Donna Shear – University of Nebraska Press

More than anything else, we believe it is the people who make publishing. On the blog, we’re taking the opportunity to really get to know those who make our partner AUPs what they are by asking them to write about a Day in their Life for us. Next up, Donna Shear, Director of University of Nebraska Press

Friday, 18th January 2019

One of the things I love about my job is that no day is the same. So when the folks at CAP asked me to talk about a day in the life of Nebraska Director Donna Shear, I thought it would be fun to look back on this week and see what one of the days looked like.

Tuesday, January 15 was an interesting day. My editor in chief had told me the Friday before that she had been chosen to be director at another press and that she was leaving in a few weeks. So I started off the morning trying to figure out how to strategize in the short term (I asked a senior editor to serve as interim editor in chief) but even more important, to give some thought to 1) when I wanted to open a search and how, and 2) what did we want to look for in a new editor in chief? Our current EIC has been absolutely the right person at the right time and we’ll miss her terribly. But over my almost three decades of being in management I’ve learned to see every staff departure not as a door closing, but as an opportunity. I mulled over some ideas, talked with others on my management team, let my boss know of my EIC’s impending departure, and generally started formulating a plan. 

Then my meetings for the day began. I have a lot of meetings weekly. Contrary to others, I am a big fan of meetings. I think you get more accomplished face to face and I think managers shouldn’t be hiding in their offices all day. So on Tuesday mornings we have what we affectionately call D2P (Decision to Publish). This meeting involves all the acquisitions editors, the EIC, the marketing manager, the publicity manager, and myself. Editors introduce the proposals we’re considering (the D2P memo for a project usually includes title, author, imprint, action sought, features, strategy notes, peer review notes, if it’s already gone for peer review, proposed advance and royalties, a description of the project, audience, selling points, competitive titles, author sales track, also of interest, and a P&L.) This is the opportunity for us to decide whether we want to proceed with a project, what marketing thinks its potential is, whether we think it can priced well, etc. It’s rare that we nix a project at this stage (by the time an editor brings a project to D2P he/she has already done much of this vetting), but we do often change sales projections, pricing, proposed title, marketing strategy, and other items. It’s a good meeting particularly since, when the finished manuscript has passed peer review and is heading to our faculty press board, we’re familiar with it.

On Tuesdays I have a weekly meeting with my Digital Assets/IT Manager. I meet with each of my direct reports either weekly or bi-weekly (their preference). It’s their time to bring me up to date on what’s been going on and for me to bring up things I’ve been meaning to ask about. I have an open door policy so people don’t have to wait for their meetings, but it’s nice to know that this is their time and they have my attention.

We’re working on so many projects that involve my digital assets manager! At this meeting we discussed among other things: an upgrade to our press-wide database, the status of metadata for a small press we’re acquiring, a meeting we’d had with our campus library about an open access strategy, and issues with our new journals website development. We discussed next steps for all four items.

After this meeting, I needed to make sure I did some prep for our Thursday all-staff meeting (we try to have an all-staff meeting monthly) and for a Friday excursion to visit some donors and potential donors. I work best under deadline but I may have put off prepping for the staff meeting a little too long.

Next meeting: Press Advisory Board. Our faculty board meets every other month and this Tuesday was the meeting. We had nine projects on the docket. We operate on a consent agenda so six of the projects passed without discussion. The other three were discussed, editors were asked questions about the projects, etc., but in the end, the faculty members were satisfied with the answers and all three projects were voted upon favorably. Our EIC broke the news of her departure; the faculty were disappointed to hear about it. 

January 15 was also the Chancellor’s State of the University address, one made more poignant because 2019 is the start of the university’s sesquicentennial year (150th). The Press had managed, through the herculean efforts of our staff, to produce a full-color book marking this important year. Dear Old Nebraska U: Celebrating 150 Years was one of the things that the Chancellor would be highlighting in his address. My assistant director and I went over to campus to be in the audience for the address; the rest of the staff elected to watch it being live streamed. 

The Chancellor gave a nice plug for the book and thanked the Press. It truly was an amazing feat—despite my warnings to his Chief of Staff over the past three years that books take time, I didn’t get the go-ahead from the Chancellor’s office until late fall of 2017. The first writer we hired was not up to the job and in February 2018 we switched writers. So we went from a completely unwritten book to a finished, beautifully designed, four-color book in nine months—150 years in 150 items, events, and people. There are actually 152 entries, but don’t tell anybody…

The speech lasted over an hour and then there was a little reception, complete with the unveiling of a new ice cream flavor in honor of the university’s 150th; the university has a Dairy Store that makes and sells ice cream. This flavor (dubbed Nifty 150) had little red candies in it as well as some pretty good chocolate rippling. Excellent! And what a way to end the day—a plug for our new book and an ice cream cone. Now that doesn’t happen every day…

Donna Shear is Director of the University of Nebraska Press. She came to the Press in 2009 from Northwestern University Press, where she was CFO and associate director before becoming director in 2002. Prior to that she was marketing director at the Jewish Publication Society.