Julie Dunbar

Manager of Editorial Development at ABC-CLIO


Education: M.F.A. in Writing (Naropa University), B.A. in Geography (University of Colorado)

Describe your job. What are some of the most important tasks for which you are responsible?
I work with a team of writer/editors and teachers/professors in developing a number of social studies-based web sites on U.S. and world geography. The sites are carried in public libraries, schools, and universities as research databases and in some cases used as textbooks. I also create ideas for new geography reference books, and find and guide authors in writing them.

I monitor world news for potential updates to our web sites, as well as possible news stories of our own. We decide which news stories to run based on their relevance to high school social studies curriculums. We’re currently conducting interviews for a project highlighting perspectives on controversial issues, such as immigration. All of these day-to-day responsibilities feed my imagination for creating new book ideas, for which the sky is the limit. You might find me on any given day editing a book chapter on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or negotiating with potential authors.

What attracted you to this industry?
I’ve always had a passion for writing and learning about other cultures, which drew me to study geography. Writing, at the time, was just a hobby. My first position with ABC-CLIO was as media editor for the geography web sites—I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a job listing from a publisher seeking someone with a geography degree. It was a fun job and it inspired some of the stories I wrote at home. I eventually went back to school part-time, while still working at ABC-CLIO, to earn my MFA in writing. I thought this venture would be unrelated to my duties at ABC-CLIO, but shortly after receiving my MFA, the managing editor position opened. I still can’t believe I ended up in a position that is so perfect for me. Ironically, years ago, my college geography internship was editing a book. Little did I know…

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position?
The broad overview of human and physical geography, as well as in cartography technology I received was ideal for the position I have now. On any given day, you might find me writing a piece about plate tectonics, followed by another on politics in Kyrgyzstan, and yet another on spatial organization or mental maps. The broadness of geography as a discipline allows me to combine knowledge and skills from other fields of study in creating pieces and developing our websites.

What geographic skills and information do you use most often in your work? What general skills and information do you use most often in your work?
The ability to conduct geographic inquiry is the skill I use most often. Spurring curiosity and asking meaningful questions is such an important characteristic for educators to model for students. Another unique skill geographers possess is the ability to combine geographic data with knowledge of other fields. I strive to introduce geography to young people and hopefully inspire curiosity and an appreciation for the world.

The ability to perform solid research, effectively manage my time, and to think critically are the most valuable skills that I honed during my liberal arts education. I stress the importance of questioning yourself and others and using critical thinking to synthesize and report information as accurately and effectively as possible.

Are there any skills or information you need for your work that you did not obtain through your academic training? If so, how/where did you obtain them?
People management is definitely not something I learned while in college. It’s a business skill that I continue to develop on a daily basis through learning from experience. I think there is still a lot for me to learn about this skill.

Do you participate in hiring, screening, or training of new employees? If so, what qualities and/or skills do you look for? 

Candidates who are positive and truly enthusiastic about geography stand out to me. Effective writing skills and attention to detail are also key. I look for candidates who are curious, want to learn, and know how to find answers when they don’t know the answers. Candidates who have done their homework by looking at our products before the interview and can tell me why they want to work for my company in particular also really stand out.

What advice would you give someone interested in a job like yours?
Publishing, like many other industries, is about adapting to new technologies, globalization, and shrinking budgets. Be willing to start at the entry level and work your way up. Make yourself an authority in your field and strive to be an excellent writer and editor. Start writing now and try to get published. Take accredited courses in editing, proofing, and writing. Look at who publishes your favorite geography and social studies books and see where they’re located, subscribe to their job listings, and be patient. Know why you want to work for these companies. Be flexible and always be willing to learn—and take the initiative to learn. Above all, stay positive—that is a key characteristic that I look for in interviews and I bet I’m not alone!

What is the occupational outlook for career opportunities in your field/organization, esp. for geographers?

I’m lucky to have found a position that perfectly combines my educational background and interests. Geography and writing is a unique and somewhat rare combination for those outside of academia, and the availability of opportunities reflects that. However, such positions do exist, especially if you’re patient and willing to start at the ground level to gain the experience you’ll need for that perfect position. The broader one’s knowledge and skills are, as well as their flexibility to work across fields in addition to writing and editing skills also opens opportunities.