ATG Interviews, Mary V. Dougherty, Director of the University of Massachusetts Press

by | Aug 26, 2014 | 0 comments

by John Riley, Column Editor, ATG NewsChannel


Mary Dougherty

 ATG: You have come to the University of Massachusetts Press after a successful career at Bedford/St. Martin’s. How did you choose publishing as your career path after you received a Ph D. in history?

MD: My PhD is in American Lit, from Rutgers.  My dissertation was on 19th century women writers, so while I am not a historian by training, I have spent my time searching through archives.  I feel very much at home in history, and for that matter in American Studies, literary studies, and the related fields that have developed over the last 20-25 years, including gay and lesbian studies, and disability studies to pick just two. Happily, UMass Press’s central fields are areas in which I’ve long been interested.  Also, as an avid reader and a former teacher of literature, I’m delighted that here at UMass Press, we work with both novelists and poets in the Juniper Prizes and the Grace Paley prize for short fiction.

In the transition from academia to publishing, I was looking for a collaborative workplace, a profession that made an intellectual contribution, and a workplace that allowed me access to a big picture vantage point.  I’ve been fortunate enough to find work in publishing enterprises that supported those interests.  Before I worked at Bedford, I worked in the college division of Houghton Mifflin as a Chicago sales rep and as a Sponsoring Editor.

ATG: Could you tell us a little about the publishing process here at your Press? Do you work much with literary agents? Is there much cooperation with the other colleges in the Five College Consortium? How do you acquire your manuscripts and what is your subject focus?

MD: UMass Press has long enjoyed collaborative relationships with our colleagues here in the Valley, and I hope to sustain the neighborly relations that Bruce Wilcox and others here developed.  I should add that we count many members of the Five College faculty among our authors.

Our acquisitions process is driven by a commitment to quality, a focus on American Studies, broadly construed, with special interests in African American studies; American history; American popular music: architecture and landscape design; Cold War studies; disability studies; environmental studies; gender studies; history of the book; journalism and media studies; literary and cultural studies; Native American studies; public history; science and technology studies; urban studies and books of regional interest.

The strength of our acquisitions program derives from the skill and expertise of our two veteran editors, Senior Editor, Clark Dougan, with the Press for 25 years and an historian in his own right, and Brian Halley, our Senior Editor based on the UMass Boston campus.  These two bring a wealth of expertise about their subject areas, the process of publishing, and all the considerations that go into crafting highly readable books of strong scholarship. Their skill and know-how are absolutely central to our publishing program. I should add that Brian was the Chair of the program committee when the AAUP met in Boston in 2013, and he now serves on the AAUP board.

ATG: How do you think university press publishing differs from trade publishing? Both models are now moving ahead with more Open Access publishing. How is your Press addressing OA?

MD: I can’t really speak to the trade as I come out of textbooks.  I can say that there are many similarities between university press publishing and textbook publishing, namely concerns about audience, design, and marketing, and there are many commonalities when it comes to working with authors.  It seems to me that the key differences between university press publishing and commercial textbook publishing have to do with the different missions for each kind of publishing and also the distinct ways that each kind of publishing makes a contribution to the overall work of the academy.  University presses, of course, are part of a national ecosystem of scholarly exchange, and they have scholars and some general readers as their audience.  By contrast, textbooks are tools for teaching and learning; their primary audience is students, and their primary task is to support instructors in their teaching.

As to open access, I think—and this is not at all an original thought—that open access is very desirable, as long as we can find ways to cover the costs of producing our books.  I think it’s great that the principles of OA have inspired a large and vigorous conversation.

Umass Press logo

ATG: You have over 1,100 books in your publishing history. How many are still in print and do you utilize POD to keep them available? Are you converting them to eBooks?

MD: We use Lightning Source for POD to keep our backlist available.

We have converted some of our backlist titles to e-books, and we are continuously improving the processes by which we create our front list e-books. We publish e-books through UPCC, and in many formats, including but not limited to e-books for the Kindle and for iPad. Much of our out of print backlist is available through GoogleBooks.

ATG: You publish a good number of series, including Culture, Politics and the Cold War; Public History in Historical Perspective;  Science/Technology/Culture;  Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book; as well as many fiction series*.  Is it difficult to keep a series going?

MD: It’s not easy, but good books attract good manuscripts.  We also benefit immeasurably from the work of our Series Editors. They bring top quality projects to us, and they work with authors on the manuscript.  The Series Editors are crucial to the success of a series.

ATG: UMass Press has always had a unique design esthetic. Where does it originate and how does it inform your overall publishing identity?

MD: Thank you.  We have a reputation for quality, and I think the visual design of our books is part of that.  Our strength in design comes right from the two very talented members of our production department. Jack Harrison is our Production and Design Manager, and he’s been with UMass for 25 years, coming to the Press from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.  He oversees the work of some freelancers and also does many of our book and cover designs himself. He works with Sally Nichols, our Associate Production Manager.  She too designs our titles, book jackets and ads and does so with great flair. She’s been at the Press for 15 years.

I should add that our Managing Editor, Carol Betsch not only oversees the work of our freelance copyeditors, but she also edits projects herself.

I’m in my fourth week on the job, and I’ve already heard authors singing the praises of each of these folks.

ATG: Who is your printer? 

MD: As part of a state university, we follow a bid process in the selection of our printers. We use a number of different printers, currently we use Sheridan Books, IBT/Hamilton, and Thomson-Shore for our offset printing.

ATG: How are your books distributed?

MD: Our print editions are distributed in cooperation with the Johns Hopkins consortium of fourteen scholarly presses.  Hopkins is a terrific partner for us.

ATG: The W. E. B. du Bois University Library has undertaken some high profile publishing ventures on their own with online journals and a very active Institutional Repository. What is your relationship to their publishing work? Are you looking at cooperating more in the future?

MD: Yes and Yes.  Our library has a number of our titles available as open access titles via Scholarworks, and yes, we are in ongoing conversations about many different ways we can work together. I’m excited to be collaborating with our library, and the library staff have been most welcoming.**

ATG: Do you participate in any Demand Driven Acquisitions programs with libraries?

MD:Not now.

ATG: Your opinions on cooperation between university presses?

MD: I went to the AAUP meeting in New Orleans this summer, even before I’d started my job here at UMass. I think that the university press community is a marvelous group of thoughtful and committed publishing professionals, and I was amazed at the collegiality and the warm welcome I found at the meeting.  I count myself extremely lucky to have landed among these smart, hardworking, generous folks.  Given that we are all driven by shared passions for publishing and that we all face continuous challenges, cooperation seems like a brilliant move.

ATG: Are you the first woman director at the Press? Earlier this Summer Jennifer Crewe was appointed as the first director at an Ivy League Press, the Columbia University Press.

MD: Actually, the first director of the UMass Press was a woman, Leone Baron, who was appointed in 1963.  I’m the third director at UMass and the second woman. I do want to send out my congratulations to Jennifer Crewe and wish her all the best in her new role.

ATG: What do you hope to accomplish in your first year here? Where do you see the Press and University publishing in 5 years?

MD: In my first year, I hope to do no harm!  I come to a Press that is in excellent shape and that is run by a top-notch staff.  The first year will find us working together to continue to develop our e-book production capacities and to sign really great new titles.  I hope to spend my first year immersing myself in the UMass community, meeting with the Press Committee, getting to know the faculty in our key disciplines and also reaching out to faculty in some of the areas where we do not currently publish.  One of the exciting things about working at a university is the privilege of connecting with so many smart and talented researchers.  My first year will be spent in getting to know the community of which we are a part.

ATG: How are you enjoying your move to Western Massachusetts?

MD: It’s been great!  I’m having a great time exploring.  I’ve been here for eight weeks and I’m about to welcome my fourth round of house guests.  People like to visit out here don’t they?

ATG: Thank you for your time today and good luck with your new position. Maybe we can come back someday for a video tour of the press and a narrative of how you prepare manuscripts for publication.

*List of University of Massachusetts Press Series titles 

  • Culture, Politics and the Cold War
  • Public History in Historical Perspective
  • Science/Technology/Culture
  • Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book
  • American Popular Music
  • Library of American Landscape History
  • Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction
  • Juniper Prize for Fiction and Poetry
  • Juniper Prize for Poetry
  • Massachusetts Studies in Early Modern Culture


** Although they are exploring possible collaborations, the W. E. B. du Bois University Library and the University of Massachusetts Press are entirely separate entities

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