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Academic Publishing on Film: A Conversation with Mary Rose Synek

Given Publishing Trendsetter’s mild fixation on the under-explored corners of book business, I was immediately intrigued when I heard about Mary Rose Synek. She’s an actor and filmmaker who’s worked on a variety of productions and projects, and is currently the Director of the Writing Institute at Armory College Prep. But the project that piqued my curiosity is her series of five short documentaries developed over the last five years. Her subject: behind the scenes of professional and scholarly publishing.

I spoke to Mary Rose Synek a few days after her fifth film debuted at the annual PROSE Awards Ceremony. Synek has made each film in celebration of the annual awards event, which is sponsored by the AAP to recognize excellence in professional and scholarly publishing. The film project came about as many creative projects do. A friend of hers, John Jenkins, is the President and Publisher Emeritus of CQ Press and also the chairman of the PROSE Awards.  He told Synek he thought it was high time some of the glamour of the Oscars made its way to professional and scholarly publishing. And what better way to do that than with film?

Sure, not every publishing professional can romance a camera. But the excitement that Synek has caught on film—from authors, editors, and marketers alike—undoubtedly lends some romance to a traditionally unromantic corner of publishing. There’s the energy of Niko Pfund, President and Publisher of Oxford University Press, that she still so vividly remembers from when she interviewed him for the 2009 short, “Publishers on Publishing”. This year, she was struck by mentoring and collaboration dynamics, some of which are captured in the footage of Beatrice Rehl and her team at Cambridge University Press planning the design and marketing campaign for a book called The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, in this year’s film “The Curators”.

When asked if there’s anything about the five years she’s spent getting to know these publishers and their business that informs her own way of looking at the world, Synek’s answer is “a passion for excellence expressed as a passion for accuracy.” Of course any publisher worth its salt is committed to excellence.  But consider that in the world of professional publishing, the greatest importance is not in how instantaneously a book will appeal to an impulse buyer (a kind of excellence, to be sure), but how well its content can stand up to the sharpest scrutiny. Synek argues that this passion for accuracy is one of the greatest strengths of academic publishing, relevant to anyone involved in making media now, from publishers to filmmakers to bloggers. “In some ways, they’ve built their business around tireless fact-checking. When we talk about curation and editing, we usually think about bigger stuff, like what manuscript to publish or scene to cut. But this rigorous commitment to minute information is also a kind of curation.” Producing digital media of any kind takes hardly any effort , and in such an environment, those who take more time to cull through what they’ve produced and who are committed to accuracy will stand out, she believes.

The films are all linked here and are well worth a watch. If you happen to have a filmmaking streak of your own, this could be excellent inspiration for filming another corner of book business that doesn’t often come to light. The Wonderful World of Warehouses, for instance? I’d certainly watch that. I’ll even let you use that fabulous title I just invented.

2 Comments

  1. Mary rose synek says:

    I looked at this again, Elizabeth, and can’t believe how artfully you wrote this interview. I hope we can talk about a new project which I am working on now for The Prose Awards soon. The film’s story is still under wraps but it promises to be intriguing filled with twists and turns. A thriller for academic publishing.

  2. Trendsetter Editors says:

    Thanks so much for the kind comments! Sadly, Elisabeth has left Trendsetter, but we would still certainly be interested in learning about your latest project! Feel free to email us anytime at publishingtrends@gmail.com!

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