This post of part of our UC Press Editor Spotlight Series.

For this year’s virtual American Association of Geographers conference and the Environmental History Association’s Environmental History Week, we connected with UC Press Environmental Studies Editor Stacy Eisenstark to talk about our program and what new projects she’s most excited about. Stacy also shares how she became an editor, some publishing advice for junior scholars, and the unexpected comfort of horror movies during the pandemic.

Read on or watch the video below to learn how to connect with Stacy.

How did you become an editor at UC Press? Tell us more about your background.

Like most people in publishing, I’ve always loved just being around books. A s an undergrad at UC Berkeley, I was a work-study at the Ethnic Studies Library on campus and briefly considered being a librarian. But I didn’t know that I could have a job making books until I took an upper-division history seminar on the Weimar Republic. The professor was a series editor for UC Press’s Weimar and Now series and included many of these books on his syllabi. Before then, I don’t remember considering where my books came from. In pursuit of learning more about publishing, I started as an unpaid summer intern at UC Press. With encouragement from press colleagues and fortunate timing, that turned into a full-time editorial assistant position.

As an editorial assistant, I had the opportunity to work with editors on a range of subject areas, but it was getting to work on the Field Guide to the Spiders of California and the Pacific Coast where I discovered that I really liked natural science publishing. The passion the authors brought to spiders made me see these animals differently—up to then my primary reaction to seeing a spider was mild panic.

In 2016, I became the natural science editor at Texas A&M University Press, where I learned a lot about the natural sciences and got to work with different types of authors to develop nature photography books, field guides, and land management texts.

I returned to UC Press in 2018 to be the environmental studies editor. I’m from California, so I was excited to come home and to be back at UC Press. Because the list here is so interdisciplinary, I’m thrilled that I get to combine my interests in social sciences and humanities with what I’ve learned as a natural science editor. I love environmental studies because the problems we are facing require collaboration across disciplines, and I’m particularly interested in authors whose books are in conversation with disciplines outside of their own. As someone who developed an appreciation for nature as an adult, I like working on books that spread that joy, and I want to convert more people to a love of spiders!

What do you find most exciting about your fields right now?

I’m still in the early stages of developing the list—it takes a few years to feel like you’ve “arrived” as an editor because of the time it takes for books to be written, developed, and ultimately published. I’m also still learning more and more about enviro fields, and I love that I get to talk with people from a range of disciplines. On the social sciences and humanities side, I work with environmental geographers, sociologists, anthropologists, and historians. On the sciences side, I primarily work with ecologists and conservation biologists. Across these disciplines, I’m excited about and interested in projects that examine the intersection of environment and society, particularly the ways that environment is inextricably entwined with race, gender, health, and class, such as Energy Islands by Catalina M. de Onís and America’s Largest Classroom edited by Jessica L. Thompson and Ana Houseal.

I’m also excited about the potential to reach readers outside of the academy. When we hear about the environment, the news is often bleak, and that tends to deter readers. That is why my goal for the environmental studies list is to publish books that not only identify pressing environmental issues, but offer applicable paths forward for addressing these problems. The Field Guide to Climate Anxiety by Sarah Jacquette Ray, a book that I signed and am proud of, is a great example of this kind of non-specialist environment book.

“Across these disciplines, I’m interested in projects that examine the intersection of environment and society, particularly the ways that environment is inextricably entwined with race, gender, health, and class.”

Stacy Eisenstark

What is some common advice that you give to junior scholars hoping to turn their dissertation into a book?

I enjoy working with first time authors because it’s a unique opportunity to make publishing feel like a welcoming and pleasant experience. You’ll interact with a lot of people at a press, but your editor—and the editorial assistant—will, ideally, be a reliable source for information and guidance.

Here are some of my go-to tips for early career scholars:

  • No one writes their dissertation as a book. The audiences are too different. A dissertation must satisfy your particular committee. Your book should be much broader so as to reach beyond your specific subfield.
  • Who are you writing for? Books can reach more than one field, but identify a primary readership. This will help when you get stuck and need to make tough choices about what to include and what to cut from your manuscript.
  • You are the expert now! Your framing, content, and writing style should reflect that.
  • Before contacting editors with your book idea, complete the bulk (at least 60%) of your revisions.
  • Your introduction should foreground your argument—say what that is clearly and early on—and your unique contribution. What impact do you want this book to have?
  • The introduction is the most reworked part of books, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it perfect on the first draft.

How do you approach diversity and equity with our authors, as well as supporting junior and first gen authors?

When Cutcha Risling Baldy spoke at last year’s annual meeting for AUPresses (the Association for University Publishers) she asked the audience, “do we really need another book about Andrew Jackson?” She was challenging us to ask ourselves: Whose lives and voices are we prioritizing? I keep this question in mind as I review proposals, reach out to potential authors, and build relationships with academic advisors. It is my responsibility to educate myself and to evaluate my approaches to publishing to make sure that I’m not being narrow or exclusionary and to learn how I can support calls for change, especially around diversity.

I’ve found that one of the best ways I can support early career and first gen authors is by reaching out to them. I love talking with people one-on-one about their work—it’s probably my favorite part of my job. And I also enjoy giving publishing talks, especially ones with graduate students, usually for a professionalization seminar. I often tailor these presentations to focus on how to get published or how to begin a career in publishing.

What’s something people don’t know about you?

This pandemic year has led me to a surprising obsession: watching horror movies.

Right now, my favorites are John Carpenter’s The Thing, Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, and James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence. All three ratchet up the paranoia, as you never know what to believe or who to trust. The plot of The Thing – something is infecting the men at a research base and there is no way of knowing who is a “Thing” and who is not – is a bit on the nose for our times. Meanwhile, The Invitation and Coherence both take place at dinner parties, and before the horror even kicks in, you want to leave because of the unspoken tension and passive aggressive comments between the guests. These movies definitely helped me not miss dinner parties.

In any case, my horror movie deep dive provided an outlet for my anxieties and an alternative to screaming into my pillow over the last year. A recent study found that horror fans seemed to show “fewer symptoms of psychological distress” during the pandemic. I’m not sure that I am actually coping better than others, but the horror genre seems perfectly made to dissect and come to grips with fears and anxieties. I can talk at length with people about the layers of horror subgenres and what is and isn’t “horror.”

How can potential authors get in touch with you?

If you’re interested in connecting, whether it’s to pitch your next book idea or just talk about your work, you can send me an email at seisenstark@ucpress.edu.

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