Behind the Book: Q&A with Laura Knox, Director of Higher Education Policy and Programs 

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.  

Laura Knox
Image Credit: Pictures by Todd

Laura Knox joined W. W. Norton as a sales representative in Southern Los Angeles in 2014, and since then her job responsibilities have evolved in connection with the evolution of higher education. Laura is currently the Director of Higher Education Policy and Programs, and in this role, she works on new and emerging business markets and ensures Norton’s publishing practices align with market changes.  

What is your current role and what part do you play in the book publishing process? 

As Norton’s director of Higher Education Policy and Programs, I closely watch market trends to identify opportunities for Norton to engage and contribute, including in state and federal legislation and in higher ed. publications across the country. Likewise, I carefully watch new and emerging business models (including dual enrollment, inclusive access, and equitable access) and serve as the liaison between Norton’s college department and the Association of American Publishers (AAP), ensuring our interests and goals are represented in industry-wide initiatives. 

What skills do you need to succeed in your job? Did any previous work or life experience help you in your role? 

My experience as a sales rep, and more recently as a part of Lauren Greene/Matt Walker’s team in strategic partnerships and institutional sales, has been particularly useful in helping me develop skills that impact my work, including adaptability, analytical thinking, and strong communication across various internal and external teams. My job requires practical solutions to the big issues we’re seeing in the higher ed market.  

How did you end up at Norton, and what drew you to the company? 

I was an adjunct instructor in Los Angeles and used They Say, I Say and The Little Seagull Handbook in my freshman Composition courses. When I decided to make a career change, I started with Norton because I was familiar with it. And of course, as an English major, I’d used a lot of Norton in my studies! 

What was your first job at Norton and, since the first job, have you changed roles or departments? If yes, what motivated the changes and what was the transition process like? 

I started out as a sales rep and enjoyed, and excelled at, selling our digital tools to instructors, which made the brand manager position a natural fit for me when I relocated to the East Coast. With growing concern over affordability for college, I found that my job evolved to include the promotion of affordable book and media options for students. My manager at the time, Julia Hall, suggested I take on the director of Affordable Solutions role, a relatively new position at Norton. It was a smooth transition, but as many have realized at Norton, you often wear a lot of hats as you determine what should be prioritized in your role. I soon realized that what we really needed was a bigger presence externally, to increase Norton’s profile. After sitting in on an AAP Higher Ed Committee call, I started contributing more regularly to their publishing industry-wide projects, and eventually made the case for the policy and legislation role, where we could make an impact at a higher level. Mike Wright and Lauren Greene (my current manager) have been extremely supportive throughout my journey. 

What have been some of your favorite projects? Are there any projects or initiatives you have introduced to your department or Norton? 

I particularly enjoy the education campaigns and media relations projects I’m a part of. This year I had the opportunity to work with industry partners to develop an email campaign for legislators across the country, via the AAP and Bloomberg Government. The results were compelling, and I felt satisfied knowing that we had gotten our message out in a proactive way, in addition to responding to legislation as it’s released.   

For dual enrollment, I proposed a keystone partnership with National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP), the only national organization supporting programs, practitioners, and policy to advance quality concurrent and dual enrollment, and they’re helping open doors to new networking and growth opportunities. I’m particularly proud of this collaboration because it’s something that started so small, and I’ve been a part of its growth over the past two years, with the help of my colleagues on the dual enrollment team.  

Were there any projects or moments that surprised or challenged you?  

One particularly interesting aspect of my role is the collegial nature of the interaction with others in the industry, under the auspices of the AAP. It’s clear that we all believe in the value of publisher-provided content and that it really does make a difference in the classroom. We each bring a unique skillset to each project and value each others’ feedback on issues where we are able to contribute the publisher perspective.

What does Norton being independent and employee-owned mean to you and your work? 

Because my work is so focused on the value of publisher-provided content and affordability, our company structure resonates with my target audiences. I often show our pricing trendline, which demonstrates our stability and consistency, and I talk about how important pedagogy is in engaging today’s student and setting them up for success. There are plenty of buzzwords in the industry right now, but Norton doesn’t really need them. I can talk about our mission, our pedagogy, and our value in authentic ways that I don’t think many others can.  

What advice would you give someone just starting out in publishing? 

Take on projects in areas you don’t know much about and be willing to ask a lot of questions. Instead of being set on certain roles or certain departments, let the company’s needs and your skills determine next moves. There are so many ways to make an impact in this industry.   

Have you participated in any extracurricular programs at Norton? 

I’m hoping to mentor in a more formal way this next year. I’ve been fortunate enough to have many mentors during my time at Norton and would enjoy doing the same for others.  

Lastly, what do you like to do outside of work? Any fun hobbies or recent reads you would recommend? 

I really enjoy cooking classes and just finished a cooking series that included cooking with oysters, braising, and Italian cooking. When I have the time, I really enjoy reading investigative journalism. Outlaw Ocean, for instance, provides an in-depth look into the various illegal practices (fishing, piracy, etc.) in international waters. It was a captivating read! 

Interested in learning more about careers at Norton? Check out our  Careers Page and follow us for job updates on LinkedIn.  

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