Thomas Riggs


History of TRC

Thomas Riggs, owner

Thomas Riggs & Company (TRC), long known officially as Thomas J. Riggs Inc., began as a small group of former publishing employees, mostly from Encyclopaedia Britannica, who had moved on to become freelancers. At our jobs we had been given a traditional publishing education—an apprenticeship in which editors were patiently taught the minutiae of the craft—and we felt a common culture and kinship that made working together easier, despite our living in different cities.

Our first project, Contemporary Poets, published by St. James Press in 1995, was a revision of a long-established book of critical essays on poets. At the time few people were on the Internet, and we had to contact the 779 poets covered in the book the old-fashioned way—by mail or by phone and often by both. It brought both frustration and joy. Finding an Australian poet vacationing at her friend’s house seemed like a miracle, and talking with an insomniac young poet, now quite famous, who called late one night, was a curiosity that still lives vividly in my memory. So, too, we had to find writers to produce critical essays on the poets, but we were guided by a distinguished board of advisers, whose generosity was remarkable.

With our first foray into book development, the company began. But we were a nontraditional organization. We all lived in different states. I lived in Missoula, Montana, a city known for its many writers, but it was also set in a beautiful valley in the Rockies so remote that you could easily lose contact with the rest of the world. One of our editors lived in Ohio. Another lived in Chicago. And so on. We spent a lot of time on the phone.

To formalize the company I created a corporation and chose to call it Thomas J. Riggs Inc., largely because I was used to working under my own name. I adopted as our business model a web of geographically dispersed workers, each operating in a different location but brought together with specific functions—editor, writer, researcher, project editor, etc.—for our various projects. People were free to do work for other companies, and one of the things we found so appealing about the arrangement was that we felt free. We lived where we wanted and worked when we wanted. We had the power to say no if we wished to do something else. But we also had the community of the company. Some people worked with us continuously, while others would drop in and out. And our community began to spread to many talented people we met by chance or through contacts. Mariko Fujinaka, who is now our managing editor, I met while living briefly in Spokane, Washington. She began working with us in 1997.

As an interconnected web working under the name Thomas J. Riggs Inc., we developed many books, some of which, as is common in book development, do not bear our name. Two companies in particular, Gale (now part of Cengage Learning) and Chadwyck-Healey (ProQuest), became important publishing partners, and we have been grateful for our working relationship with them. Although most of our work concerned literary topics, we branched out into religion, advertising, art, and even economics.

Although the interconnected web model worked, it had a number of limitations, and in 2007 we began a transition to a new system, one that would maintain some of the freedoms we enjoyed but that also brought advantages found only in a more traditional organization. Important in this transition was developing a shared workspace. Because of faster Internet speeds and new computer applications, it became possible to create a virtual office on the Internet. Initially built on SharePoint, Outlook, Office Communicator, and Live Meeting, our office allowed us not only to share file directories and calendars but also to talk with and see each other at any time. We could share our desktops to show a colleague something or to work on the same text. In other words, we began to function virtually as if we were in the same office.

Other changes came from developments in the publishing industry, and we became aware that we needed to stay on top of new technology that was driving the future of publishing. Coding, XML editors, and text parsing became part of our daily life. Because of the simplicity of plagiarizing from the Internet and online journals, we hired an antiplagiarism company to review all our text for copied material. Perhaps most significant in academic publishing was the gradual moving away from paper and the adoption of entirely Web-based publications. Some projects we worked on could be found only on the Internet. Although much of the work we did was the same for an online project, the loss of paper and the dominance of the Internet could sometimes be jarring to those of us who began in publishing when PCs were novel and red pencils were more common than word processing.

By 2010 all our products were electronic or at least had a digital version. The addition of new media, from sound and video to online activities and tests that guided students to learning objectives, redefined our understanding of publishing. Among our long-term goals was to experiment with new media and online platforms to help create new possibilities with our publishing partners. We also hoped to use these experiments in developing one of our own products—an "offline and online" series of French books translated into English.


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