Each summer, Penn Press welcomes interns to introduce them to the world of academic publishing, asking them to participate in and contribute to the ongoing work of academic publishing in four departments: Acquisitions, Production, Marketing, and Business. Their valuable contributions help keep us up and running, but we hope that we are also able to give them something back: knowledge, skills, and a more complete understanding of the publishing world. At the end of their time, our interns have the opportunity to look back on their experience in a series of blog posts that we call Intern Reflections. First up, we have Alex Anderson.
What book are you reading? When someone asks me this question, I usually respond by showing them the cover. I’ve always thought of books in terms of their authors. Yes, it’s the author’s book, because his or her name appears on the cover, but now, having spent my summer at the Penn Press, I’m beginning to appreciate just how many people touch a book before it goes into publication. Sure, the ideas in a book are still very much the author’s, but the acquiring editor has molded them. The content has been checked and double-checked by the copy editors. Blurbs on the jacket have been arranged and reworded and then rearranged by someone in Marketing. The cover has been designed, and the type has been set. There are many more steps in the life cycle of a book, and at every turn there is someone performing some task to make sure that eventually the work reaches the public. Sure, a (printing) press is what physically produces a book, but that name is also appropriate for the Penn Press because both are well-oiled machines.
As an intern I played a few small, silent roles that helped turn the wheels of the Press. One of my many jobs in the Editing department was to comb through an old manuscript containing the author’s edits and compare it with a version just returned from the typesetter to verify that all the requested changes had been made. While this may seem inconsequential, it was part of a process that makes sure there are no mistakes in the final product. My other assignments were all in this same vein concerned with what you’re reading. I also, for example, had to skim over “blue lines,” the final stage of a book before it’s printed and bound. Things to look out for were nonsequential page numbers, incorrect chapter titles, and misplaced images, among other things.
If the first half of my summer focused on the book’s content, the second half dealt with how you’ve come to be reading what you’re reading. How did this book wind up in your hands? How did you know to buy it? In the Marketing department I created flyers advertising new titles and prepared sales plans to send to the authors of those titles. This was a very different experience because I had previously been engaging with the text firsthand. Now, I was dealing with just the idea of a book. If before I caught the book somewhere in the middle of its life cycle, now it was at its end, already printed and ready to be sold. But, what I noticed at both of these stages was that there were always invisible players guiding its journey. So, I guess it’s easy to answer the question of what you’re reading, but it’s not always easy to tell who you’re reading or whose touch you’re seeing, because those people often go unseen and uncredited.