The UConn Humanities Institute supports research on language, art and ideas. By fostering important conversations and bringing to life new writers, publishers and scholars to the university community, the institute serves as a place for scholars to dedicate time and effort to humanities and activism.
One of the many events hosted by the institute to promote this mission is “Publishing NOW,” a series of conversations with editors across the field of publishing that offer students and staff an inside look into the world of publishing and advice on how to promote ideas and get a book or article out to the wider community.
The most recent talk featured Gita Manaktala, the editorial director of the MIT Press. The MIT Press is known for pushing the boundaries in many fields of study, including cognitive science, linguistics, media studies and environmental studies. Manaktala’s own areas of interest center around information science and communication. She has held other positions within the company, including marketing director and publicist which has given her a greater understanding of the complexity and fast-paced nature of the publishing industry. Although Manaktala has established herself as a top-notch editor, she wasn’t always certain that this was the correct industry for her.
“I came to publishing pretty much by chance like a lot of people do,” Manaktala said.
During her undergraduate years at Harvard University, Manaktala chose to take time off from college and worked for Grove Press, now Grove Atlantic, an independent trade publisher in New York. After working there for six months, Manaktala said the experience was so stressful that she did not think publishing was the right career path for her and returned to college. However, following graduation, she entered the job search and was hired for a temp job in the publicity department at the MIT Press. From then on, she worked her way up to her current position.
“I’ve been very fortunate to move around and do a number of different jobs in publishing,” Manaktala said.
Manaktala also said that the diversity of the books published by the MIT Press allowed her to learn about so many new things, like architecture, that she hadn’t had the opportunity to study at school.
“We’ve really had to get creative to figure out how to continue to support scholarship in monographic form…”Gita Manaktala, Editorial Director of the MIT Press
University press publishing is a specialized field within publishing that differs from commercial academic publishing and trade publishing. The main focus is placed on monographs, which are specialized works of writing that are about a single subject or a certain aspect of a subject. University presses depend upon sales and fundraising and are currently facing growing financial pressures.
“We’ve really had to get creative to figure out how to continue to support scholarship in monographic form,” Manaktala said.
According to Manaktala, the economic factor has presented university press publishing companies with many challenges and has led to more creativity in trying to find ways to maintain monographic scholarship. Three of the most popular ways that the MIT Press and other publishers do this is by publishing trade books, textbooks and journals to help diversify and increase the content they are putting out.
Beginning in July 2020, the MIT Press entered into a sales and distribution agreement with Penguin Random House Publisher Services that provided a great opportunity to increase distribution across all sales channels worldwide and reach a larger readership.
“We have a list that’s based in humanities, science and technology and subject matters that travel really well to global audiences, so it’s incredibly important to us to reach that global readership,” Manaktala said.
“Books tap into this massive infrastructure for distribution and that’s the thing that’s really different and special about books is they’re a greatly democratized form of knowledge…”Gita Manaktala, Editorial Director of the MIT Press
This partnership has proved very helpful to the MIT Press thus far, and Manaktala noted how the MIT Press is the only university press that is working with Penguin Random House which shows the high quality of books and other work that they are publishing. This partnership has also allowed the MIT Press to continue its mission to drive innovation and continue to support new and unique ideas.
“Books tap into this massive infrastructure for distribution and that’s the thing that’s really different and special about books is they’re a greatly democratized form of knowledge,” Manaktala said.
Becoming a published author can be a very time-consuming and stressful journey, especially given the current trend toward building a brand using social media and other digital platforms. Manaktala says she places less emphasis on an author’s social media status and is interested mainly in an author’s ideas and how they express them in writing. Publishing is a highly competitive field and it might take time for you to find the right press for your work.
Manaktala is one of many editors and members of the publishing industry that is working toward reclaiming the power of books and increasing distribution of important ideas and works. This year has provided many challenges to our country, most notably the COVID-19 pandemic and social and racial justice, that have given us the opportunity to learn from and improve in the future.
“We really need to underwrite our existing commitments to social justice with publications that speak to the need for really good scholarship and really good data and really good understandings of how things can be different and road mapping that change for people,” Manaktala said.