25 February 2012

A brief note on a life in publishing.

So, one of the reasons I have not posted as much as I'd like to around here is because of my job (school's another one, but school's always another one, so I don't think it counts).I am lucky eough to have a well-paying job in publishing. I'm the production assistant at Flatlands University Press [fake name!], and when I say "the" I mean there are no others. I think there are fourteen people in the whole press. In a publishing season, they bring out about 40 books, most of which will, at some point, cross my desk.

And when I saw this post by Catherynne Valente, a well of recognition welled up inside me. Because publishing is hard. It is not magic. I know this, and, rather than unloading a bunch of stuff in the comments there, it seemed more appropriate to do that here. Ergo:

My dad's a writer. I'm a writer. He's also an editor, and I'm also an editorial freelancer and, as mentioned, a production bunny at a university press. All of these things are a lot of work. In production, it means spending a couple of days to a week or so on every pass over a set of proofs. Are the pages aligned? Are the author's marks on the same proof as the proofreader's? Do the running heads make sense? Is the table of contents anything like accurate? Are the illustrations in the right place? Is the index in alphabetical order? Did the author include all the relevant information in a bibliographical entry? Do that author's changes in the proof make sense, grammatically and contextually? These are questions to which I need to be able to give an affirmative answer, and when you're working on a text that runs to 300+ pages with over 1000 bibliographical entries, it is very hard to remember why you left the house that that day.

As a writer, I send out a lot of submissions, the overwhelming majority of which are met with rejection. Well, that's that. There's also, you know, the writing part. Enough has been said about these things, however, by others.

But there's this, too:  I've been watching my dad's career over the last, say, 15 years. It never gets easier. His work is more in developmental/content editorial, so he needs to read things in which he has no interest, which often come to him in an "amateurish" state, to put it nicely, and tell the author how to make himself make sense. He needs to come up with ways to make books about retirement finances look interesting to readers and still accurately convey whatever the author is trying to say. This is all pretty bad, but worse is when one of his own books comes back to him from a publisher, telling him to do a content edit on his own work. If you've ever writen an essay, or even a grocery list, you know how hard that is. There are errors you don't see -- will never see. There are things you should get rid of that seem terribly, terribly necessary. It's a bitch, and the worst of it is, when that happens, you know you still won't get paid for another couple of months, at least, and that's if your editor is doing his job and isn't on vacation/getting a divorce/down with lyme disease (true story).

Publishing is not magic. It's not easy, and it's not well understood (so I guess it is kind of like magic). If it seems like publishers don't know what to do, don't understand what you or they are doing or should be doing, it's because the vast majority of them are English majors who, when they started out, didn't know a proof from a pudding or a copyeditor from a cat. (And forget about compositors.) Basically, no matter which side of the desk you're on, you have to work at it all the time. Just ask this guy.

On a somewhat related note, check out these awesome poems by my pal, Beth O'Kain. Also available now is this novella by the marvellous Micah Martin, which is worth far more than its asking price, and which is excellent indeed.