How I Got My Start: Jennifer Crewe, Columbia University Press

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How I Got My Start is a new series where YPG talks to trailblazers in the industry, across houses and departments, about their career trajectories, what they’ve learned, where they see the industry going, and wisdom they’d like to share with those of us at the beginning of our careers.

Columbia University Press’s offices are no longer near Columbia University. Instead, they are now nestled between Fordham Law and Lincoln Center near Columbus Circle, within walking distance from Central Park. It was in these newer offices where Jennifer Crewe sat down to meet with YPG and discuss her career.

When Jennifer Crewe, the first female president and publisher at Columbia University Press, was growing up, boys took shop class in school and girls took typing classes. She refused to take typing classes because she didn’t want to become a secretary. But typing skills were an important part of her first part-time job at CUP. “An editorial assistant has to do a lot of typing. Editors wrote a lot of letters,” she explained. So she had to learn to type.

But her journey didn’t start at the typewriter, exactly. After college, she went to Columbia for an MFA in poetry. When she realized that poetry couldn’t always pay the bills, she began to look for a part-time job while she studied. She wandered into the CUP offices to find out about job opportunities and was hired as a part-time assistant to a humanities editor. She eventually moved to Charles Scribner’s Sons in the college department and then to Macmillan. Her journey came full circle when the editor in chief at Columbia University Press stepped down and she was asked to take the position.

The thing that surprised her most about academic publishing is how seriously they take P&Ls. “There is a false sense that university presses don’t worry about finances. They do. There is an extent to which editors also have to be fund-raisers,” she said. Editors have to look into foundations and grants for books they think may lose money.

When asked what she would do differently, there was a pause before she responded, “Jump around a bit more to get a broader experience.”

Her advice is to speak your mind and give your opinions. It’s important to get noticed and make your strengths known. She also suggests that young professionals should stay open-minded about the areas they want to go into, and shouldn’t fixate on the idea of working in a certain department. Sometimes the area you think is right for you, isn’t. As for the most important thing for new publishing professionals to know, she suggests becoming very familiar with digital changes, data management, and social media marketing.

Jennifer loves academic publishing because it allows her to keep one foot in the world of serious academic scholarship and one foot in the world of business. She enjoys working at a university press because scholarship always has to be new and innovative.

You can follow Columbia University Press on Twitter @ColumbiaUP or check out their website (

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