In celebration of W. W. Norton & Company’s 100th year of publishing, we’re offering readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the bookmaking process—the people behind the books and the products we create! Through our Behind the Book blog series, discover who plays a role in creating a book, what daily life looks like at Norton, and what being part of an independent and employee-owned company means.
Shannon Missick joined W. W. Norton and publishing as a sales representative in the Western New England territory. Now in her fifth year in the role, she has been a mentor to fellow sales reps and interns and is a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory (DIA) Committee at Norton.
How did you end up at Norton, and what drew you to the company?
I started at Norton in January of 2018. My funding for my PhD. program was at an end and, rather than become a professional adjunct, I decided to parlay my academic experience and sales skills into publishing sales. Having used Norton materials as a professor, I had an appreciation for Norton as a company and knew that its mission and my worldview nicely intertwined.
What is your current role, and what part do you play in the book publishing process?
As a publishing sales representative, I interact with professors, bookstore managers, and graduate students to promote our books and courseware. I also recommend professors to our editorial team for reviewers, content developers, and class testers.
For your current role, what does an average day look like?
An average day is sometimes anything but average and varies greatly depending on the time of year. During the fall and spring semesters, I’m on campus meeting with professors promoting the newest editions of titles for the coming terms and making sure that professors and their students have the materials they need to have successful semesters. I also collaborate with content specialists to delve deeper into the content with professors. I find that this collaboration is incredibly impactful and gives instructors adopting our books confidence that they are in good hands with Norton. Between semesters, I’m poring over course schedules, sending book samples and mail merges, and leading training webinars for colleagues and professors alike.
What skills do you need to succeed in your job? Did any previous work or life experience help you in your role?
The ability to talk to anybody about anything is a skill I’ve honed over my 30+ years in sales. Putting people at ease, nurturing relationships, and being a resource for professors is vital to my success. Additionally, my years as a college professor and my ability to “talk the talk” to professors has helped me to cut through apprehensions about sales reps and focus in on professors’ and students’ needs.
How has your current job/role changed while you’ve worked at Norton?
When I began at Norton, publishing representatives were expected to be on campus four days a week, and the amount of product knowledge was less than it is today. This is because we simply have more tech-heavy products now that require a tech-savvy skill set. The expansion of support positions for sales has changed the representative role as well, allowing us to be more flexible on campus and spend more time in our offices so that our days on campus are more productive.
What have been some of your favorite projects? Are there any projects or initiatives you introduced to your department or Norton?
I’ve collaborated with the history team a few times, including looking over state initiatives and making sure custom books have all of the necessary material. I’ve reviewed preliminary materials, given recommendations for additions to content, specifically primary source documents, and worked with Team History at the American Historical Association’s annual conference, where I met with prospective adopters, spoke with authors, and talked with the team to give suggestions for areas of development (African American History, Civil Rights History, Flashpoints topics) based on my areas of expertise and doctoral research.
With DIA I’ve continued to use my areas of research (twentieth-century US history, specifically public policy as it impacts, and in many ways discriminates against, minorities) and experience leading discussions, interviewing authors and researchers, and advocating for changes within Norton to make our company more equitable and welcoming. One of the most rewarding experiences I had was when I led Norton’s internal book club discussion on Howard French’s Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War. Howard French is a gentleman and scholar and graciously agreed to join us for the discussion. Geeking out with a historian, specifically one whose research is not only insightful but groundbreaking, was an utter delight.
What has kept you at Norton? What excites you about the future?
I love Norton’s company morals—that everyone has something to offer and that we are one team. This means work feels more team-based than as if you’re a cog in a machine, making my role more enjoyable by making me feel like I’m part of a common goal.
What does Norton being independent and employee-owned mean to you and your work?
It means that we’re better able to meet professors’ and students’ needs by making quality, affordable books that help students prepare for their future.
What advice would you give someone just starting out in publishing?
Be patient with yourself. The thing I’ve learned is that there’s always more to learn. There’s a ton of growth potential, so know where you ultimately want to be and be mindful in what steps you take to get there.
Lastly, what do you like to do outside of work? Any fun hobbies or recent reads you would recommend?
Outside of work I love to get my hands dirty with home improvement projects and interior design. I also play with my very energetic Staffy Lexi; she keeps me fit! I also love to cook, bake, crochet, play games, and in general hang out with my favorite people.