Staff Stories: An Interview with Ann Baker
Anna Weir 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 familiar face on one of the largest university presses in the country.
Ann Baker is native Lincolnite and Husker volleyball fan who goes around “fixing” sentences just to pass the time.
Anna Weir: Alrighty. So. What is your current job at UNP, and how long have you held it?
Ann Baker: I am the manager of Editorial, Design and Production, and I was named so when . . . let’s see, when manuscript editorial and design and production combined into one department . . . oh, it was a year after Donna Shear came, so . . . six years.
AW: Wow. And you were working here before then, right?
AB: Oh yes.
AW: What were your earlier positions?
AB: I started as a freelance copyeditor for UNP twenty-five years ago, did that for fourteen years. In 2003 I moved in-house as an assistant project editor—after a GRUELING day-long interview. Write that down. Grueling.
AW: The whole day? What did they even ask you?
AB: It wasn’t so much the questions as much as it was the people we had to meet, the places we had to visit. They even took us to the warehouse. Like, why would I ever need to be AT the warehouse? But we did, the whole day—Okay, now meet this person—okay, now sign here—okay, now shake this person’s hand—okay, now sign over your firstborn.
AW: That’s nuts.
AB: Okay, they didn’t ask for my firstborn. But still.
AW: Can you describe your most memorable moment at the press?
AB: Oh… one of them was meeting Christopher Browning, a very well-known writer on the Holocaust, in ’04 or ’05, at a book signing in the press offices in the Haymarket. That I’ll never forget. But for awkward moments . . . OH! My sugarless pie! We had a pie-baking contest and I forgot to put sugar in my pie and no one told me.
AW: Oh my goodness—I remember you telling this story once, when I was a student here. You were outraged!
AB: Yes! I didn’t even realize there was anything wrong with it until I went home that day and my daughter was eating the leftovers—grimacing. What made things worse was I had won an award the year before for my discipline analysis pie.
AB: Write it down. People here will get it.
AW: Awesome. Well. You mentioned you were a freelancer for a while. What first brought you to UNP?
AB: Well, I lived here, in Lincoln. That was a big part of it. And I had connections to UNP through my sister. She had been an editor at Great Plains Quarterly. UNP called her to offer her the job, and she said, “No, but I know someone.” And really, the offer came at the perfect time—my daughter was six weeks old, I had just quit my job, and I didn’t really know what I’d be doing next. So I started freelancing for UNP, and for a few other presses—University of Iowa Press, University of Texas Press, Naval Institute Press, lots of places—even now, I also do some freelance for Georgetown University… yeah. Lots of places.
AW: Is it hard, juggling family and work?
AB: Nearly impossible. Especially when it comes to maintaining a relationship with your spouse or family. I mean, your attention is totally absorbed by getting your work done, and getting it all done around when you have to pick the kids up or put them to bed. I was waking up at 4:30 a.m. to work—or else not starting until 8:00 p.m. But even with that, there’s a lot of flexibility with freelance work. Not so much in the day-to-day but over a year. You can take vacations whenever, you can keep your weekends free if you want them. It’s a lot like being in school. There’s always something hanging over your head, always something you should be doing, but at the same time, it’s your schedule, your decision ultimately when to work. Of course, you’re never certain of when your next project is coming.
AW: That sounds disorienting.
AB: A little. The worst was having to re-introduce myself to new “bosses.” I worked under seven different UNP managing editors before I came in-house.
AB: Yes. But we always made quite the scene when we came to drop off or pick up work—me and all my children.
AW: Okay. Feel free to come back to this one, because I know you’ve worked on so many, but, which book have you enjoyed working on the most? Or, which book has taught you the most?
AB: Oh, that’s a good one. I’ll have to look back . . . I enjoyed copyediting Robert Vivian’s Tall Grass Trilogy and a few Ted Kooser books. It’s so gratifying to work with authors who are confident in their writing, who are more willing to accept that their work isn’t quite perfect and still has room to grow. It’s not that new authors don’t trust me to do my job, but many of them will resist any changes at all, will question every suggestion. Confident writers don’t feel like they have to put up such a fight.
AW: And I’m sure that makes your job a lot easier.
AB: It does. So much about my work—our work—publishing in general—depends on what the author is like. Our jobs are the same thing, day-in-day-out—but always new. There’s a constant flow of seasons, and with each new season there’s a similar to-do list, but each author brings something new to the table.
AW: I know that’s why I wanted to get into publishing. I’ve always loved books, but I’ve never really loved any one kind of book. I love them all.
AB: Exactly. And the more you work at it, the more you realize you can add something. You’re not just a meat grinder, you’re not just a cog in the wheel, you can contribute.
AW: Sweet. Kind of along those lines, is there a forthcoming book you’re totally stoked about?
AB: Oh. Yes. Ron Rapoport’s The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner. It is truly laugh-out-loud funny. And I don’t know if it’s because I can relate to his sense of humor, or because I remember reading about some of the people he talks about, but he poked such fun at the foibles of people. I have no idea what sales will do with it, but it’s great. Really great.
AW: What’s the most memorable interaction you have had with a reader or author at an event?
AB: At an event? I don’t go to many . . . oh. But. I was the project editor for Ron Thomas—gosh, ten years ago?—he’s a journalist, working on his second book now—a sports journalist—anyway, he was giving a talk at the student union. And I was just going to slip in, see what he had to say, but he was greeting people at the door. So I introduced myself. I said, “Hi, I’m Ann Baker.” And he said, “You’re Ann Baker?!” And he gave me a big hug and said how glad he was to meet me—he even brought me up on stage and introduced me to everyone. “This is my project editor!”
AW: Oh my goodness. I bet you could count on one hand the number of times you’ve received such a warm welcome from an author.
AB: More like one finger. It’s not like I expect to be liked, but it was nice to see someone wasn’t cursing my name.
AW: That’s so great. What advice do you have for someone just starting a career in publishing?
AB: Read. And read some more. I tell that to writers and editors, that if you want to know how to write or edit, read a lot. See what you can and can’t do in writing. See what’s gratifying about the craft. But for publishing in general? Well . . . be willing to work . . . for low pay.
AB: I’m serious. Write it down.
AW: So true!
AB: It really is. You can’t expect much. But there’s so many things you get out of publishing other than your pay. It’s not much, but it’s worth it.
AW: That’s great advice. Thanks, Ann! This has been really helpful.
AB: You bet! I’m an editor. I always make sure to get my two cents in.
AW: I’m writing that down, too.