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Emily Potts: Always a Finger in the Wind

Written by in Profiles

Emily with daughters Andi (L) and Charli (R)

Photo: Emily Potts is on the [snow] ball

Our friend Emily Potts, the acquisitions editor at Rockport Publishers, breezed through the Windy City recently for 98th Annual College Art Association (CAA) Conference and trade show, the largest international gathering of art professors, students, and practitioners. Her presence was part of a full-court press by Rockport to capture the attention of design educators and their students to determine what types of print publications they were looking for. Emily was there to gauge the markets and create book products that meet existing, compelling need.  Singing the blues is not her style.

On February 11 we caught up with Emily at Sweetwater Tavern and Grille, a Michigan Avenue bar in which millions of bucks of stainless steel, granite, and mahogany were fighting a sort of interior-decoration civil war against twenty-seven screens of ESPN. Teriyaki skewers were next to nachos, hummus, and pretzels on the appetizer list; our waitress had orange skin and some funny ideas about eye contact. Chicago was under about nine inches of glorious, slushy, filthy snow.

But the day had been warm, and the frost was melting. Winter comes to an end, and publishers publish. “As everyone knows, last year was a bad year in publishing,” Emily said, “But who can afford to dwell on that? It is incumbent on all creative companies to look for new opportunities. To get leaner, meaner, better and quicker. To reinvent down to even the delivery systems. You either adapt or die.”

Orange Julia arrives with another round of beers. The future brightens. This was Rockport’s first appearance at the CAA conference. “We need to create books that students and educators find useful. While we already have several books that are immensely popular course adoptions,” Potts explained, “we want to hear from educators about their design classroom needs. We want to know how we should supply products. What is appropriate for digital publishing? What is appropriate for print? We aim the meet those needs.”

Potts, who lives in Peoria with her husband, Ted, and two daughters, had spent the day running the Rockport booth at the trade show, which was taking place around the corner at the Hyatt. The day had not been without its Chicago-style challenges. She had been on her feet all day—and because her colleagues in Boston had been grounded by the same blizzard that had just smacked Chicago, she had been working solo. Her energy and humor didn’t show any strain from her trade-show adventures.

“Yesterday when I went in to set up, I asked them for an extra table,” she said. “One guy brought the table and 30 minutes later another guy showed up to put a table skirt on it. When I asked why I had to wait, the trade show people told me the table guys and skirt guys belong to different unions.”

Potts is not just waiting for the future to happen. She is determined to shape it. “I have great faith in designers—they buy tactile and the tangible, to look at, turn the pages. Books worth reading and viewing are worth having, having something tangible as a reference is something creative’s and people in general need. I was talking with someone today who said, ‘I just like falling asleep at night with a book in my hand.’ So even though so many publishers are facing the same challenges, I’m hopeful that printed books will remain constant companions for millions today, tomorrow, and beyond.”

She adds, “Besides, who doesn’t love the smell of a good new book especially when it is yours to reference time and time again?”