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Books About Publishing: The Merchants of Venus

4 Nov

Much to the ongoing dismay of my blushing bride I keep buying books at a rate that vastly exceeds my ability to read them. Moreover, as I travel around on various trips I always stop in at every Half Price Books I come across to see if they have any books on publishing, book design, and the like. It’s gotten to the point with these books that I don’t even get to bring them home; instead, they go straight to the office to get piled on a bookshelf there. (My rationale for this is that one of my dream of dreams would be to teach in a book publishing program some day and that these are necessary reference materials.) So that’s why one of the books that’s been kicking around in the back seat of my car for a while since I bought it is The Merchants of Venus: Inside Harlequin and the Empire of Romance by Paul Grescoe.

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Books About Publishing: Marshall Lee’s Bookmaking

29 Nov

lee-bookmaking-cover-2.jpgOff and on for a while now at lunch I’ve been plowing along through Marshall Lee’s Bookmaking: Editing, Design, Production, Third Edition, an excellent overview of the mechanics of book publishing that would be a good textbook for any college-level intro class about the industry. For anyone already involved in publishing much of the information will be familiar, but I think anyone will find nuggets of interest in it.

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Books About Publishing: The Life and Times of Allen Lane

30 Oct

It’s turning out to be a blogging kind of Tuesday morning because now that I’m in the midst of the 2½ hour flight from Savannah to Houston I thought I’d go ahead and give my take on The Life and Times of Allen Lane (Penguin Special) of which I finished my leisurely read this past week. Allen Lane was a British publisher who founded Penguin Books in 1935 and basically created the paperback book market there in and amongst other adventures like being sued for obscenity when he published the first unexpurgated British edition of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

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Books About Writing: A Top 10 … Umm … Top 7 List

14 Sep

To take a cue from David Letterman, I’m going to play around with a Top 10 list this week. (Does Letterman still do Top 10 lists?)

Writing books get their own section in bookstores, and I’ve bought my share of them, some good, some bad, some ugly. I have my favorites, and this is my annotated list:

1. On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Whether you’re writing nonfiction (Zinsser’s subject) or fiction, this book is hard to beat. I first read it in an advanced writing course as an undergrad, and it reinforced my belief in simplicity and clarity as essential to writing, and did its best to beat the jargon out of me (a difficult task later on when hashing literary criticism and critical theory).

2. The Art of Fiction by John Gardner

Though all of what I’ve worked on here at the publishing office is nonfiction, I have to include Gardner’s book on the art and craft of fiction. It’s a classic book on writing, and anyone, especially someone interested in writing fiction, ought to try at least a few of the writing exercises in the back.

3. Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich

Another book about fiction technique, I think any writer would find it useful. Novakovich breaks down the elements of fiction, explains them simply, and then offers challenging exercises. I especially like the sections on word choice and style, and the section on revision.

4. How to Write by Richard Rhodes

More than just a writing manual, Rhodes talks about one of the most detrimental things to writing — fear. His advice is simply to begin writing. The most important thing to remember is his bum-to-chair principle.

5. Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway

Though largely for creative writing, again the exercises can be challenging and Burroway includes several other resources for further reading. Her approach is one I love, too, because she makes the strong link between reading and writing and how to learn to write from reading.

6. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

A classic, but I’ve put it low on my list because it’s somewhat stodgy and inflexible.

7. When Words Collide: A Media Writer’s Guide to Grammar and Style by Lauren Kessler and Duncan McDonald

A great little quick-reference to grammar and style, as the title indicates.

OK, did I say Top 10? How about Top 7? These are my favorites. I have many others on my bookshelf, some less practical than others. Other favorites such as Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer or Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley are much more geared toward creative writing, and specifically dealing with the relationship between reading and writing or with the art of fiction and criticism, but good reads nonethless.


Book Editing: A Big Book Worth Reading

31 Aug

I think I mentioned these last few weeks have been hectic as summer production closes. Still, I’ve cobbled together a few hours here and there at home to begin reading Amy Einsohn’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications.

It’s a big book, 560 pages, including the index, and seems comprehensive, covering process as well as practice (grammar, punctuation, style, etc.) — I’ve only read through the first three chapters and am slowly reading through the fourth, which covers punctuation. Those first three chapters have been absorbing reading, particularly because I’ve experienced my first production cycle, though perhaps not a full one: I entered somewhere in the middle of the cycle when I took over the position as editor here. (Can I get a cliché from the audience? A trial by fire? A thrown in the lion’s den?)

I have a better idea now about what a copyeditor in book publishing does as opposed to a newspaper copyeditor. Einsohn’s book has been reinforcing that understanding. Her book is a big book worth reading.

An essential difference is time. Copyediting at a daily paper, especially one with a small to mid size circulation, can clip along. Sometimes, as deadlines close in, one read through is all you get, when at least two or a thousand would be ideal.

Slowing down my reading pace as I edit is something I’ve had to adjust to. I have loved, though, the time now available to get that second read. At least two passes are necessary for a clean copyedit. As Einsohn notes, “Two passes seems to be the universal magic number: No copyeditor is good enough to catch everything in one pass, and few editorial budgets are generous enough to permit three passes (unless the text is only a few pages long).”

And while it’s common at newspapers for copyeditors to also do design and layout work, that work at book publishers is done by design and production people, according to Einsohn. Of course, here — with design and layout experience — I’ve been able contribute some to the design and layout process to get the books we had scheduled to finish done on time.

With the fall production schedule beginning to roll now, I should be less involved with design than I was this summer, and more involved in development and other editorial duties.

As I was reading through Einsohn’s book I came across this statement: “Copyeditors are not proofreaders.” In an earlier post, I mentioned that I also proofread our books; it’s another talent I brought with me from the paper. Again, often because of encroaching deadlines, proofreading and copyediting were combined at the paper. Now that I have more time, I have been able separate the two processes, and that’s been nice.

I can see, though, how on a larger scale separating the two processes is beneficial. There’s nothing like a second set of eyes for catching errors, especially errors that creep in after design and layout, and any misses from the initial copyedit.

At our scale, having time between the initial copyedit and the proofread helps with the process. When the initial copyedit is finished, I can go on to other projects while waiting for the proof copy to be printed. Once the proof copy is printed, it seems like a fresh text to my eyes.


Book Publishing Operations: On The Road Again

24 Jul

This week finds me in Harlingen, Texas, to meet with faculty and staff at Texas State Technical College Harlingen. Once again I took a school vehicle, this time courtesy of TSTC Waco Recruiting Services, that I call The Behemoth, Jr.

Harlingen truck

On the way down, as always, I had to stop in briefly at Half Price Books on North Lamar in Austin, Texas. Other than that, though, it was almost seven solid hours on the road to get here from Waco. The older I get—more out of shape and slower metabolism—the more trips like this wear me out.

It was, however, another productive shopping experience at Half Price Books. Ostensibly I was going to check out some children’s and YA (young adult) books for projects we’re thinking about getting in the works. Instead, I never made it much past the “books about books” section. Fifteen minutes after entering the store—and $43 charged on the credit card later—I was leaving with my latest haul: Penguin Special: The Story of Allen Lane, the Founder of Penguin Books and the Man Who Changed Publishing Forever, The Oxford University Press: An Informal History, History of the Book, The Owl Among Colophons – Henry Holt As Publsiher And Editor, and Novel History: Historians and Novelists Confront America’s Past (and Each Other). In addition, I found a copy of All The Beautiful Sinners by Stephen Graham Jones, an old grad school cohort who writes and teaches English up at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. Plus, last but not least, I found The Best of Playboar for my wife, who has a real fascination with pigs.

As for traveling, it’s a necessary part of the job but it is something I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it’s nice to get out of the office and go visit with people about books and meet with authors with whom we have projects in the works. On the other hand, due to the factors I mentioned above, it’s a real battle for me to keep the pounds off and stay in some semblance of shape. So, there are several things I do whenever I can on the road to be as healthy as possible.

First, I usually bring my own food so that I’m not constantly eating out.

Harlingen mini fridge

Ah, yes, nothing beats hanging out in your hotel room eating Lean Cuisine and Amy’s dinners along with HEB vegetable egg rolls. Add some Hill Country Fare granola bars, reduced fat Triskits, diet Twist, and Coke Vanilla Zero and you’ve got it made!

Plus, to steer clear of the free breakfasts most places offer—fried bacon, pastries, biscuits and gravy—I even bring my own coffee to make in the room.

Harlingen coffee maker

Finally, this morning I went down to the exercise room here to get on the demon elliptical trainer.


Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to turn it on so, for the first time in my life, I got on a treadmill. Part of me was worried that—like many movies I’ve seen—I would go flying off the back of it. An even bigger part of me was worried that I would do this and—given that there was a big window into the hallway with the elevator doors right across from it—look like a complete idiot in front of the never-ending stream of people getting on and off the elevator. Once you reach a certain age, however, a well-developed sense of shame isn’t going to help you so you just have to soldier on to do what needs to be done. Anyway, 41 minutes and 422 burned calories later, I staggered up to my room to grab some breakfast, get cleaned up, and head over to the TSTC Harlingen campus.


Books About Business: Typo

6 Jul

Continuing my trend—starting with The Smartest Guys in the Room—of reading books about grand business failures, I recently finished the just-published Typo: The Last American Typesetter or How I Made and Lost 4 Million Dollars by David Silverman. It’s about how he and his mentor bought Clarinda, a large typesetting company, in the late ‘90s that they—slowly at first and then quickly—drove into the ground. I’ve wanted to write about this book for a while but have been mulling over exactly what to say because, overall, I mixed feelings about it.

I really like the way that the book—as what I would consider creative nonfiction—related both the anecdotal side of the typesetting industry along with specific business and technical details. (In particular, I liked the informal financial statements that came at the end of each chapter/section.) This combination is something I’ve been looking for in a book more specifically devoted to book publishing but have yet to find. That is, you get memoirs like Jason Epstein’s Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future or straight nuts-and-bolts publishing information like Dan Poynter’s The Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print, and Sell Your Own Book, 15th Edition but I haven’t come across anything that has really effectively married those two approaches in one book nearly as well as Silverman does.

On the downside, whether intentional or not, Silverman never comes across as particularly likeable or sympathetic. Part of this is certainly because of the situation he found himself in: He went from IT geek to president of a company without ever having supervised or managed anyone in his life. In addition, his primary motivation seemed to be almost exclusively money: to turn Clarinda around, go public, and then cash out. Consequently, he never really demonstrates much affinity for his employees (at all!), his customers, books in general or typesetting in particular. One final thing that really struck me was that—I would guess—at least 4-6 times in the book he talks about how fat the women are that he finds himself around. I mean, that may well have been true but, given the fact this was a characterization that didn’t register with me as occurring with men (or, even more importantly, relevant to the subject at hand), all it ultimately did was make him look even more like a jackass unsympathetic. At the very least, some judicious editing of about six or so sentences in the book would have put him in a more positive light.

I think the best lesson that the book shows budding entrepreneurs is that you must do the necessary financial due diligence for both the specific company you want to start/buy as well as the industry in general. Very late—too late for Clarinda—in the book Silverman finally breaks down which of Clarinda’s offices are making money and, not too surprisingly, it turns out that the company was effectively dead on arrival from the point he and his partner Dan Coyne had bought it, mainly due to industry outsourcing of typesetting to India. (Not all of this is Silverman’s fault by any means; there is a whole subplot concerning the way Coyne bamboozled everyone involved from the top to the bottom.)

Certainly, for anyone interested in the big issues of globalization and outsourcing as well as entrepreneurship and typesetting or even just how (not) to manage your employees, this is a book with a wealth of information in it despite, in my opinion, not coming from a particular likeable narrative voice.


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