ll take time off from other things?

CK: Right. Producing a book is a lot more work than publishing a single journal article, yet the young scholar working his or her way up the university ladder often doesn’t get much credit for it.

TA: So then why write a book?

CK: Because many topics simply cannot be adequately covered in a journal article, which are shorter and more tightly focused. Sometimes the books come out of larger programs or conferences.  Books can pay special attention to specific areas, like the divisional series I mentioned earlier.  There are royalties involved, so you can make some money doing this. And you do get a certain cache, because not everyone can do it.  A book can pull together various strands of research after it reaches a critical mass, with enough data or raw material to synthesize it into something larger and more cohesive.  A book does that better than any other vehicle, I feel.  So plenty of folks still want to tackle the challenge, but our typical author tends to be somebody who has tenure, or is getting close to it, or is at least working with a more senior person.

TA: I’ve heard psychologists with publishing experience say, “don’t do edited volumes.” In other words, don’t be the person who has to corral the contributors, and handle all the paperwork, because it’s so much work with so little reward.  Is it harder these days to get people to do edited volumes, or to do books in general?  Do you get resistance?

CK: Well, publishers in general stress single author titles more these days if they can. There are a lot of benefits to them; however, many scholars feel they don’t have the time to write an entire book themselves, and many don’t feel that they have the full expertise necessary.  That’s especially the case with younger people, where the first part of their research careers is spent developing important but relatively narrow ideas. They’re encouraged to stress depth, but expanding the breadth or audience of their work is not yet in their comfort zone.  And many times they need reach a certain point in their careers before it’s even professionally advisable to go for breadth.

TA: Why is that?

CK: Well, a lot of psychology departments want you to make your bones with original research, which is usually put out piecemeal, in journal articles. That’s the way the system works.

TA: Does it actually help the science, the accumulation of knowledge, for things to be done this way? Or is that just the way the hierarchy works?

CK: I have a hard time discerning cause and effect here. It’s probably a little of both.  Because the process works that way, it keeps working that way, like a self-fulfilling prophecy.  But there are exceptions.  Actually just now, as you walked in this door, I was getting ready to meet with our marketing department about a forthcoming book called Making Research Matter: a Psychologist’s Guide to Engagement Beyond the Academy [coming in November, 2017].  One thing we can accomplish with this handy book is to help researchers reach beyond the people in their cohort, floor, or building, in the interest of increasing the impact of their work. I’m hearing more and more desire for translational research, a desire to have impact beyond just continuing one’s own career, and I find that very encouraging.

TA: We’ve seen some pushback over the idea of impact.  Some people say that that, in the effort to make a big splash, to get noticed, researchers may be tempted to cut corners, to make their work more appealing.  Is that a real risk?  Not that publishing with APA is gonna turn people into rock stars overnight, but…

CK: Now now, if you had seen the way people were approaching and talking about [Roberta] Golinkoff and [Kathy] Hirsh-Pasek at the last conference I went to, you might feel differently! They were rock stars!  Their tremendously successful book [Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children] is a bit of an outlier, but there are people who can write psychology in a way that is authoritative and scholarly, yet still accessible.  I’m not talking about pop psychology; I’m talking serious folks like Stephen Pinker, Dan Gilbert, Roy Baumeister, and the like.  Those people are in high demand, because what they do is important, and it’s useful, and it’s hard to do.

TA: It’s especially hard if you’ve been writing only in scholarly venues your whole career.

CK: Right. If you’ve had it pounded in your head for years not to do it that way.  Look: we’re very discerning in what we publish.  We’re very conscious that we represent APA, we represent psychology.  So we take steps to ensure that when we go for breadth, we don’t sacrifice depth.  That’s where our thorough process of vetting, our developmental editing (which most publishers don’t do anymore), really helps.  I think you can be serious and still speak to more than a handful of people at a time.

TA: Are there any areas that you feel are currently underrepresented in our list? If somebody wants to get a proposal into you, and it’s unsolicited, what’s the best chance of getting your attention?  What area(s)?

CK: Neuropsychology, for one. We do have some upcoming books in this area that I’m excited about, on topics such as multiple sclerosis and concussion.  And there’s also Clinical Neuropsychology: A Pocket Handbook for Assessment, [now in its third edition] which is a great resource.  But we want to do even more in this area.

TA: Obviously most unsolicited proposals get rejected. Why?  What are you looking for that you don’t find in those rejects?

CK: Many times, the prospective authors are not as qualified to write a book as they think they are. That’s part of it.  So credentials is one criterion.  Experience, is another.  It can be difficult to market an esoteric book written by someone with little name recognition.  And if our previous experience publishing on a certain topic was problematic, it would be foolhardy to ignore that.

TA: I know it’s very rare that an unsolicited book proposal can turn into a contract—

CK: Rare, but not impossible. Speaking for myself, I wish we got more proposals over the transom than we do.  It’s not usually the best stuff, and we don’t get a lot of it, but I’ll tell ya, when someone wants to work with you, it’s a good head start.  I’ve spent months, years, just trying to convince someone to write a book proposal.  It’s a lot faster just to react to one that comes at you, even if that one still needs a lot of work.

TA: That’s interesting. I always assumed that the slush pile was all rejects.

CK: Well, it’s called the slush pile for a reason. It can get pretty slushy.  But occasionally, you find a real snowball in there.