#UPWeek: An interview with Senior Acquisitions Editor Hilary Claggett

November 29, 2020 / 5 mins read

In honor of University Press Week 2020, we sat down with GUP’s newest editor Hilary Claggett for a discussion on how the global business list will amplify new voices.

How long have you been working as an acquisitions editor, and in which subjects have you acquired?

I’ve been a Senior Acquisitions Editor for two decades, with equal time spent acquiring in business, economics, and finance, on the one hand, and politics, international affairs, and security studies, on the other. The common thread is that both publishing programs have, in retrospect, been strongly influenced by current events. For example, twenty years ago, business publishing was consumed by globalization and ecommerce, and international affairs publishing was heavily influenced by counterterrorism efforts in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Today the main influences I see impacting both business and politics are the pandemic, climate change, the Fourth Industrial Revolution sparked by artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, and related technologies; and the movement for equity, diversity, inclusion, and racial and environmental justice. Many of these are interrelated. For example, the coronavirus and racial inequality combine in health disparities and higher death rates from COVID-19 among minority groups. Climate change relates to economic inequality because it impacts people differently, and climate change relates to the pandemic by exacerbating the likelihood of more pandemics in the future, perhaps worse than this one.

How do you publish timely books that in some ways are chasing a moving target without their becoming immediately outdated?

Because books relating to the economy and to business—whether we’re talking about a perennial subject like leadership or a relatively new one like the impact of AI—have always been highly sensitive to fast-moving events and trends, I’ve been able to leverage my experience publishing in politics and current events to plan one to two years ahead in terms of focusing on what is enduring about a subject and what is just a flash in the pan. Ironically, the more up-to-the minute the writing, the more dated it may be. For example, you wouldn’t end a book on coronavirus by saying, “at press time, there were X number of deaths” when you know those numbers will be irrelevant by the time of publication. But you can discuss the historical trends in the data in a meaningful way.

With all this experience, in what way do you see yourself as a “new” voice? Can acquisitions editors be said to have a voice?

I am new to the university press world after having spent my career in what is awkwardly called commercial academic publishing, which is neither purely trade nor purely scholarly. I used to say that I published books for general readers with a scholarly backbone, and in a way, I still seek books that are accessibly written for business leaders or general readers with an interest in the economy. The difference is that they are peer reviewed, which has helped authors to focus on their analytical frameworks and the quality of their research. As to whether acquisitions editors have a voice, I’d say we do, though not in the way you might think. Authors have their own points of view and perspectives, and I do not seek to impose my opinions or my writing style on their work. However, I do have a voice in selecting what proposals for books that I believe would be important, valuable, and useful, in addition to being marketable. Because this Global Business program is new, I am commissioning a large portion of the list to get it off the ground, so there are times where the idea starts with me, and then I look for an author to write what I have in mind. But ultimately it’s a collaborative process.

How are you giving space to diverse voices within the Global Business publishing program?

Over the last five years at least, a lot of research has been done on the invisibility and/or neglect of women in the economics profession, and I’m working on a series to address that inequity. In terms of business leadership, women have made great strides, and it’s no surprise that I’m receiving a lot of excellent proposals for business books from highly qualified women. While diversity has long been a goal of corporate America, some scholars have pointed out that white women have been the primary beneficiaries of these initiatives. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests over the deaths at the hands of police of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, corporations and other organizations are facing the same reckoning as the rest of American society. I am working with several potential authors on assessing this effort. Some companies will take it seriously, and some will pay lip service, but I’m seeing signs of lasting change. One of the most important trends of our time is the accelerated pace of change, so my challenge in the acquisitions process is to ensure that my books stay slightly ahead of the curve, but are not so far out in front that they are too early, such as the book I published on predatory lending a couple of years before the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Timing is everything, but we can also lead change by privileging previously neglected voices and perspectives, and that is what I intend to do.