Who's #NextUP? An Interview with Publishing Clerk Shalini Nanayakkara

Posted: Sunday, November 13, 2022

To celebrate University Press Week 2022 (November 14 – 18), we were asked to chat about "Who's NextUP"—to highlight an early-career staff member on the rise. Our publishing clerk, Shalini Nanayakkara, has been working for us for less than a year and already her enthusiasm and love of books have inspired us during some trying times (like a global pandemic!). We hope you enjoy this interview with Shalini about her experiences in publishing (so far!).

Can you describe what your day-to-day job looks like?

As the Publishing Clerk, no two days really look the same for me! I would say that most of the time, I am working as a liaison for customers, authors, and publishing partners between all the various folks involved in our publishing process. That could be mean anything between answering phone calls to attending book events to submitting our books for awards. I love it because I get a bird’s eye view of the many aspects of publishing a scholarly book – and it’s all really fascinating! 

Publishing Clerk Shalini Nannayakkara placing a book on a display shelf

What drew you to publishing? Were you interested in university presses in particular?

Like many folks in publishing, I’ve always loved books. I remember stapling printer paper together and writing and drawing stories in them since I was six years old. I’m just enamoured with the whole process of bookmaking – writing them, editing them, producing them, talking about them.

During my undergraduate degree at University of Toronto Mississauga, I managed a student academic journal called With Caffeine and Careful Thought as Editor-in-Chief. I was also a co-editor for various academic publications, like the University of Toronto Quarterly special issue on monster studies and a Professional Writing textbook on writing history. These incredibly creative and fulfilling experiences were the highlights of my undergrad career and whetted my appetite for scholarly publishing. Holding a book of knowledge that I had a hand in bringing forth to the world is such an unforgettable feeling.

I recently completed my Master’s degree and am stepping away from scholarship to work on a science fiction/fantasy novel, so I am very grateful that I get the opportunity to follow my love and curiosity for scholarly books with UBC Press.

Has anything surprised you about working in publishing?

Yes – it’s surprised me how human the publishing process is. This might be a strange thing to say, but when you’re only a reader, you may not realize how much dedication, skill, and passion is being poured into every aspect of the book to ensure it gets into your hands. It’s really cool to see that at work every day, to put a face to the people who typically work behind the scenes, and to be part of it, too.

I recently heard this eye-opening observation from literary agent Erik Hane on an episode of the Print Run podcast that I’ll paraphrase here: a manuscript (the ideas, the story) is the author’s, but a book is really everybody’s – everyone who has worked on it, and also the readers once it reaches them. Working in publishing really made this idea hit home for me. Books are borne from a unique mix of individual taste and synergic collaboration, and that’s a very wonderful thing indeed.

How do you see university presses changing in the next ten years?

Ten years is a long time! Thinking to back to 2012, many things have changed (including the fashion, thankfully), but some things haven’t. From the work I see being done now, I think equity, diversity, inclusion, decolonization, and accessibility practices will play a huge role in ensuring books will reach and resonate with their audiences. The path ahead may seem difficult and uncertain, but initiatives like RavenSpace here at UBC Press make me hopeful that transformative change can be done and will indeed help university presses thrive in the future.

Posted by Megan M.
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UBC Press is the Canadian agent for several international publishers. Visit our Publishers Represented page to learn more.