Staff Stories: An Interview with Tish Fobben

Tayler Lord is one of UNP’s newest staff members. She works tirelessly as a publicist, cool aunt, and dedicated Beyoncé fan. For the Press’ 75th anniversary—and out of her own curiosity—she is interviewing her more experienced co-workers to put a face on the twelfth-largest university press in the country.

Tish Fobben is the Direct Response Manager at UNP.

Tayler Lord: What’s your current job at UNP and how long have you held it?

Tish Fobben: My current job is Direct Response Manager. I started this job in 2001. I handle the cover copy for the books and coordinate our seasonal catalogs, subject catalogs, and direct mail pieces.

TL: Have you held other positions with the press?

TF: I have, I was hired in 1994 as a publicity assistant.

TL: Wow, that’s amazing!

TF: I felt very, very lucky to be hired. I don’t know if it was the best fit for the Press but it was a great thing for me. So that’s how I got started.

TL: What brought you to UNP?

TF: Well, I was working in UNL Graduate Admissions and I saw this publicity job opened up, and it sounded like it would be a cool place to work, even though I didn’t know much about the Press. But they were hiring a couple of marketing folks at that point, and they hired me.

TL: Did you go to UNL?

TF: I did.

TL: What did you study?

TF: I studied English.

TL: Could you describe your most memorable interaction or moment at the Press?

TF: That is difficult because I’ve been here so long. First impressions are so powerful so one of the happier memories that springs to mind is this: I was attending one of my first AAUP meetings in Nashville. One of the organized outings was to go to a famous country bar, and I was not into country music. At the time I thought I was much too cool to go to a country bar. But I went and saw my colleagues, book designers Richard and Dika Eckersley dancing and fully engaging in the experience. And they were, to me, the epitome of sophistication and everything intellectual and European. It smashed some of my stereotypes about what intellectuals do. It was a very freeing experience for me.

TL: That’s a really great story! We’ve been posting the profiles from the Big House on the Prairie book on the blog and I read the ones about them and they seemed like really great people.

TF: They were really kind, nice people. Very smart and engaged. They set a high bar but they were also really down to earth. I realized you could be very erudite and also very down to earth. There was no mutual exclusion, in fact maybe those qualities go together.

TL: I love that! Okay, which book have you enjoyed working on the most, or which book taught you the most?

TF: That’s a tough one. The one I think about the most lately is Ted Kooser’s Local Wonders, one of the first books in our American Lives series. We knew he was a great poet but we didn’t know how his memoir would sell. I remember, time after time, we’d go back to reprint and the books would be sold out before the reprints showed up. This happened over and over and over; we have now sold over 40,000 copies. It came out a year after 9/11 and I think people were rethinking their lives and going back to the basics in terms of what they appreciated and his book really spoke to that. It was also exciting to see how a locally focused book transcended the local. It really made us appreciate how a book can break out.

TL: Which forthcoming book are you most excited about?

TF: I’m very excited about the B.J. Hollars’ book Flock Together. My husband is a lifelong birder and I have slowly grown to notice and appreciate birds as well. Hollars has this really non-presumptive perspective and it’s a pleasure to read. It’s also really haunting because he’s talking about the demise of bird populations, which potentially foretells the demise of the human population. And I love the title. Humans need to flock together to survive socially and we need to flock together with other species to survive ecologically. It’s a good time for the book to come out.

TL: I love how you said that we need to “flock together” with other species. That’s a great point.

TF: That’s kind of part of his message. We think as humans we’re above the consequences, and he basically says the birds are the canary in the coal mine. They tell us we will go the way of the carrier pigeon if we don’t watch it. It’s cool that we have The Scarlet Experiment in the same catalog, a scholarly book about bird management in the US from the nineteenth century to today. I think birds are very much on peoples’ minds and I’m not exactly sure why.

TL: What author will you never forget?

TF: It’s hard to choose, frankly, but there are two, and I don’t know what it says about me that I would pick these two. The first is Floyd Skloot, we published his book In the Shadow of Memory, which was also in the American Lives series. It’s about how he caught a virus that targeted his brain and he talks about how he was “geezered” overnight. He was a super high-functioning numbers guy who ran really fast marathons. Then he woke up one morning and could barely get to the phone. It’s about how his life was turned upside down and the new ways he had to function in the world but he kept on writing. He continues to write and publish wonderful books. So it was interesting how he talked about this huge change in his life and that despite the significant challenges he now faced he felt it changed him for the better. The second book is Your Name is Hughes Hannibal Shanks by Lela Knox Shanks. It’s about taking care of her husband who had Alzheimer’s disease. She was a very determined person, and she writes about dealing with very emotionally and logistically difficult situations in caring for her husband.

TL: What is the most memorable interaction you’ve had with a reader or an author at an event?

TF: I went to Clayton Anderson’s book signing at Indigo Bridge and I took my young daughter because she’s very interested in astronomy. Clayton Anderson was really energetic and delightful—and particularly so with the kids in the audience. He was joking with my daughter and was very genuine and sweet—and she loved meeting him. It was fun to take her and have him sign her book.

TL: I feel like meeting an astronaut is a big deal, especially as a kid. What advice do you have for people starting a career in publishing?

TF: There’s a lot of kind, fascinating, and smart people who go into this field. Try and appreciate the people. There are lots of different ways to do that, such as meeting publishers and book people at conferences, AAUP meetings,  bookstores, or online. The books are obviously important, but so are the people who write, produce, and sell the books. You’re not going to get rich monetarily in this industry, but you’ll get rich in other ways if you give yourself space for that.

TL: That’s definitely what I’m finding just through talking to everyone at the Press and learning about everyone’s experiences. Okay, now I’ll ask you to finish this sentence: Remember when…..

TF: Remember when the Cat’s Pajamas was our customer database? We replaced it roughly ten years ago and I never thought I would miss it. It was considered archaic a long time before we replaced it. In an odd sort of way I miss the over-the-top error message it gave every time you mistyped your password: “Die, file intruder!” That seemed so unnecessarily rude, but it was from a very different age. So, the Cat’s Pajamas—the old-timers will remember that one.

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