A Guest Post by Caroline Winschel
After I had been working at the Press for about six months, I was visiting my mother and noticed a familiar spine on her bookshelf: it was a copy of Kirsten A. Fudeman’s Vernacular Voices: Language and Identity in Medieval French Jewish Communities. Because my mother is neither a medievalist nor a reader of monographs, I asked her why she had the book.
“Because it has your name in it!”
Of course. Thanks, Mom.
When a book is first published, the advance copies that arrive in our office are carefully inspected by our production manager before they are deemed suitable for distribution and sale. By the time I get a copy, it’s already received her seal of approval, and there’s nothing left for me to check. I like to think that this justifies what I do check: the acknowledgments. Following the model presented by many of my senior colleagues, I flip to the back matter and scan the assembled thank-yous for my name.
Even when I’m not skimming for the sake of my ego, I like reading an author’s acknowledgments. There’s something very satisfyingly voyeuristic about seeing to whom—and how—an author offers her thanks. One of the very first books I worked on at the Press referenced a number of my college professors in the acknowledgments; although the author’s experience at our shared alma mater had been decades before mine, I was heartened to learn that she’d faced some of the same withering stares during her honors seminars. Another author, fresh out of grad school, had hidden jokes throughout his acknowledgments, and I still wonder if he invented the person who was identified only by his or her initials—and I wonder what foul thing the initials stood for!
My favorite line from an author’s acknowledgments, however, remains one that no one would have thought amiss in the printed book. This author actually revised his comments several times, sending me multiple new versions over the course of a week. His final version added one sentence at the very end to mention someone for the first time: “And, of course, my wife, as always.” Since the final draft is the one that counts, I suppose we can’t find too much fault with that alleged “as always”.
I suspect (and I hope) that the author’s wife never knew how close she came to being forgotten in her husband’s acknowledgments, but I’ll confess that I’m always pleasantly surprised when an author mentions me. Most do—Penn Press authors are generous, thoughtful people, and they’re deeply steeped in an academic culture of giving credit and acknowledging their debts. After several years of working with them, I’m still honored when an author includes me in her acknowledgments, and I suspect that my colleagues feel the same way.
Indeed, I should be grateful that I’m ever mentioned at all: there are twenty-five members of the Press’ books division, and only a handful of us ever see our names in print in the books we work on. Although a given book will pass across almost all twenty-five desks—from the director who signs the contract to his assistant who files it, from the art director who designs the jacket to the production assistant who circulates it for proofreading—an author’s interaction with the Press tends to be limited to the acquiring editor who first sponsored the project, the acquiring editor’s assistant, the book’s managing editor, and the copyeditor.
Still, when the acknowledgments include paeans to an author’s grad school chums and faithful babysitters, I wonder if she realizes how indebted her Press contacts are to our own colleagues and networks. In the spirit of mentioning those whose talents and contributions to our work are too often unsung, I present the following brief roll call:
Thanks are overdue to the marketing department as a whole, whom I’ve never seen mentioned in any book. I suspect that it is the plight of a marketing department to be perennially ignored by a grateful author, just as many misguided authors believe that it is their plight to be perennially snubbed by the marketing department.
I am grateful on a daily basis for colleagues whose work takes place largely behind the scenes: the business administrator who processes honorarium payments for our expert readers, the exhibits coordinator who makes sure we have clipboards and calculators at conferences, the assistant production manager who painstakingly walks me through every element of a proposed book design. I am also grateful for the people I consider to be both my allies and my enemies: the employees at libraries, museums, and art galleries who provide illustrations for our books and grist for our why-can-they-charge-$200-for-that mill.
We would be nowhere without our faithful comrades in tech support, whose cheerful admission that they don’t know what the hell is going on with our printer, either, makes me feel better even though I still can’t print.
On an equally significant level, we are indebted to the fine people at our neighborhood pizza place, who always remember the anchovies when we have our biannual pizza party, and to the kind soul who so often leaves Trader Joe’s chocolates by the third-floor fax machine. I’ll add a special thanks to the anonymous but visionary colleague who recently restocked the cutlery drawer in the Press kitchen, making it possible for me to eat yogurt with something more than a plastic fork.
If I were being truly faithful to the traditional form of acknowledgments, I would take this last paragraph for the most personal debts: to my most inspiring early mentor, to my boyfriend, to my family and my cats. I’ve already sneaked in my thanks to my mother (see, Mother, you get first-paragraph billing), so I’ll close with one final expression of gratitude: very special thanks to A.B.D.
Caroline Winschel is an Assistant Editor in the Penn Press Acquisitions Department, specializing in the humanities and handling all the Press's reprints and new editions.