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Book Jobs Not by the Book: Rachel High, Publishing and Marketing Assistant for The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Rachel High is Publishing and Marketing Assistant at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has presented on her work at The Met at the 2016 National Museum Publishing Seminar. Prior to working at The Met, Rachel freelanced at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum where she started her museum publishing career as an intern. She received her B.A. from New York University and is currently pursuing a M.A, in Art History at Hunter College.

Wrache-highhat was your first exposure to book business and what were the most important things you gained from it?

I fell in love with the book business through two formative internships, at Folio Literary Management and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Folio was my first introduction to working with books in general and the Guggenheim was my first exposure to working on art books. I was considering a career in a curatorial role before the Guggenheim and I think the most important thing I gained from working there was the realization that my passion for books, art, and museums could be combined.

How do you explain your current job to people?

I’m still trying to figure out the elevator-pitch explanation, but I see my position as having three distinct parts: marketing; managing and updating our online platform, MetPublications; and working on special publications.

At The Met we have a great team supporting our books: our communications office, our museum store, and our social media representatives. Outside of the museum, our distributor Yale University Press is also a great resource to help us get our books out there. I see my role as marketer as a creator of content that supports the books and can be pushed out to these different channels. I work on the typical outreach, like press releases, brochures, and flyers, but a lot of my job is experimenting. I’ve interviewed curators for our museum blog, started a book trailer program and most recently created a quiz on Buzzfeed as part of our marketing initiatives. The book trailers have gotten up to 70,000 views on Facebook and the Buzzfeed quiz was accessed over 11,000 times to date.

Another large part of my position is updating and maintaining the MetPublications website where over 1,500 publications from The Met’s long publication history are available to read, download, and/or search for free. I was fortunate to inherit this ambitious project which was developed by Gwen Roginsky, Associate Publisher and General Manager of Publications and Editorial at The Met, and The Met’s Digital Department. There are currently over 450 books with full-text available online and the number is ever-increasing. We’ve also started publishing collection catalogues straight to digital with a download and print-on-demand option (which we also offer for our out-of-print publications).

In addition to working on the digital side of things, I also assist on print projects that don’t fall into our usual parameters of a collection catalogue or exhibition catalogue; these are usually projects we undertake with a co-publisher. Recently I worked on The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings by Kathryn Calley Galitz co-published with Skira Rizzoli.

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

At the Guggenheim I gained InDesign experience, wrote marketing copy, and was able to work on their catalog digitization project. At the time they were experimenting with several different models of digital publications so I was able to work with different eBook and eReader platforms and honed some of my already present background in HTML which makes my work on MetPublications possible.

In a departure from the book business, I interned for short periods of time Hauser & Wirth and Andrea Rosen Gallery. At the galleries and at Folio I learned how to diplomatically correspond with a wide variety of clients which is incredibly relevant to my work at the Museum where I’m in constant contact with editors, curators, authors, and others.

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

Working in this role continually opens my eyes to how books get out into the world. What makes some books bestsellers and others dust collectors? I think what makes the difference is the narrative around the book—our publications have great stories to tell and my job is to make those stories visible and accessible to a wider audience. My goal is to lead people to a personal connection to our books and ultimately to The Met’s collection.

Working on MetPublications also reminds me of the importance of access and how lucky many of us are to have access to the resources that we do. When I check the analytic reports for the project it’s always so inspiring to see so many different parts of the world represented, and anecdotally I know that the books we’ve made available have been used to teach everywhere from classrooms to correctional facilities. There’s a tendency in the book business to be afraid of digitization and certainly a for profit company might not be able to provide the resources in the same way that we can, but I think that in addition to broadening the reach of our out of print titles, making these books accessible gets people excited in the kind of content we produce and increases awareness for our newer projects.

Earlier you mentioned a departure from publishing, what ultimately brought you back?

The time I spent away from publishing was very brief (never more than a few months at a time). I was an art history major at NYU and was exploring different options in that field, but while I was working in galleries during the day, I was either designing and editing academic journals and literary magazines as part of my extracurriculars at NYU or doing freelance editing work by night. I’ve always been interested in the intersection of art and writing, so museum publishing was a natural fit for me.

What advice do you have for people who want to get into museum publishing?

I think it helps to have that combination of skills in art history and publishing. My internships at Folio and Andrea Rosen Gallery were definite stepping stones to the Guggenheim since I had both the publishing and art world experience. Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door. I was fortunate enough to have the resources to hold internships throughout my college career but of course that’s not possible for everyone. Another way to get started is to take the initiative to ask about freelancing possibilities. Most importantly, work hard (no matter the task) and be collegial. Keep in touch with and show gratitude towards the people you work with; never underestimate the heartfelt, handwritten thank you note.

One Comment

  1. Swift Minds says:

    This is a very interesting article and fun to read. Especially the part “I’m still trying to figure out the elevator-pitch explanation” about pitching. Thanks for posting.

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