Michelle Lipinski joined UC Press in the Spring of 2020 as our Senior Editor of Economics and Technology Studies. An experienced editor who has worked at both Stanford University Press and Oxford University Press acquiring books in the social sciences, Michelle is a welcome addition to our stellar editorial team.
In this edition of our UC Press Editor Spotlight Series, we sat down with Michelle to discuss what she likes most about being an editor, her vision for our Economics and Tech Studies lists, and her five tips for crafting a strong book proposal.
How did you get started as an editor, and what brought you to UC Press?
Michelle Lipinski: I got my start like many an editor—naively, but with passion. I vaguely knew that there was an industry that made books, and since I love books, I applied indiscriminately to any and all entry-level publishing positions in NYC. It was a lucky, serendipitous choice. While there are some people who can’t stand working in a cubicle, I can happily camp out in one as long as I’m reading and learning about something new. And lo and behold, that is a lot of what academic editorial work is—getting a peek into various cutting-edge research everyday.
I started as an editorial assistant at Oxford University Press. At one point, I was assisting five editors at once. While this was definitely an insane workload, it introduced me to a catalog of different, successful editorial styles and tactics, and I learned quickly that there’s no one right way to be an editor. I came out West to Stanford University Press, to assume responsibility of their anthropology and law and society lists. After a number of fabulous years there, I moved to UC Press this past March right before the lockdown. I’d long been an admirer of (and in competition with!) UC Press’s list, and when I heard they were expanding out into technology studies and economics, I jumped at the chance to apply. I’m floored by the kindness, generosity, and immense talent and skill that resides within the Press.
As the new Economics and Technology Studies Editor at UC Press, what is your vision for your lists, and what kinds of projects are you looking for?
ML: It’s my hope that both lists will become an important source for cutting edge research and writing in each respective field, while also aligning with and building upon the existing strengths of UC Press’s overall list and mission. For Economics, I’m looking for progressive and innovative books that speak to the most immediate economic policy and justice issues of the day. I envision the Technology Studies list as a home for interdisciplinary books that challenge how we think about technology and that interrogate how it intervenes in our lives by providing historical, social, and cultural context. I’m looking for projects that reach various readerships: trade books for wide audiences, scholarly books for specialists, and also course-appropriate teaching texts.
I gravitate towards projects where an author is moved to write something because it is the book they wish they had read during their own education in the field. These books often speak with urgency to ideas or populations that have been otherwise underserved or ignored. They can awaken a whole new vision or direction for a field or subfield. And of course, I’m generally a sucker for great narratively-driven works, with a clear voice and a targeted readership.
What are a few exciting forthcoming projects that you already have in the pipeline?
ML: There are so many already! For the Economics list, I’m thrilled to be working with William (Sandy) A. Darity Jr. on The Black Reparations Project, which will be one of the first books to provide a detailed, specific, and fully research-based economic plan for a Black reparations program in the US.
I’m also jazzed about a little Freakonomics-style book on the economics of weed (we’re in California after all!) written by economists Daniel Sumner and Robin Goldstein.
For the Technology studies list, I’m honored to be working with Professor Tonia Sutherland on her forthcoming book, which investigates the social and cultural tensions created by the proliferation of publicly available records and data relating to the deaths of Black Americans, from the analog to the digital era.
I’m also excited for our upcoming Spring 2021 title, Jessa Lingel’s The Gentrification of the Internet, which uses the politics and debates of gentrification to diagnose the massive, systemic problems blighting our contemporary internet, and spur effective change for reclaiming our freedom online.
UC Press is known for its progressive mission and commitment to social justice. How do you plan to incorporate this mission into your own acquisitions strategy, as well as support diversity and equity among your authors?
ML: The strength of any mission rests upon its custodians, and I’m so thankful to be a part of a Press that puts a progressive, justice-oriented mission at the forefront of what we do. I also understand the weight of this responsibility. It’s my goal to incorporate this mission into all my acquisitions, while also recognizing that this is ongoing work that is never complete. There are a few ways I’m going about this.
I’m proactively seeking out younger scholars and learning about the institutions and centers that support them. This includes meeting scholars who represent diverse lived experiences, including but not limited to LGBTQIA, Black, Indigenous, and people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.
Acquiring editors employ many different strategies to track down talent and sign authors. One fairly ubiquitous strategy is having a solid team of academic advisors—a network of experts and intellectuals who we talk to about different areas of expertise, to hear what and who is on the cutting edge of in the field. Immediately, you can see how this might silo editors into publishing only certain kinds of books, by certain people. Therefore, I’m constantly evaluating the diversity and representativeness of the scholars I reach out to as advisors to ensure they represent a wide array of positionalities in terms of gender, race, orientation, etc. I also take stock of the diversity of my list from multiple angles—including the diversity and representation of my author and advisor pool, peer reviewers, endorsement providers, etc.
In addition, all of the editors at UC press are in conversation with other stakeholders at the Press about what types of supports might be most useful for our authors, which is why I’m particularly excited about one of our recently launched initiatives, the FirstGen Scholars Program!
Pitching a book project to an acquisitions editor can sometimes be intimidating to authors. What are a few tips for putting together a strong book proposal?
ML: First it’s worth emphasizing: I know this can be so intimidating! A pitch of just a few sentences often represents years of hard work and toil, an author’s commitment and passion. How could this not be personal?
Editors understand this, and I take my role in the process seriously, showing care and respect for authors and their work. Also worth noting: editors are just people. And we are no stranger to rejection—by authors and agents who decide to go with a different press.
Here are a few tips for preparing the book proposal:
- Follow the submission directions on the Press’s website, and include all the materials the press asks for. Choose one editor to query, and don’t send a whole manuscript file!
- Be specific when describing your intended audience: I want a proposal that is realistic and knows who specifically will absolutely read your book—even if that means the audience is niche. There is no such thing as “a general audience.”
- Ask for feedback from trusted advisors and peers (ideally those who’ve recently been through the process).
- Be selective: narrow down and tailor your proposal to the presses that are most appropriate for the work because they have a strong list in your area.
- Approach an editor once you have a proposal, or at least a short precis that clearly defines what your project is about, who it is for, and why your argument is important. Often a quick query email, with a short project description and a request for a conversation is enough to gauge an editor’s interest.
What’s a surprising fact about you that not many people know?
ML: One fun fact is that I recently (pre-covid) took a standup comedy class. I’m not an extrovert at all, so it was a fairly excruciating challenge to get up alone behind a microphone to try and make people laugh. Joke writing is truly a science and an art! It also gave me an altogether newfound appreciation and respect for comedians, even the lousiest ones.
How can potential authors connect with you?
Email is the best first option to get a conversation started. I’m also on Twitter (@MMLipinski), and will attend all the major conferences in my areas virtually (for now) and in-person once it’s possible. I welcome quick queries introducing yourself and your research.