Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More of the Publishing Process

As mentioned in my last blog post, I recently sat down with some more BK staff from the publicity, production and organizational sales departments to find out more about the workings of a publishing house. Publicity is one of the key components of getting a book noticed in the marketplace. People need to hear about a book a handful of times before they will recognize it on the book shelf and even then they might pick it up and buy it, but they might not. Coming from an advertising background, I know the importance of promotion and brand identity. Authors need to build a brand for themselves as well as a following. A reputable author can work as the selling point, which is especially effective and important in the non-fiction genre of books. This is due to the fact that expertise and reputation allows potential readers to trust the content of the book. The author is expected to take on a lot of responsibility in publicizing his/her book because no one else knows the subject matter as well as the author. The publicity department does a lot to set up events and speaking engagements based on the book's audience.

Production takes care of the complete design of the book. From the front cover, back cover and everything in between. The production team has to consider font, style, pictures and tables, e-books, endorsements, author bios, titles, subtitles, the target market, booksellers and much more. This is a very creative aspect of the publishing process, but is also very meticulous and deliberate. The author often has very particular ideas about how he/she wants the book to look. However, the production and marketing team look at design elements that will satisfy expectations of the target audience as well as the booksellers. The tricky part of this process is that book design must try to meet expectations of what a book of its certain genre looks like while simultaneously stand out amongst the plethora of others like it on the shelf.

Having spent time in the departments outside of editorial  has given me a more holistic and realistic picture of the publishing process. Its been quite a learning experience.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Outside Editorial

Since my boss, Jeevan, is out of town for a couple of weeks, I get the pleasure of finding out more about the departments of the company, outside of editorial. Today, I had meetings with the VP of sales and marketing, Kristen Frantz, the digital community builder, Bonnie Kaufman and the director of subsidiary rights, Maria Jesus Aguilo. It was fascinating to get the different perspectives from these experienced professionals. After talking with these women, I was able to better understand the essential aspects of the publishing company which surround, interact with and support the editorial process. Each of the departments visited has a crucial role in the success of the books Berrett-Koehler publishes. The Vice President of marketing does a lot of the communication and management of getting the book distributed to retailers and properly promoted in the marketplace. The digital community builder creates and develops an online space where authors and readers alike can find great information and interact with one another, as well as promote the books in the online arena. The director of subsidiary and foreign rights is a job I find quite intriguing and complex. She has to make and maintain relationships with publishers all over the world and sell the rights to the books in often competitive environments. Spreading the word of great books and pitching them to book pubs at international book fairs around the world seems like a challenging but sweet job!

Overall, I have a better understanding and appreciation for all the hard work put into releasing a book, what a task! And there's more, next week I find out about organizational sales, publicity and production.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pub Board

I sat in at my first publication board meeting on Jan 13, which is essentially a discussion about acquisitions.  The editorial department presents the promising proposals which they deem to be worthy of publication by the company. The marketing and foreign rights staff are present at the meeting and have presumably reviewed the proposals prior to the discussion. At this particular meeting, only one editor, Neal, had a couple prospective books to pitch. The purpose of the meeting is to raise concerns about the book's marketability and its audience appeal. The marketing department discusses the book's market and how to position the book. This meeting is where the team discusses the book's projected profitability as well as the possibility of having a co-publisher. After all the concerns about a book's potential have been covered, the team votes yay or nay on whether or not to green light its publication. In this case, both of Neal's proposals were "greenlighted". It seems that this is one of the critical stages of the publishing process and the publisher must ultimately consider the book as a reflection of itself. In other words, it should be consistent with the values and image of the publisher.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Happy New Year!

I want to wish whoever reads this, a happy new year! I have the highest of hopes for 2011. I am excited about delving deeper into the publishing world, developing my skills and finding my place therein. Working for Berrett-Koehler, a publisher that has a philosophy steeped in values and has a dedication to spreading ideas that will help people is a great experience. I think, even after my internship ends in mid-February, I will aspire to work for a company which devotes its efforts to helping society.

Catherine, a BK co-worker in the International Rights dept. has provided me with contacts of some publishers in Germany. My goal is to work for a Verlag (publisher in German) after my BK internship ends. I really appreciate her sharing this information with me and it will help me greatly in my search. This is an exciting industry and I am happy to be learning so much at BK.

~Happy 2011~

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Thought About Authors

I just had a thought about the difference between fiction and non-fiction authors. Berrett-Koehler publishes only non-fiction authors and so my observations are coming from this limited experience. I always thought of authors as artists. Their craft being language, of course. It is easy to see that fiction writers are creators; they must be. They are trained in the art of language, narrative, character and much more. However, I think people don't tend to consider non-fiction books art, generally speaking. Non-fiction authors are often experts in some field other than writing. But their art is to share their knowledge and experience with the world through the written word. What renaissance men and women non-fiction authors must be!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Editorial Review Writing

As an editorial intern I had the opportunity to write an editorial review of a manuscript which has been chosen to be published by Berrett Koehler. In some aspects it felt like writing a book report for school. I had to critically assess the content, explain what was the most enlightening and educational as well as the areas that were the least effective or interesting. On the other hand, it was unlike anything I had written before. I had to think about the details of the book in a way I don't usually think about while reading. I looked at things like the structure, format and language more analytically. It was an interesting task because I wanted to show what stood out to me personally, which might not be what resonated with others. The hardest part is suggesting changes because I am not the author, it feels a bit presumptuous to assume that my critique is valid when it is just one opinion. It only takes one other person with the exact opposite opinion to cancel mine out. Since the readers of the book are going to be from different backgrounds and will be using the book for different purposes, I guess all reviews are valuable to the author. Jeevan said that its really good if the author makes 50% of the suggestions from the editorial review process. I am curious to find out how authors take criticism and how much they will end up changing. Ultimately, the editor just wants to help produce the best book possible, which means they have the best of intentions. That is how I approached writing the editorial review.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lessons from a Literary Agent

We had another author day on Tuesday, which dealt with a new book about how brands should create partnerships with consumers who are now armed with technology to influence customer opinions and choices more than ever before.

After the author lunch, the interns were able to speak with a literary agent named Andy Ross. He owned the iconic Berkley bookstore called Cody's since the 70s and two years ago became a literary agent. Andy shared his insight about the retail side of the book business, which he is not too optimistic about. He basically suggested that the invention of e-readers and online bookstores will be the downfall of physical independent bookstores. However, he then provided one possible way bookstores could stick around. He referenced the book, The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More by Barry Schwartz saying that online stores provide seemingly infinite choice, resulting in people tending to buy a limited filtered selection that is promoted through mainstream media. Specialty bookstores can actually give the perception of offering a more diverse selection. Perhaps this is the tactic independents should play up and hopefully some will survive.

The second part of our discussion was about the role of literary agent. Andy told us that being an agent has some of the same responsibilities as editors. He has to find talented authors like an acquisitions editor at a publishing house. He often has to edit the book proposals before they are sent out to the publishers. He mentioned that getting fiction published is like winning the lottery. That was a bit surprising at first but then I realized how risky that could be for a publisher. Andy also said that his retail experience is both an advantage and a disadvantage. While he knows book buyers and local independent publishers better than most other agents, he lacks some understanding of the publishing process. He is happy to be in the business finding talent and helping to get them published. In our meeting, Andy mentioned that one of his most prestigious authors is Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentagon Papers. I saw Ellsberg that same night on The Colbert Report talking about WikiLeaks editor, Julian Assange. What a coincidence!