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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Meet the Press

As part of our Intro to Publishing class, I had the opportunity to talk with Beth Collins, Production Manager at Beacon Press. Having majored in English and minored in film, Beth had initially planned to make documentaries. A few years after finishing her undergrad at Mount Holyoke, she went to Boston University for television production but found it difficult to find jobs that weren't freelance, which is certainly a common complaint amongst documentary filmmakers. Eventually, Beth started working as a temp at Houghton Mifflin while still making documentaries on the side. Thus began her road to publishing.

After realizing that she wanted a home in publishing, Beth found that Emerson College offered a certificate in publishing and she completed the program, adding some crucial publishing skills to her repertoire. Soon after finishing the program at Emerson, Beth was hired at Beacon.

As a production manager, Beth works closely with the finished manuscripts to get them through publication and ready for marketing. After a manuscript has been edited, Beth's department has to book for up to nine months, prepping it for printing. At any one time, Production may have up to ten books in different phases of production and each book may be in a different phase on any given day.

The production team, with Beth's guidance, works to ensure that the edits have been input correctly, that the covers look good and the jacket copy is correct, and that the finished product is ready for manufacture. Prior to production, cover designers have chosen a font package that will be used throughout the book and the cover itself is created. All of this is fed into InDesign and the book layout is finalized. The manuscript is then sent out to be typeset and printed to one of the group of printers that Beacon works with consistently. The production director (Marcy Barnes) is responsible for maintaining the list of printers as they do change frequently. If the book will become an eBook or Audiobook, those services are outsourced to companies that specialize in those formats.

At Beacon, authors can be certain they will be working with the same production specialist throughout the entire process, ensuring continuity through the entire project as production is where all the finishing touches happen. In many cases, Beth says, the books are rather straightforward academic texts that don't vary much in layout, making the process relatively simple to streamline. On occasion Beacon also produces books of poetry, in which case the author is generally responsible for directing the layout and appearance of the book as poetry takes its own form in the printing process.

As a reader, Beth says she's excited about a couple of Young Adult titles that Beacon will be producing which is something they haven't done before. The books have quite a few images and text boxes and Beth says she is looking forward to seeing what that process is like. Knowing my interest in mental health, Beth recommended The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease by Jonathan Metzl. "I was a production assistant at the time this book was published so I just reviewed the page proofs and jacket, but it’s stuck in my memory," Beth said of the book. Now Beth has a great deal more responsibility but says she greatly enjoys being a part of the production team at Beacon and having a hand in producing meaningful works of nonfiction.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Time Travel

"Imagine yourself as a young twenty-something who would like to work in a large publishing house."  

When I was applying to college I told my parents I wanted to major in English because I wanted to become a writer. Here's how that went:

Me: I want to major in English.
My mother: ......
My father: .......
Me: No really. I want to be a writer and I need an English degree for that.
My mother: .......
My father: What the hell are you going to do with an English degree? You can't make money as a writer. You need a backup plan. Like teaching.

And so, that's what I did. I went to Elms with the intention of majoring in secondary education so I could teach high school advanced placement English and creative writing while I wrote the great American novel in my spare time.

Then came my early 20's when I accidentally fell face first into special education. It's a long story, and one that involves getting a mechanical pencil jammed in my hand (see earlier posts) but I found myself working at a residential treatment facility and researching my first nonfiction book (even though I didn't know that's what it was at the time).

Even though I was enjoying teaching and applying to grad school for special education, I still occasionally crept through the job postings in the publishing industry. I was never brave enough to apply for them but I certainly dreamed. I thought I wanted to be an acquisitions editor, slogging through the slush pile to find that one diamond in the rough that would become the novel of the year, of the decade, the voice of a generation. I pictured myself kicking off my Jimmy Choos and propping my feet up on the desk in my cubicle while I read manuscripts. Later I thought I might want to be an editor, going through manuscripts with my red pen, helping to shape a book the way Max Perkins did with Thomas Wolfe.

Then I discovered that I hate editing. I hate reading raw material. I also discovered that I'm much better at interacting with authors and helping them build a platform for their already finished book. Eventually, I also discovered the production aspect of a book, creating a schedule for a book's creation and launch, writing jacket copy, having input on the cover design. Laying out a book and formatting a text gives me a much greater sense of accomplishment than editing does. In fact, I've discovered I have neither the attention span nor the patience to edit a manuscript.

I still enjoy the thrill of meeting a new author who has something to say and hearing them pitch their work. I love discovering writers who have an incredible story that wasn't right for other publishers but might be right for a small indie press that can devote more time to the work. But most of all I love being the last person to touch a book before it's released, the person who coordinates all the moving parts and makes the author's vision a reality. Production is the behind the scenes machine that makes the book an actual thing, a product that we can put in a reader's hand and say, "Enjoy".

I'm still teaching and still an idealist when it comes to publishing. I now have friends in the industry and I love listening to them talk about the authors they're working with or the great manuscript they found that they hope the editors will love. I still sometimes wonder what that would be like. But I'm also a realist and I know that I want to be on the other side of the fence, behind the curtain, working to put the finishing touches on a book. Just call me The Wizard....


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Mistakes Were Made

This week we were asked to take a look at some common publishing terms and reflect on our understanding of the business jargon.

The word of the day kiddies:

And no, I didn't choose it because it sounds like erotica. Get your minds out of the gutter.

In publishing errata is a loose sheet detailing errors found in a printed book. It's a literal accounting of your failures as a writer even AFTER having gotten published. Now isn't that a slap in the face.

I find a certain kinship with this word because this list of errors reminds us that at every step of the publishing process we are all human. Even though there is a team of professionals working tirelessly to make your work the best it can be for public consumption, nothing can ever be 100% perfect.

When I wrote my first novel I assumed I would just edit it myself. I would print it out, chapter by chapter, and line edit my own work.

Then one day my eyeballs exploded and my brain liquefied.

No, not really. But that's what it felt like. So I hired an editor and I thought, now it will be perfect.

I got it back and my head exploded a second time.

My editor and I swapped that manuscript back and forth at least four times and likely could have done it more (if I hadn't gone broke) and still found more errors.

Once it was published, what's the first review I got on Amazon? One star because the book was "loaded with errors".

That's it. I quit.

No, not really. But my first thought was, how the hell could this book still have errors? I've been staring at it for SIX YEARS. It has to be right by now! But it will never be right. It will never be 100% because the human brain can't pick up every error every time. There will always be mistakes and I've come to the conclusion that these are what makes the book human and reminds the readers that there is a real living, breathing person behind those pages. A whole team of them in fact! And none of them is perfect.

All of this is a longwinded way of saying, don't pick on authors when you find errors in their books. Even the largest publishing houses miss typos or small grammatical errors.

And no, your author friend WILL NOT appreciate you handing them your own carefully constructed errata after you read their book. If you do this, you will no longer have friends.