As part of our ongoing Editor Spotlight Series, we connected with UC Press Executive Editor Maura Roessner to talk about her Criminology, Law, and Society program, and how she spots the right projects and authors. Maura also shares details about how she became an editor and advice for authors who want to reach a wider, public audience.
Read on and watch the video below to find out more about what Maura is looking for and how to connect.
How did you become an editor at UC Press? Tell us more about your background.
I was an English major who worked at the campus library and had an internship at Penn State Press. I figured that I would work with books one way or another. I loved both jobs, and have a special place in my heart for librarians, but really found my place and people in publishing. The internship was great exposure to all corners of the press: it was a small enough office that in one day, I could read through the submission pile, draft catalog copy, and drive the forklift in the warehouse!
My first job after college was as an editorial assistant at Princeton University Press (publishing fact: EAs run the whole operation). I then moved to Oxford University Press to become an assistant editor, assumed responsibility for the social work program, and spent nearly a decade there building up the list with a focus on professional references, textbooks, and monographs. In a small-publishing-world connection, my predecessor at Oxford is now my editorial director at California!
I joined UC Press in 2011 to launch a list in criminology, law, and society. It was a dream job: to start a new list from scratch, to work within my communities to build a real center of gravity for knowledge and action. And it’s still a dream job. The authors and colleagues I work with are so brilliant, creative, and passionate and they inspire me every day.
How has your approach to your list evolved over time? What types of projects are you looking for?
Very broadly speaking, my lists are focused on how the law shapes and constrains opportunity in the world and what justice means for different people and communities. We have deep strengths in criminology, in law & society, and in criminal law. I’m expanding and developing much more work across subfields of law that engages with the same core issues that our press-wide editorial program emphasizes — like race, gender, labor, health, technology, and the environment.
I’m particularly interested in acquiring academic and trade books that challenge paradigms and contend with urgent social issues, and I’m always looking to partner with emerging and underrepresented voices and scholar-activists. The sorts of authors who fit well on my list seek to not only diagnose the structural inequalities that define our social systems, but to propose solutions that can help dismantle them. As with so much of the UC Press editorial program, I’m constantly thinking about how we can leverage rigorous scholarship to spark change in the world.
Many of my authors, for example, advocate for the reform or abolition of the criminal justice system, such as Leigh Goodmark in Decriminalizing Domestic Violence, Jessica Henry in Smoke but No Fire, or Brandon Garrett in Autopsy of a Crime Lab. Others provoke new ways of thinking about justice and how to achieve it, such as Aya Gruber in The Feminist War on Crime, Ruth Colker in The Public Insult Playbook, or Andrea Boyles in You Can’t Stop the Revolution.
Other authors challenge the outmoded ways that many criminology courses are taught. Books like Shelly Clevenger & Jordana Navarro’s Gendering Criminology, Matthew Valasik & Shannon Reid’s Alt-Right Gangs, or Phil Stinson’s Criminology Explains Police Violence offer students and instructors fresh new tools for engaging with course content with critical perspectives.
I’m also excited about launching a number of new series, such as Race, Labor Migration, and the Law (edited by Robyn Rodriguez and Leticia Saucedo); Sex, Law, and Society in the 21st Century (edited by Michele Goodwin); and Criminology Explains (edited by Robert Brooks and Jeff Cohen)—all of which are actively soliciting submissions!
What advice do you have for authors who want to reach a wider, public audience?
Having a clear purpose about why your book is essential, and for whom, helps drive your book’s development from the very beginning. You want to start by really defining who your audience is, and then write every page for that sort of readership. Basically: What’s your argument, who is your intended reader, why are they going to spend money to engage with your argument, and what would you like them to do after reading your book?
I think it’s helpful to remember that “audience” is an infinitely variable category. There’s no one giant “general readership,” but rather a series of reader types that you identify, maybe identify with. So who are the ideal readers for your book? What will they bring to it in terms of expectations, experiences, and expertise? You can give these hypothetical readers shape and texture by outlining their other habits. What magazines, blogs, or websites do they peruse? What podcasts do they listen to? What’s on their bookshelves or in their Amazon recommendations? What social media tags and groups do they follow? Are there events or conferences they participate in? Memberships they belong to? What sorts of politics or identities do they bring? The better you understand your readers, the better you can write for them, and the more easily you can reach them. By painting a clear picture of the market….you’re starting to think about marketing!
And that’s great news, because authors are some of the most valuable members of the marketing team. You will always be your book’s best advocate, so it’s essential that you bring an understanding of the marketplace of your competitors and readers, and also an ability to reach those readers —what publishers call your platform. Building your brand as an academic and even a public intellectual starts long before the book is published, because your platform is about more than just a book. It’s about positioning yourself as a thought leader, as someone embedded in communities that want to hear your take on a given issue. You want to think not just about getting published, but getting read across a wide variety of outlets, and recognized for your contributions to scholarship and the public discourse. The idea overall is that you are generating attention for your work and building an eventual audience for your book well before it’s live out in the world.
What’s something surprising people don’t know about you?
This is not surprising, but I bring my authentic crazy cat lady self fully to work. Have a powerpoint presentation to give? Fill it with cats, and make them large! Boss sends you an email wanting to know how that spreadsheet’s coming along? Send her a customized Grumpy Cat meme telling her which litter box she can find it in! Have a proposal to submit? Make sure to include a section on your favorite cats! OK, I might be kidding about that, and you should feel free to get in touch about cat-free book pitches using the links below.
How can authors get in touch with you?
You can drop me a brief inquiry or submit a formal proposal any time at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find me on Twitter @Maura_R. And I’m excited for the conference circuit to return to some semblance of normal so I can see you all in person, but in the meantime, I’m usually available for virtual exhibit appointments.