Publishing for Scholars Zoom Panels at Columbia University

A three-week Zoom course for grad school students, introducing them to publishing as a way to disseminate ideas, activate an audience, and build their careers.

    Desired Outcomes:
    Attendees will walk away with a clear sense of

  1. Who Reads in America – Demographics, Market Opportunity
  2. Basic stats on the nonfiction book market in the US
  3. Books as consumer products, fulfilling specific needs
  4. Understanding of key industry terms and practices
  5. The array of nonfiction genres and their relative desirability to publishers
  6. The difference between an agent and an editor
  7. How to format proposal outlines (or find formatting info)
  8. How to find and pitch an agent

Part 1: Who Reads in America? An Introduction to Nonfiction Books

Thursday, March 9, 2023 | 6–7:30 PM
YouTube link:

Kristen McLean, a leader at BookScan, and Kevin O’Connor, founding director of The Center for Nonfiction, will share their insights on the publishing industry and how books can meet the emotional needs of readers across demographics. This event is part of the Graduate Initiative for Inclusion and Engagement in partnership with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Audience: Aspiring writers, those thinking of careers in publishing and media, educators interested in adult literacy, readers interested in how books get chosen to be released, dataheads.

Description: To be a successful writer, you need to understand the audience. Part one of a three-part zoom series, this talk features Kristen McLean who runs analysis and business development for BookScan – the publishing industry database tracking 85% of book sales to consumers. We’ll talk about generational reading habits, nonfiction versus fiction sales, preferred formats (print, eBook, audio), and genre trends coming out of the pandemic. The focus will be on books as consumer products, meeting emotional needs across different reader demographics.

Guest: Kristen McLean is the Executive Director of Business Development and the primary Industry Analyst at The NPD Group, the team behind NPD BookScan. Kristen is a publishing-industry expert with more than twenty-five years experience in a wide variety of business roles including frontline retail, marketing, sales, and research. Understanding how books relate to consumer behavior and cross-category entertainment behavior are two of her particular interests. She works at a high level with NPD’s publishing, media, retail, and toy clients to help them understand the opportunities in today’s rapidly evolving content environment.

Part 2: The Academic Publishing Process

Thursday, March 23, 2023 | 6–7:30 PM
YouTube link:
Audience: Masters and PhD students in the sciences and humanities.

Description: In part two of our three-part series on publishing, we explore the landscape of university presses. Key topics are understanding different type of academic books: monographs, textbooks, and projects that cross-over to the trade market. We talk about how to find the potential presses and editors, what editors are looking for in proposal and manuscript, and how the peer-review process works. Guests include: Laura Davulis, acquisitions editor at the University of North Carolina Press; Alejandra Mejia, assistant editor at Duke University Press; and Stephen Wesley, editor, American history and politics at Columbia University Press. Moderated by Kevin O’Connor.

Laura Davulis acquisitions editor, University of North Carolina Press. Laura acquires books for both academic and general audiences in American history, with a particular focus on African-American history, Indigenous history, early America, religious history, and Civil War and Reconstruction. She also seeks current events books for a general audience: books that analyze some major problem and, ideally, propose a solution.
Alejandra Mejía is an Assistant Editor at Duke University Press where she acquires books in Latinx history. She has contributed to various equity and inclusion efforts across the academic publishing industry, including serving as co-lead of the Antiracism Toolkit for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in Scholarly Publishing, hosted by C4DISC (the Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communications). Alejandra holds a BA in Comparative Literature with a concentration in Latinx studies from Williams College.
Stephen Wesley is the editor for American history and American politics at Columbia University Press.

Part 3: Trade Publishing: What Editors and Agents are Looking for in Narrative Nonfiction

Thursday, March 30, 2023, 6-7:30 PM
YouTube link:
Audience: Open to all
Description: An Introduction to trade publishing from ideation, to agent-pitching, to getting a deal.
Naomi Eisenbeiss, agent, Inkwell Management
Pronoy Sarkar, senior editor, Little, Brown
Makayla Tabron, editorial assistant, HC’s Amistad
Naomi Eisenbeiss joined Inkwell Management in 2018. Born in Houston to Japanese–German parents, Naomi graduated with a double-bachelor in Political Science from Sciences Po in Nancy, France and Freie University in Berlin, Germany. Prior to Inkwell, she spent three years as Manager of the Shanghai International Literary Festival in China. She speaks English, Japanese, German and conversational French and Mandarin. She enjoys cooking and is passionate about literary fiction, upmarket women’s fiction, and narrative non-fiction.
Pronoy Sarkar, senior editor at Little, Brown, acquires bold, ambitious, and conversation-shifting projects across a range of areas. Previously he was an editor at St. Martin’s Press and has worked at Picador and Simon & Schuster.
Makayla Tabron is an editorial assistant at Amistad, HarperCollins. She is a recent graduate of Howard University where she earned her BA in English and Political Science. In addition to her work at Amistad, Makayla is currently pursuing a MA in English and American Literature at New York University. Though she is not acquiring yet, Makayla has assisted on a number of projects thus far that have shaped her interests. Generally, she is drawn to works that focus on social justice – particularly prison reform – and issues of race, gender, and class, but she is always discovering new topics that pique her interest.