Eating the Paste on Facebook

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....


No comments:

Post a Comment