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Book Jobs Not by the Book: Joel W. Coggins, Design & Production Editor at the University of Pittsburgh Press

Joel W. Coggins is the Design & Production Editor at the University of Pittsburgh Press, where he has worked since 2010. He was awarded an AAUP Mellon Residency Grant to visit the Design & Production Department at Columbia University Press in 2016. The only thing he seeks out more eagerly than bookstores while traveling is a good doughnut shop.


What was your first exposure to book business and what were the most important things you gained from it?
Somewhat typically, I worked on my high school’s literary magazine, which, while a small-time operation, at least lead to my realization that there are many necessary steps to bring a book into existence. I had a much more hands-on experience working on the Three Rivers Review of Undergraduate Literature while in college. It was during this time that I had to start actively making the phone calls and sending the e-mails that would keep everything moving. Overseeing the design & printing concerns for TRR were really what made me realize that those were things I care a lot about in the making of books.

How do you explain your current job to people?
I usually say “I’m a book designer.” And then they’ll ask, “like book covers, or…” and I say “yes, though I spend a lot more time concerned with the production of the books overall.” So then I usually go on a pedantic spiel about how cover design and book design are really separate production matters and tell them how much the phrase “interior design” grates on me in regard to book design. Then I explain that my job title is Design & Production Editor and I give a little overview of what goes into coordinating the production of a book. They usually say “that sounds pretty cool.” And I say “It is! I’m very lucky to have a job I’m really passionate about.

In what ways did your previous jobs or internships prepare you for what you do here?

I worked a lot, since I was a kid, at many jobs: swimming pool concessionaire, fry cook, sandwich artist. I’ve always had a streak of the Midwestern work ethic in me. My college work-study job, as a building/house manager at the student union, was really important in that I learned a lot about office organization and efficiency.

What value has this job brought to the way you think about book business as a whole and your own relationship to books?

Now that I work in scholarly publishing, I have much more insight into the financial realities of getting each book into the world. It’s been valuable to learn more about this, because from a production standpoint I’m now able to find a way to make every book the best, most beautiful book it can be within its budget. And that’s what I want: a world full of beautiful books.

 What advice would you give someone who is interested specifically in scholarly publishing?

It is important to learn what makes scholarly & university press publishing different from other publishing pursuits. It is largely a matter of mission: prioritizing the advancement and dissemination of scholarship ahead of profit (though both are important concerns!). University Presses have differing speciality areas and functions within their home institutions, and each is a little different from the next. The most valuable resource I can suggest is the Association of American University Presses, the organizational body that brings U.P.s together:

What principles of book design do you wish were more widely embraced – not just in books, but in our daily lives?
No orphans. Rimshot!

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