A new month means you get to meet another one of our editors! Meet Ryan Hemmer, acquisitions editor here at Fortress Press, learn what he's looking for in book projects, and what media has been resonating with him lately.
How did you end up in publishing? And why have you decided to stay in publishing?
Serendipity. Accident. Dumb luck. Most folks in publishing have an anecdote that boils down to one of these words or their synonyms. My story starts with saying “yes” to an invitation to respond to a plenary paper at an academic conference in Chicago in 2014. A friendship began there. Years later, that friendship was renewed in Minneapolis. And not long after that, that friendship led to the opportunity to interview for a job in the marketing department at Fortress Press. My editorial work today is quite different from my marketing work then, but I stay in publishing because it allows me to unite my background as an academic with my love of good writing and great books.
How are you looking to grow your list in the future? What gaps in religious scholarship are you looking to fill?
The old chestnut about being a specialist is that one labors to learn more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing. While this adage is often unfairly weaponized against expertise, it gets at a persistent problem in scholarship. Scholars feel pressure from the time they are grad students until they retire to find a narrow lane of originality and never veer from it. While that can make for compelling research, it results in reader-less books. Religious scholarship has a role to play in nearly every neuralgic question and crisis facing culture and civilization today. I try to encourage authors to meet those questions and crises head-on, to draw out the implications of theological, ethical, and historical knowledge to the widest credible horizon. This is less about the number and size of footnotes, and more about the book’s voice and the author’s confidence. I want to acquire books from interesting scholars that mediate the meaning and value of religion to the topics important to our cultural situation. And, beyond the acuity of the content, I want to help the form sing.
You mentioned that you initially joined Fortress Press as part of the marketing department. How does your background in marketing help inform your editorial decisions?
My time as a marketer made me attentive to readers, to audiences, to how books impress or fail to impress at a glance. Most scholars are inducted into book-length writing projects through their dissertations. And most dissertations are five journal articles in a trench coat. But even the best dissertation is written for an audience of three to five people on an examination committee. And they are paid to read it! Books today need to earn their readers. They need to meet a felt need of their audiences and convey their “take” on those needs with style, verve, and confidence. As an editor, I try to help authors meet this daunting challenge.
What is a piece of media you’ve consumed recently that has resonated with you? It can be a book, TV show, or movie. And why did it resonate with you?
In anticipation of the new film adaptation, I reread Frank Hebert’s Dune saga during the pandemic, which reignited my love of New Wave science fiction. Afterward, I wanted to read something new, and now I am completely enamored of Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy (The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forrest, and Death’s End). It unites the literary style and philosophical sensibilities of New Wave with the scientific and technological rigor of classic pulp sci-fi. It is also terrifying. Utterly terrifying.