Staff Stories: An interview with Rob Taylor
Anna Stokely is one of the more recent additions to the press: Publicist, book hoarder, and needlework enthusiast. For the Press’ 75th anniversary—and out of her own curiosity—she is interviewing her more experienced co-workers to put a more familiar face on one of the largest university presses in the country.
Rob Taylor is our Sports Editor, dedicated White Sox follower, and believer in the bicycle.
AS: What’s your current job at UNP, and how long have you held it?
RT: I’m senior editor. I got that title in ’07 or so but I joined the press in November of 2003.
AS: Can you describe a typical day?
RT: Most of the time, I’m looking at new submissions or in the various stages of reviewing contracted manuscripts. Most manuscripts come in needing some level of revising before they can be transmitted to Editorial, Design, and Production. That, plus the everyday email from authors and others, and looking for new writers and possible book ideas.
AS: Great, thanks. You mentioned that you joined UNP in 2003. What job did you have before senior editor?
RT: Prior to that I’d spent seven years in Chicago where I began working in publishing. I worked for a distributor/publisher in customer service/sales for the first year, then as an editor for Contemporary Books from ’97-’02.
AS: Wow. So you’ve been involved in books for some time now.
RT: My first “real” books job was retail. I worked for both B. Dalton and Barnes & Noble in the Dallas area in ’92-94; that experience really helped once I decided to make a move into book publishing.
AS: So, what first brought you to UNP?
RT: I’d decided to leave Chicago after seven years to be closer to family. I wanted to do something different, and was working for a landscaping contractor in Omaha when UNP announced they were hiring a full-time acquiring editor for sports. It was a natural fit because I’d acquired sports in my previous job. I applied, and was lucky enough to get the job.
AS: What made you want to “do something different?”
RT: Honestly, it was the pull to leave the office environment for a while and do something more trade-oriented.
AS: Understandable. I’m lucky enough to have a window by my desk, but I totally understand the desire to be outside during the day.
RT: That was a good perk. I sometimes miss that work, too, but I got drawn back to publishing by the chance to work with writers and new ideas, which I really missed after a year or so.
AS: Great. Can you describe your most memorable moment at the Press?
RT: That’s a hard one. Not sure I can pick a single one, but my best moments have happened when authors get the attention or recognition that their books deserve, whether it’s in the form of an award or a good review.
AS: Along that note, though: Is there a particular book you’ve enjoyed working on the most?
RT: One of the first books I acquired at UNP was Steve Smith’s Forever Red. At the time, I didn’t think there needed to be another Nebraska football book but Steve had a great idea and terrific and insightful voice. And he became not only an author, but a good friend.
AS: That’s excellent. Do you stay in touch with a lot of your authors?
RT: I try to stay in touch; it can be challenging at times if there’s not a new project, but it’s always great to reconnect with authors.
AS: I always thought of writing as intensely personal. You sort of instantly form a relationship with anyone who looks at your work with a critical eye.
RT: Writing is so personal for authors, understandably so. I try to make sure authors trust me before I ask them to make meaningful changes to a manuscript.
AS: Is there a forthcoming book you’re excited for people to read or talk about?
RT: I’ll say Striking Distance from Spring/Summer 2016 (July). It’s an engaging view into Bruce Lee’s life before he became the well-known cultural icon and film star, when he was breaking into San Francisco’s fledgling martial arts scene.
AS: What’s the most memorable interaction you’ve had with a reader or an author at an event?
RT: One that comes to mind is last year at SABR, Rob Fitts did a signing with Masanori Murakami, who’d just arrived overnight from Japan. There was a line of 40-50 people waiting for him to sign. It was a thrill to see that and to meet him in person.
AS: I’ll bet; I’ve read a little of Mashi. Seems like a fascinating person.
AS: What advice do you have for people starting a career in publishing?
RT: Almost everyone thinks they want to go into publishing because they love books, and I was one of those people. But it can be a hard industry to break into. Everyone looks first to editorial; my best advice is to look at all the parts; editorial, production, sales and marketing, subrights, etc.
That, and don’t overlook working for a literary agent. Oh, and be prepared to move because most publishing jobs are on the East Coast.
AS: That’s great advice. Would you say your work in sales helped you become a better writer?
RT: Working in sales may have helped me become a decent writer of the jacket/descriptive copy, but it’s still a struggle.
AS: Could you talk a little more about agents?
RT: On agents, they’re a lot like editors in that they have to look at new projects and decide if they are viable as a book or not. They are absolutely necessary if you’re trying to be published with one of the major New York publishers.
AS: This has been great. Thanks so much for chatting.