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Liz Fathman

Director of Print and Digital Media, Missouri Botanical Garden

Liz FathmanPlease tell us a bit about yourself (e.g. hometown, current locale, course of study).

I am from St. Louis originally, and although I have lived other places, I wound up back here where I currently work as the Director of Print and Digital Media at the Missouri Botanical Garden. I got my BA in anthropology from Grinnell College and my PhD in anthropology from the University of Virginia. I see myself as more of a generalist, though, and use anthropology as the lens through which I view the world.

Describe some of your current responsibilities, and what type of organization you belong to.

The Missouri Botanical Garden is a public botanical garden founded in 1859. We have a robust research and conservation program, and we are also a local cultural and educational attraction. My current role spans them both. I direct the content development and creative services for the public-facing side, including the website, social media, all print publications and collateral. I also am the publisher at the MBG Press, an internal division (like a university press) which publishes 2 quarterly peer-reviewed journals, a monograph series, and a number of books. I assumed the second set of responsibilities in January of 2016, and have been working on establishing more order to the journal publishing operation as well as evaluating our book publishing program.

What was your first scholarly publishing role? How did you get that job? What path led to your current position?

My first role in scholarly publishing was as a journal copyeditor at what was then Mosby Publishing (now owned by Elsevier). I had been teaching developmental English at a local community college, so my grammar skills were well honed and I aced the editing test. When I came in for my interview, one of the hiring managers had grown up in the house I was living in, so we forged this instant connection. (Much later, when I started at the Garden, one of the designers on my team was then living in that same house!) At the time I was working on my dissertation, and needed some source of income, so I took the position at Mosby thinking it would be fairly short-lived. I moved into a production editor position on the book side of the business after 6 months, and after a year or so, realizing that academic positions were scarce, I decided to make publishing my career. From there I moved into editorial as a developmental editor, then a marketing manager, then an acquisitions editor. I acquired books and media in primary care medicine, pediatrics, and dermatology for a few years. One of my key acquisitions was the first edition of Ferris’s Clinical Advisor. During that time Harcourt Brace, which owned WB Saunders, bought Mosby Health Sciences, and I was one of two editors from the medical editorial group who survived that merger. I stayed in medical editorial for a while before moving into a more senior role in veterinary medicine, where I managed revisions of Ettinger and Feldman’s Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine and signed the first edition of Clinical Veterinary Advisor (Cote), among other best-selling titles. However, after a while the demands for revenue generation on every title became exhausting, and I thought that there were a lot of worthy titles that we had to pass on because they didn’t meet financial hurdles, so I jumped ship and took a position as a teaching assistant professor of anthropology at St. Louis University. Among the many delights of that position was being on the receiving end of the efforts of scholarly publishers, principally textbook publishers. I still have shelves of comp copies that were so freely given (at the time anyway, not sure if that is still the case). Five years later the publications position opened up at the Garden, and I decided to get back into this business. So here I am, mixing my experience with production, marketing, and editorial in a position that covers them all.

If there was a pivotal moment or key person in your career development, please describe briefly.

I think it would be the point at which I realized at Mosby that publishing could actually be my career, not just my job.

What tools, web sites and organizations do you find most valuable for your career development?

I use Lynda.com a lot to learn specific skills. I joined SSP and CSE this year, and have found them both to be quite helpful in thinking about both the business of scholarly publishing and the technical aspects of it. I also have found the AAUP business handbook online (http://tinyurl.com/zgz6by5) really helpful for the business aspects of running a small scholarly press.

What are some of the surprises/obstacles that you’ve encountered during your career?

I think one of the biggest obstacles in scholarly publishing is the assumption (which I have encountered more than a few times) that publishing and communications are easy and that anyone can do them. What I mean is that I think some of the authors I have worked with think publishing a book or article requires little effort on the part of the press, that copyediting is a matter of opinion (so why not just use the manuscript as is?), and that if a book does not sell well, it’s all because there was not enough marketing done.

What do you wish you knew more about?

Although I started my career in journal publishing, I moved into the book side fairly quickly and stayed there. Now that I am responsible for 2 journals, I wish I knew more about (and was able to keep up with) all the changes in journal publishing: open access (and levels of OA), impact factors, discoverability, DOIs, etc. that have arisen in tandem with the dominance of the internet.

What advice would you give to people interested in a career in scholarly communications?

My advice to anyone interested in scholarly publishing is to not shy away from positions you think are peripheral to becoming an editor or a publisher. Having production and/or marketing experience is really helpful, and being more well-rounded can give you a better perspective on your overall publishing program. Having some knowledge of digital media is also a huge asset as more and more publishers get into digital delivery and rich media enhancements. Understanding social media is also valuable as a tool both for promotion of your titles and also for engaging others in a larger discussion of the topic(s) of your publications.