When it was time to announce my plans after accepting the offer to join the Publishing MSc at Napier, the conversation always went the same way. “I’ve decided,” I’d say, “That I’m going to go for the publishing postgrad.”
“That’s great!” they’d reply enthusiastically. Then, inevitably, the pause. Then – “So, uh. What does that involve?”
It would be my turn to hesitate. “Oh, you know. Making books and stuff. Editing. Printing. That sort of thing.
They’d nod and smile and tell me it sounded great, and none of us would be any the wiser. I had read the Napier website and this Publishing Postgrad site, and I’d searched around a little. I knew my explanation was lacking, but, despite that, I could not shift the image in my head. I’m sure every reader of this post will recognise it: the author in their study, tapping away at their keys, sending out the printed manuscript to hundreds of different publishers by post and waiting anxiously for an acceptance letter. The publisher receiving the big envelope, becoming engrossed by the story, and deciding to go ahead. The editing, taking out all the mistakes, and then, somehow, a cover appears and suddenly the book is in bookshops. A romantic, cinematic notion to be sure, and one that absolutely did not prepare me for the myriad of jobs that realistically need to be completed before – and after – a book is published.
I have now been on the MSc Publishing course for almost ten weeks, and have been thoroughly disabused of the above notion, learning parts of the publishing process of which I had never even dreamed.
First and foremost: marketing. I vaguely knew, of course, that marketing was important to any newly-published book (one needs only to look at any midnight release to know that), but I had never really made the connection between it and publishing. On the contrary, of course, marketing plays a massive part– marketing to the individual, yes, but also marketing to bookshops to get them to sell your books, marketing to book clubs, to schools, and to whole social groups. Discovering the wide range of activities involved has been a fascinating experience; not just posters and television advertisements, but hosting events, working with outside companies and charities, author speeches and interviews…the list goes on and on. Perhaps most surprisingly to me and yet most obvious today: the importance of Twitter and other social media, not only to promote individual books, but to promote your authors, your publishing house, and everything else. I did not use Twitter prior to starting this postgrad, but never again will I doubt the power of a #Hashtag.
There is the PR work – promoting your author, your titles, ensuring the good name of your publishing house, not just for new releases but throughout the lifespan of a book. There is design; not just the nitty-gritty of the book covers, but also everything from the typeset to the exact placement of the page number, and the creation of the one-page AI sheet which must stand out amongst a hundred others to get sellers to stock your book. Then there’s what I like to think of as book necromancy; not just publishing new titles, but giving new life to the old, either those your house has already published, or work which is out of copyright and can be aimed at a new market.
On top of all of that, there are rights. I had no real concept before, beyond a vague idea of copyright, how much legal work was involved in any sort of publishing. Translation rights, format rights, electronic rights…every aspect of the written product must be meticulously considered for legal repercussions. Publishing contracts need to cover everything known to man – and, for the sake of posterity, also somehow cover things which aren’t yet known.
Which brings us to editing, where I had previous informal experience. There, at least, I wouldn’t be taken by surprise – right? If you’ve read this far, you know that the answer is “wrong”. Editing isn’t just sitting down and correcting spelling mistakes or covering plot holes. “Editor” is just as nebulous a title as the rest. From commissioning new work to learning the necessary marks so that a foreign typesetter can understand your edits, from balancing corrections against the author’s voice to working with the author to rewrite whole sections for internal consistency, editing is a huge, daunting job, within an even huger, more daunting industry.
And I love it.
All that in ten weeks – and I still have so much more time to go. It’s intimidating, overwhelming…and exhilarating.
“I’m doing a publishing postgrad,” I tell them.
“That’s great!” they reply enthusiastically. The pause, then: “What does that involve?”
I laugh. “Quite a bit,” I say. “More than I expected.”
They smile, hesitant. “Sounds like a big challenge,” they say, a statement and a question.
“Oh, yes, it is,” I reply, and it’s my turn for enthusiasm. I can’t stop grinning. “You have no idea.”