Inspired by the Unexpected

Alumni6 MIN READ

As a successful book editor, Julianna Haubner ’14 seeks manuscripts that are ‘adjacent to the obvious’

Julianna Haubner '14, editor at Avid Reader Press, got her start in publishing as co-editor-in-chief of the Colby Echo.
By Meredith McCarrollPhotography by Hilary Swift
February 6, 2024

When a manuscript lands on the desk of Julianna Haubner ’14, she hopes to be caught off guard. The topic may be familiar, but she wants the approach of the book to be uncanny enough to hold her attention—and the attention of future readers.

“My whole life I’ve been someone who looked to books to help me answer questions about how you live in the world and how you move through the world,” Haubner said. Today, she spends her time as an editor at Avid Reader Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, talking with agents and writers about books like this. And 10 years into a career in publishing, she has had the opportunity to bring many such books to a reading public.

When Haubner was choosing a college, part of the appeal of Colby was the sense she got from her tour guide that students were involved widely across campus. It seemed possible to break out of her one lane—which had been competitive skiing in high school—and engage widely across campus. The size of the school helped, but it was also the tone set by students and staff that made it feel possible to try new activities, to engage broadly, and to do it all as oneself. 

As a student. Julianna Haubner ’14 was most drawn to classes that explored certain topics in depth, but with a twist.

Once on campus, Haubner began exploring various clubs and activities. Before long, she found her way to the Echo, realizing that the student newspaper would connect her to various pockets across campus. Even if she didn’t want to join every club, she recalls recognizing that working for the Echo “would show [her] what everybody was up to.” By senior year, Haubner was co-editor-in-chief—deeply involved in leading a team of writers, editing their pieces, and pulling together a paper each Tuesday night. She also worked at the front desk in the Admissions Office, took photos for the Athletics Department, and was a COOT leader (Colby Outdoor Orientation Trips) in her sophomore, junior, and senior years. 

In all these settings, Haubner recalled, “I was contributing to a bigger operation, but within that operation, my individual thoughts, behaviors, and presence were identifiable and valuable to shaping the environment. ” 

Contributing to something bigger

When it came to academics, Haubner was most drawn to classes that explored certain topics in depth, but with a twist. She remembers Laurie Osborne’s Queer Shakespeare and Elizabeth Leonard’s history classes as being particularly effective at shifting the perspective of a broader subject by focusing on smaller elements or under-told stories and details: “You were learning these traditional things, but the lens through which you were viewing them made it new and interesting and relevant to your life or the world around you—things that are adjacent to the obvious.”

“Adjacent to the obvious” also describes the approach that Haubner seeks in a manuscript now. “Most of the nonfiction that I do is about popular or widespread concepts but looking at them just a little differently.” Over the course of her career, she has worked with authors such as Susan Orlean, Tom Brady, Rinker Buck, Lisa Taddeo, Emily Nagoski, and Lynn Vincent, and edited bestsellers by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, Tunde Oyeneyin, Julia Boorstin, and Garrett M. Graff, whose book Watergate: A New History offered readers a more comprehensive and contextual look at a well-known period of American history that has impacted our current politics. (It wasn’t only Haubner who was a fan of the book; Watergate was a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the 2023 Pulitzer Prize in History).

Julianna Haubner ’14 in her Manhattan office with Simon & Schuster’s Avid Reader Press, where as editor, she hopes that a book will catch her off guard and capture her attention.

Another example is Heather Radke’s Butts: A Backstory (2023), a cultural history of the female rear-end that spans two centuries. “The book talks about Josephine Baker and eugenics and the Kardashians,” Haubner explained, “these things that you think about all the time but you realize you haven’t interrogated in a deep way.” The book was widely acclaimed and was named one of Amazon’s Top 20 books of the year. 

As an English and history double major with a minor in Italian, Haubner had plenty of reading assignments, but always made time to hit the books for fun as well. Zacamy Professor of English Debra Spark remembers Haubner most clearly as a reader. “The thing I remember most about her as a student is that she usually had a huge fat novel that she was reading on top of her school work,” she shared. “She was always in the hallway with a book in her lap.”

Julianna Haubner’s time at Colby and the liberal arts education she received prepared her for the New York publishing world.

That interest translated most potently into her junior and senior years when she took a course with former English professor Tilar Mazzeo that focused on recent prize-winning books. Haubner remembered, “[This course] made me realize that we could talk about the books being published currently like we talked about the classics.” That summer, she carried that excitement into internships at a literary agency and at the independent publishing house W.W. Norton.

Mazzeo, who retired from teaching to focus on her own writing in 2019, later directed Haubner’s honors thesis in English, which Haubner designed and proposed for approval. For the project, she read the books that had spent the most time on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction Bestseller List in the 2000s to identify patterns, trends, and themes. Her conclusion was that the sustained popularity of texts as diverse as Fifty Shades of Gray (E.L. James, 2011), Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn, 2012), the Game of Thrones series, and World War Z (Max Brooks, 2006) could be explained by their connections to “different forms of terrorism and that in a post-9/11 world, we were working out our anxieties through the fiction that we were reading.”

That kind of project, Haubner feels, was possible at Colby because her natural curiosities were nurtured. “I was encouraged all the time to ask questions. I was encouraged all the time to discuss things with people and try to figure things out. That was a real focus. It was in the DNA of the place,” Haubner said. And, it ultimately prepared her for New York publishing: “I’ve edited science books, I’ve edited sports books, big history, narrative journalism. And that is a benefit of a liberal arts education in general, but I think that doing The Echo and having the professors that I had in the history and English departments that encouraged me to pursue whatever interest I had within that discipline really put me in this zone … in a really productive way.”