The University of Washington Press announces the retirement of longtime executive editor Lorri Hagman, whose last day in the office will be Friday, May 19.
Lorri has acquired books in Asian studies, anthropology, and environmental studies for UW Press since 1994. She began her publishing career as a student assistant at the press in 1977 while completing graduate work in Asian studies at the University of Washington. From 1980 to 1994, she worked for the marketing team part-time as the press’s publicity manager while also freelance editing scholarly books for other presses, including Princeton University Press, the Princeton Art Museum, and The Feminist Press. She specialized in books on China, which required Chinese language skills rare among editors in the US.
In 1994 Lorri became a full-time editor at UW Press. She was promoted to acquisitions editor in 2003, to senior editor in 2006, and to executive editor in 2008, when she also led the acquisitions team.
Her graduate training in China studies has enabled her to cultivate relationships with a network of leading scholars at universities around the world who have become UW Press authors, peer reviewers, and series editors. Many of her books have received competitive, merit-based support from scholarly associations and foundations, such as the Luce Foundation, Association for Asian Studies, College Art Association, Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, Korea Foundation, Geiss-Hsu Foundation, and Metropolitan Center for Far Eastern Art Studies. The books she sponsors routinely receive top awards from scholarly associations and are favorably reviewed in the major scholarly journals in their fields.
Lorri has also handled or launched a number of acclaimed series at the press, including Culture, Place, and Nature; Studies on Ethnic Groups in China; Asian Law; Classics of Chinese Thought; Gandharan Buddhist Texts; Critical Dialogues in Southeast Asian Studies; Korean Studies of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies; Global South Asia; and Taiwan and the World.
Many of her books have emphasized social justice and environmental issues of ongoing national and international concern. Her work in Asian studies has included books on historical and contemporary East, South, and Southeast Asia that present the voices of Asian scholars; highlight traditionally underrepresented groups, such as women and minority ethnic communities; and correct biased Euro-American views. This last point remains especially important today as inaccurate and sometimes racist views of Asians and Asian Americans perpetuate injustice.
In an exchange over email, Lorri shared more about her remarkable career, including how she got her start in scholarly publishing, opportunities and challenges for acquiring editors, and some of the many memorable book projects she’s worked on over the years. The good news is that Lorri has agreed to continue lending her expertise at the press on select projects and we very much look forward to continuing to work with her.
What led you to pursue a career in academic publishing?
As a new graduate student in China studies at the UW in the late 1970s, I serendipitously landed a student assistant job as receptionist at UW Press. I considered it a dream job, as I had already read and admired some of the press’s publications in Asian studies and was thrilled to be able to communicate with authors and to see first-hand how manuscripts become books and how books then make their way to readers. I soon transitioned to a permanent position in marketing and also began doing freelance copyediting and indexing for other presses. My core interest was more on the editorial side of publishing, and in the mid-1990s I was able to move to the editorial department, where I began acquiring manuscripts.
What do you look for when deciding whether to move forward with a book project? How do you approach the development of a manuscript with an author?
When I learn about a new project, I first consider whether it has a subject that is inherently interesting and timely, appears to make a valuable contribution to its field, is written engagingly, and has an identifiable market. If that market is one in which our press has established channels, I evaluate samples and discuss the project with our in-house acquisitions team. As a project moves forward, I try to meet with the author in person (at an annual scholarly conference, for example), and for a volume that will be in a formal series, I confer with the academic series editor to ensure that we have similar goals. As I guide the author through the stages of peer review, revision, and preparation for copyediting, I urge the author to always keep in mind a diverse, multidisciplinary audience.
You’ve worked on an incredible number of books, many of which are award-winning and continue to find a wide readership. Can you share a few of the most memorable book projects you’ve worked on?
My favorite will always be Shuhui Yang and Yunqin Yang’s translation of the three-volume set of Ming dynasty (1368–1644) vernacular short stories by Feng Menglong, which began with Stories Old and New, a set of forty stories that resulted in an 825-page volume. Working on it wasn’t like work at all—immersing myself in the stories was like time-traveling back to seventeenth-century China. I’m confident that the three-volume set (which also includes Stories to Awaken the World and Stories to Caution the World) will have what publishers call a “long tail” of sales, remaining in print over decades, as new generations of readers discover Chinese literary classics.
A milestone translation of another sort is that of early China’s first narrative history, Zuo Tradition / Zuozhuan左傳: Commentary on the “Spring and Autumn Annals,“ the work of a team of scholars: Stephen Durrant, Wai-yee Li, and David Schaberg. Zuo Tradition, which was completed circa 300 BCE, is one of the core Chinese classical texts and was in need of a modern translation. Our 2,243-page publication is packaged as a three-volume boxed set and features facing pages of Chinese and English text, with extensive annotation and indexes. I first corresponded with the translators in 2003—after they had already worked together on it for a decade—and the book was finally published in 2016. At every stage the work was enormously complex, but the result was worth our investment, as the book won the Association for Asian Studies’ Hanan Book Prize for translation and, like the Ming stories mentioned above, should satisfy readers for at least a century—another long tail.
As you can see, I’m drawn to translations. I think reading translated literature is the best way of learning about other cultures, as it enables the reader to experience another place as an insider. If everyone read a translated novel each year, we would have a more harmonious world!
My favorite subjects include plants, animals, and food, among which an especially successful monograph is Jinghong Zhang’s Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic. This was another project that felt more like a vacation than work, as I traveled vicariously across mountainsides of tea plants in Southwest China, visited tea farmers and processors, and observed consumers in high-end Hong Kong teahouses. The author is also a filmmaker, and videos related to the book can be viewed via the book’s webpage, under “Links.” Her cinematographic skills, including sensory emphasis and a well-paced narrative, make this an enjoyable read. We had fun marketing this one, giving away packaged bags of puer tea that were stapled inside cards folded to open like little books, with the Puer Tea book cover on the front. The book won the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) Book Prize and is assigned as an undergraduate text.
So much of your work as an acquiring editor is focused on the future. What are some upcoming books you’re excited to have out in the world over the next couple of years?
Thank you for noticing that! Often, what others see of acquiring editors’ work is just the tip of the iceberg—the books that are already in production and scheduled for publication in the next season. Behind the scenes, there are hundreds of e-files with projects in all stages of development, some of which will go on to become successful books, and others that will fade away. I can’t mention authors and titles of works that haven’t been formally accepted and scheduled for publication, but topics of intriguing projects in various stages of development include bicycle culture in Mumbai; Tlingit cultural revival in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park; wine production in Tibetan communities; contemporary funerary practices in Singapore; resistance in Guatemala and Mexico to corporate agriculture’s attempts to control maize production; and the growing demand in China for locally sourced food.
Your academic background is in Asian studies, and you’ve been instrumental in establishing UW Press as an authoritative publisher in the field. How would you describe the relationship between an acquiring editor, with their own areas of scholarly expertise, and their publisher? How do you balance the tension between finding books that sell and developing worthwhile academic books?
Acquiring editors seek to maintain a balance between projects that come to them recommended by trusted experts, direct submissions by authors, and projects that the editor has herself sought out as part of a strategy to develop a formal series or informal list areas. We monitor and balance different measurements of success, such as copies sold per year, net income, subventions received, prizes won, reviews published in influential journals, and assignment in college classes. Some specialized monographs have modest sales, although their contribution to scholarship is substantial and their findings inform the content of later books that have a wider audience. As a nonprofit, self-sustaining publisher, UW Press looks for book projects whose sales will recover the cost of publication, but we recognize that the success of different books must be evaluated in different ways.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen within scholarly publishing? Are there ways you’ve adapted as an editor?
Over the last few decades, average sales per title have steadily declined, as have the number of independent bookstores and the percentage of library budgets dedicated to books (as opposed to journals, online databases, etc.), while the number of books published annually has increased. This adds up to ever-increasing competition among new books for media attention, shelf space, and consumer dollars. E-book sales have increased, but most of the expense of publishing is in developing it to the stage of publication and in other overhead, not in the cost of printing physical books, so publishing e-books doesn’t help much to recover the cost of a book’s publication. I’ve become more strict about controlling the length of manuscripts, both for economy throughout the publication process and for readability. On the bright side, a remarkable trend over the last decade or so is the growing interest of Chinese publishers in translating our monographs about China into Chinese. We’ve even had bidding wars for some titles, and foreign rights sales are becoming an increasingly valuable income stream.
What opportunities do you see for new editors in the field?
The glut of unreliable information circulating today makes peer-reviewed, properly documented publications more essential than ever, and scholars need help disseminating their work. Editors will always play a critical role in the cycle of knowledge production, albeit often an invisible one. As longtime UW Press managing editor Julidta Tarver used to say, “Good editing is conspicuous only by its absence.” Intellectually curious, detail-oriented, judicious people (i.e., editors) are needed to identify and develop manuscripts that address contemporary issues and make use of resources in new ways. Digital humanities, Open Access publication, and accessibility for visually impaired readers are a few areas of rapid development that are of relevance to editors.