People of the Press: Lorri Hagman

Lorri Hagman, executive editor, acquisitions

Long before books become books at the Press, they have to be found.

That’s where Lorri Hagman comes in.

Much of her job involves patiently hunting for authors and their research, reading their manuscripts, going to conferences and generally keeping the academic pulse of fields as wide-ranging as history, art, anthropology, and literature.

As an acquiring editor, careful cultivation of relationships with both up-and-coming and established scholars pays off in the development of innovative, boundary-pushing book projects that are sometimes “way out in the future,” she says. She also works with authors who are in the midst of preparing manuscripts for submission to the Press, guiding them through the rigorous academic-review process, and helping them implement preliminary edits and other changes.

But with her future-focused mission, she faces an old tension found at all academic presses: finding books that will sell while also developing the best academic books on any given topic.

Hagman is no stranger to this challenge.

As a graduate student in the Institute for Comparative and Foreign Area Studies program, which would evolve into the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, and the Asian Languages and Literature Department, Hagman was studying traditional Chinese fiction when she got her first start in the field of academic publishing.

It was 1977, and she was also a student assistant at the Press. Soon, she was offered a position as a promotion assistant. Through the 1980s and early 1990s, Hagman worked for the marketing team part-time as the Press’ publicity manager. In 1994, she moved to the editorial side of the house.

“I had always been more interested in the editorial side, and while I was working half-time . . . had started doing freelance editing for other presses,” she says. These included Princeton University Press, the Princeton Art Museum, The Feminist Press, Oklahoma University Press, and the University of Idaho Press. She specialized in books on China. These required familiarity with Chinese, still a rare skill among U.S. book publishers and their editors.

When her children were young, working at the Press part-time and freelance editing helped her master copy editing and make some supplementary income, honing her skills in the process.

“This was in the days of green-pencil-on-paper copyediting,” she says. “I also did a few indexes on file cards in shoe boxes—Word hadn’t been invented yet—to see how it was done.”

In the 1980s, the Press didn’t have much turnover in its editorial staff—editors tended to stay on for long careers. But the Press’ director at the time, Don Ellegood, and Pat Soden, the marketing manager, thought Hagman would be a great fit for the editorial department. Hagman “was happy to migrate,” she says, and eventually increased to a full-time position.

Along the way, she’s seen the Press go through several major changes in location and personnel, as well as an increasingly trade-driven, profit-based model. With new pressures and competition, however, the role of an acquiring editor for an academic press remains pivotal, she says.

In “Monographs Adrift,” a 2010 essay reflecting on the changing academic-book marketplace, Hagman articulated some of the challenges involved in that delicate balancing act:

If monograph publication is to survive, academic tenure and promotion practices must be realigned with real-world business models, recognizing that publication isn’t free, or an end in itself. The academy—meaning academic authors themselves, along with department chairs, deans, and administrators who set policy—must either align publication practices with the marketplace or devise methods of routinely subsidizing publication in the way that other educational processes are supported. Publication should be reserved for content and formats that require distribution beyond a small circle of experts.

Ultimately, she says, “the long-range idea is that good books will bring in more good books.” Among these “good books” that she’s been most proud of recently are:

Claudia Brown’s Great Qing: Painting in China, 1644-1911, which is, she says, “the first comprehensive treatment of painting in China’s last dynasty.”

Michael Nylan and Griet Vankeerberghen’s Chang’an 26 BCE: An Augustan Age in China. Nylan and Vankeerberghen are the editors of the “first book-length study in a Western language of the ancient city of Chang’an, the capital of the Western Han dynasty (206 BCE-9 CE), which equaled Rome and Alexandria in achievements and influence.”

These are major contributions to China studies, she says.

But long before they went through the other parts of the Press, they were cultivated by her and the other acquisition editors. She reads them in hard copy or on her iPad, on the bus or plane, the latter on the way to conferences as part of her search for new authors. Hagman and her colleagues in the acquisitions department are, in many ways, the eyes and ears of the Press, thinking about what and who it’ll publish next.

Ultimately, she says, “my favorite parts of the job are reading the manuscripts and working with authors.”

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