In this edition of our UC Press Editor Spotlight Series, we sat down with Editorial Director Kim Robinson to discuss the role of an editorial director, how UC Press is addressing DEI within our editorial strategy, and what kinds of projects she’s interested in for the geography and urban studies list. Read on to learn how you can connect with Kim.
Kim Robinson is the Editorial Director of University of California Press. Before stepping into that role, she was Social Sciences Publisher and regional editor at UC Press. A few of Kim’s UC Press acquisitions include A People’s Guide to Los Angeles, California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It, and the launch of Boom: A Journal of California. Before joining UC Press in 2009, she spent eight years at Oxford University Press in New York both as music editor and editorial director of the scholarly reference group. As music editor, she shepherded award-winning titles across musicology, music theory, ethnomusicology and jazz. In the reference group, she oversaw the editorial program for Grove Art, Grove Music, and many other print and digital publications in a variety of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. A product of the UC system, Kim received a B.A. in English from UC Santa Barbara. Previous to her career in publishing, she spent a decade working for nonprofit organizations and foundations focused on the environment and equal access to information and technology.
What is your favorite part of being Editorial Director at UC Press, and how does the role differ from being an acquisitions editor?
Each Sunday evening, I prepare for our weekly publications meeting by reading through proposals and packets prepared by the editors for potential new book projects. I love this part of my job! I’m a generalist, and it’s such a privilege to explore so many different topics told from so many different disciplines. I think this is also a key role of an editorial director — to bring that “non-expert,” big-picture, interdisciplinary view to discussions. I’m a little more removed from each discipline than the acquisitions editors, who become deeply immersed in the community of scholars they work with. I feel extremely fortunate to work with such an amazing group of creative and passionate editors, partnering with them as they think through strategies for the lists.
What do you think stands out about the UC Press list?
UC Press has an explicit, progressive mission that lies at the heart of everything we do. Related to this is one of our other hallmarks—the interdisciplinary nature of our program. The issues we want to tackle or explore as a society are complex and require different disciplines to weigh in. Our authors often don’t just represent different disciplines, but seek to speak across disciplines as well. The environment is a great example—we’re not going to solve the climate crisis just with science. Scientists have known about climate change for a long time. Solutions have to involve humanists and social scientists and require a conversation between all those areas of expertise. We might draw on those various areas of expertise during the peer review process, and we work closely with scholars to navigate that territory.
What is your approach to our Geography list and what type of projects are you looking for?
I’m excited to build on my interest in geography and the press’s strength in this area. When I first joined the press, I was the regional editor and acquired books about California and the West. This built on my existing interest in place and how place is a key part of understanding larger issues. Across the press, we’ve always published geographers; human and critical geographers are a highly interdisciplinary lot. They are involved in many of the conversations where we actively publish—on issues like food, water, race, immigration. As I build up the geography list, I’m particularly interested in Black geographies, Latinx geographies, queer geographies, urban geographies, and urban studies. My colleague, Stacy Eisenstark, also works with a lot of geographers as a part of the environmental studies list.
Can you tell us about The People’s Guide Series and how that came about?
I’m so proud of this series. Laura Pulido, Laura Barraclough, and Wendy Cheng came to the press with the idea of turning the traditional format of a tourist guidebook on its head. Rather than highlight the standard glitzy tourist spots, the book would focus on stories of struggle and resistance in everyday landscapes. I loved the idea, and we started working to create the first book on Los Angeles. The guide garnered great publicity and we saw instructors using it in cities outside of LA because the approach was so interesting. We saw the potential to replicate it in other cities, and the LA authors came on board to co-edit a series modeled on their guide. We now have guides published on Greater Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area, and guides underway for New York City; New Orleans; Nashville; Orange County, CA; and Richmond, VA.
How does UC Press’ editorial strategy incorporate thinking around diversity, equity, and inclusion?
At UC Press, we have a progressive, social justice-oriented mission. I strongly believe that we cannot fulfill this mission without publishing a diverse set of voices. We recognize that this is ongoing work that we need to regularly affirm our commitment to. Our editorial staff aims to infuse this throughout our work in several ways:
- Benchmarking. We’ve been surveying our peer reviewers in terms of diversity for over a year now. We’re now working to interpret that data so we can better understand the diversity of our pool of peer reviewers and possibly refine our survey tool. We’re also just starting to work on benchmarking where we are in terms of diversity of our author pool in each discipline.
- Setting goals by discipline. We are working to set goals by discipline, asking what diversity means for each list and what strategies and approaches each editor should engage.
- Diversifying advisors. Editors regularly tap an informal network of experts to hear about what is exciting in the field. Over the past several years, editors have started reviewing their advisory pool annually, as they create their editorial list strategy for the coming year. This is clearly an ongoing process, but having this annual checkpoint adds an explicit goal to take a fresh and critical look at this pool.
- Meet with a wide range of authors. All of our editors aim to meet scholars who represent diverse lived experiences, including but not limited to BIPOC, LGBTQ, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.
- Seek out young scholars. We especially seek out younger scholars, knowing that this is where the academy is more diverse. We aim to make ourselves accessible to junior scholars—through meetings, presentations, email—even if their project ultimately doesn’t come to us.
- Beyond representation. In addition, we regularly think through what types of support might be most useful for authors. The goal isn’t just “let’s sign more diverse authors.” We want them to have an experience at the press that is tangibly supportive. On this front, we’re all very excited about how our FirstGen Scholars Program is shaping up.
Speaking of our FirstGen Scholars Program, how does it relate to your own background?
I’m a first-generation college student and a UC graduate. Attending a UC made an enormous difference in the trajectory of my life. But attending and graduating didn’t necessarily make me feel like I always belonged. I’m familiar with the feeling of not quite fitting in or doubting my own expertise or view. I certainly never thought I would work at an elite university press. Finding yourself in a place that is a mismatch with expectations can be very alienating.
We’re launching our FirstGen program to help scholars that may have some of those same feelings and experiences navigating the academy and academic publishing. Anything we can do to provide more tools, services, and resources—and just be accessible to scholars in a similar position—that’s super exciting to me.
What advice do you often find yourself giving to book authors?
I’m a strong believer in the book proposal (see the UC Press guidelines on book proposals here). Even if you have a full manuscript, completing the proposal is an enormously useful exercise for strengthening your own thinking about a project. For instance, stepping away from the manuscript and summarizing the chapters means you have to think about the whole arc of the argument and how it holds together as a piece.
The proposal also helps authors think through important issues like who they want to read their book and what they want them to do once they’ve read it. And thinking through the competition for a project helps spell out not what books your book would replace, but what other books you are in dialogue with.
It’s important to remember that the audience for the proposal isn’t just the acquisitions editor. For each project, editors must talk about it with marketing, sales, and publicity. And then those teams have to talk about it to others, such as journal editors or conference attendees or external sales representatives. At each of those steps, the proposal provides the press with an invaluable sense of the book .
What’s a hobby or pastime that’s gotten you through the pandemic?
I have two teenage daughters, so they’ve been my treasured company during the pandemic. We’ve tried to find shows to distract us that we can all agree on—a challenge! During the most recent lockdown, I convinced my guitar-playing daughter to learn a song that I can sing along to. Let’s just say it’s a bit outside of her normal repertoire. But I love to sing (karaoke? yes!), so this has been especially fun. And there’s our beloved dog, Zada. Regular long walks with her have been my salvation.
How can potential authors get in touch with you?
Definitely feel free to reach out via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to review an idea or proposal, guide folks to the right editor if it’s not clear who they should be in touch with, or just answer questions about the process.