As part of our series on Journals Publishing, we recently sat down with Stacy Lavin, senior managing editor at Duke University Press, to discuss her work with the journal SAQ: South Atlantic Quarterly and the general responsibilities of a managing editor.
What journal are you a managing editor for, and what do you think is the most interesting thing about it?
I am the managing editor for South Atlantic Quarterly, also known as SAQ. It’s a very old journal, over a hundred years old, and it was founded amid controversy, an incident commonly known as the Bassett Affair, named after the journal’s founder, John Spencer Bassett. He was a historian and a social reformer at Trinity College, which would later become Duke University. He was a champion of professional historical studies, casting a jaundiced eye at anecdotal historian enthusiasts who would present a very one-sided form of history. In founding the journal, he wanted to give free voice to the opinions of Southern intellectuals. Early on, a provocative article compared Booker T. Washington to Robert E. Lee in a way that made Washington seem quite favorable, which caused an uproar among the more conservative trustees, university faculty, and parents of the college. When some parents threatened to disenroll their children, Bassett offered to resign, but the board voted to reject his resignation and stand behind the professor. It was a very proud moment for the university, and I like that the journal is connected to that moment. The journal has gone through many formats over the years, but I think of the current structure, where there is always a more activist-oriented section called Against the Day, as a fitting evolution from the journal’s early roots in social reform.
What are the core responsibilities of a managing editor?
The basic responsibilities are maintaining the journal’s schedule and production deadlines, balancing the different schedules of editors, contributors, and production staff. Another thing is making key decisions about timeliness while maintaining high editorial standards—so making good judgement calls about when to move forward. There is also the nuts and bolts of managing the editorial processes in order to get an issue ready for the production process. That means copyediting, proofreading, crossmarking, and securing permissions for tables, excerpts, translations, and images.
For each issue of SAQ we allot about 70,000 words for the main section and about 15,000 for Against the Day. We get the material about three months before production is set to begin. Before copyediting, there is a lot of work normalizing the files, stripping notes and including paragraph styles. I generally copyedit about half of the material and review other copyeditors’ work on the rest, and there are three to four weeks for that copyediting process. We then send back those files to the author for corrections with queries. We then begin the process of crossmarking, that is, we implement the author’s requested corrections into the copyedited file. Before sending the files to production, who in turn sends them to the typesetter to generate the first page proofs, it is important to ensure all permissions are properly obtained for any copyrighted material. We then do another round of relatively minor corrections on the proofs, after which there is a final round of checking where I make sure the typesetters made the corrections accurately. The issues overlap, usually when I am submitting one issue I am also getting another to proof.
In addition to being the managing editor for SAQ, I am also involved in a variety of projects, like developing guidelines for how authors submit artwork and evaluating new publishing technologies. I also supervise a group of other managing editors at the Press.
What particular skills or talents are most essential to be effective in your job?
Efficient editorial skills and good judgement, which can be enhanced by a familiarity with the fields of study of the journal and academic scholarship in general. You have to have an ability to adapt to the language of a journal. All of that has to be combined with the technical knowledge of the editorial process and strong written and verbal communication skills. A strong sense of customer service is also important: being courteous and understanding where people are coming from.
What is the aspect of your job that you find most rewarding?
From working on logistics to getting revised copy, it’s really exciting troubleshooting all the small issues that come up at the boundary of content and form, because I get to help shape the final project. When you get feedback from the authors saying things like, “your copyediting made my article better,” even if I was just facilitating the process, that’s really rewarding too. Working with Michael Hardt, the editor, is especially rewarding because he actively seeks my input on all aspects of the journal and does a great job lining up special issue editors well in advance of the beginning of the editorial cycle for both the main section and Against the Day.
Are there any special things about SAQ that make managing it different from other journals?
SAQ is a special-issue journal; it does not accept unsolicited essays. Rather, all of the issues are on topics that have been proposed and agreed upon beforehand. Also, the Against the Day section is different in nature because it allows for more freedom than typical academic norms permit. It is designed to be accessible to intellectuals who may not have current academic affiliations, and we make it freely available for the first six months after publication so you don’t have to have a subscription to read and participate in the conversation. It means that I have to bring a different sensibility to editing this section, since the content doesn’t have to adhere to the conventions of a research article. It is still rigorous, but some things are handled differently, for instance, translation and glossing of words so that it appeals to a wider audience.
Do you have any interesting anecdotes?
Recently I was seeking to secure permission to use a photograph for the cover of our new “1970s Feminism” issue, which was really fun to work on. The editor sent a picture of an activist holding a protest sign with the slogan “I am your worst fear, I am your best fantasy.” I discovered that it was in the New York Public Library Images archive and requested permission. The NYPL permissions office said the license to use the image was contingent on me getting permission from the woman shown in the picture, Donna Gottschalk. No one at NYPL permissions had her contact information though, and I couldn’t find any online. I even asked contributors to the journal if they might know Gottschalk personally or if they knew anyone who knew her, but I came up with nothing. We might have had to forego using this image, which would have been too bad because it was really perfect. But I did a little more searching and eventually found a blog where a woman mentioned being a dear friend of Donna Gottschalk; I emailed her and she put me in contact with Donna, who was happy to grant permission. I felt like a real super sleuth.