What’s in a Career? Fear, Excitement…

Returning once more to the intern side of things, I’ve been thinking about my future career a bit lately. What’s the future for jobs in our economy? There are estimates that nearly 40% of jobs currently done now will be gone in the next decade or so. It’s the computers, they are coming for our jobs. It’s like I, Robot but friendlier and with more unemployment payments.

While I know that there will always be a need for human writers, editors, publishers and designers, I do hesitate to think about what all of this means for my future. I sit in a very precarious position at the start of my career. It’s precarious because I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. I’m sure if I knew where I was going though, I would get lost. I’m happy to go with the flow, but it does worry me from time to time.

As one job comes to an end, I’m wondering how much longer I’ll be doing temporary contracts. Or if I’ll become a slashie, a term for someone who crafts full-time hours out of multiple jobs which tend to be in entirely different careers, i.e. “I’m a such-and-such/this-or-that/third-career-or-job”.

I wouldn’t mind having that sort of career trajectory as my main goal at this stage is do something interesting or meaningful, preferably both.

I think there is also a definite need for people willing to do many different things, sometimes all at once. In 2013, I attended the Independent Publishing Conference hosted by the Small Press Network in Melbourne. It was a fantastic experience for me then, as a student, and one of the key things I took away from those three days was that it’s quite common for people in the publishing industry to have a range of different roles that don’t necessarily correspond with one another. To be someone who “wears many hats”.

These storied careers are fascinating, and show a side of the business which I think is both wonderful and scary. It’s wonderful because I find the prospect of those changes to be inviting. The idea that while your career is on a path, that path is always turning. It’s not a straight ladder.

The scary part of that is the unpredictability or insecurity of it. Just like temporary contracts, you never really know when or where or how things will end.

The publishing industry is a tremendously exciting place with a range of different roles to fill and I think in the future it’s going to be more and more important to be able to fill many of those roles, to be an all-rounder. That excites me, but it does also concern me. I worry that we’ll lose specialists. Many roles have already been taken out of the house and made into freelancer positions. I don’t know if this translates to less people becoming that kind of specialist, or if it means more. I think it’s probably less.

That’s one of the weird effects of digital disruption in a way too. Digital opens up the toolkit of publishing to anyone. So while some jobs may fade away or diminish because of this, other freelancers will be sought by more customers than previously. This adds to the career excitement and the fear, and I think it’s a balancing act that a lot of people at the start of their careers feel. It’s an important one too, I think.

In this blog, I haven’t answered the question that spurred me to write. But I have come to a better way to ask the question:

How can I balance the excitement and the fear, to have an interesting career?

 

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Is A Picture, a Blog, A Tweet, worth a 1000 word Resume?: Interning in the age of Social Media

There’s no longer any doubt that this is the age of social media. It seems like barely a year goes by without someone telling me something about a new way to broadcast myself, my life or my thoughts about cats all over the internet. Social media has become a major way through which we connect with people, events, and pop culture. It’s becoming rarer and rarer to find an individual of my generation who isn’t engaged with at least one social media platform, usually several.

It’s not just individuals who are joining the social media revolution either. Businesses are increasingly taking up the mantle, and choosing to advertise to or engage with their target market through the computer screen, as well as the many other screens advertising has always dominated. The publishing industry is no different. You would be hard pressed to find a publishing house that doesn’t have a Facebook page, but it is really Twitter reveals the increased engagement of publishing with social media. Not only do most publishing houses have very active engagement on Twitter (seriously, I’ve found so many new books since joining, just because they appear on my Twitter feed) but social media interns are now a recognised position, as are full time employee positions to cope with the overwhelming demands of continuous engagement with social media.

However, with social media becoming a defining feature of our generation, engagement with sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Reddit – to name just a few – is becoming more than just a part of an intern’s leisure time. It’s now often necessary part of employment.

The internship market is a competitive one. Now more than ever, you have to make yourself stand out, and appear as appealing as possible. Many young individuals are turning to their social media to do this. Since we started this blog, I’ve been told plenty of times how beneficial it is to be able to link potential employers to it, to show what I can do. It’s not why I do this, but I guess I can see the benefits of that. As I move closer to the end of my degree, and begin eyeing the job market increasingly warily, a variety of people have offered several gems of social media wisdom:

‘Keep your Facebook clean, your employers don’t want to see you stumbling around drunkenly’

‘Without a LinkedIn profile, your chances of networking and getting a good job are way less’

‘Be up on as many social media platforms as possible, that’s where employers are looking these days.’

Now none of these things are necessarily bad advice. They’re probably all true. But, at least for me, they also reveal a worrying shift in the focus of employers from what you can do for their company, to what your social media – often your private social media – says about who you are, and maybe, and only maybe, your ability to be a competent employee.

This puts the more private, the more reserved, and the less blatantly sociable interns at a distinct disadvantage. Not on Twitter and willing to retweet all your employer’s promotional tweets? You can guarantee there are 100 other interns who are. Spend most of your nights chilling with friends and don’t feel the need to photograph everything, resulting in a dry and barren Facebook page? You must not be digitally engaged, and as the power of social media continues its meteoric rise, an intern’s ability to be digitally engaged and digitally aware is becoming a necessity.

Social media allows us to digitally document parts of our lives, and showcase them for others to see. Some people share all of it (maybe too much) and some people share very little. But at what point should the amount of your life you choose to share with an often-undetermined amount of people, be a consideration in your employment?

They’re Their: Copy Editing and Its Importance to the Finished Product

Right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of you are feeling a bit ripped off. In our introductions, and most of our discussions about what we do, Brendan and I have both said time and time again that the majority of our work centres around editing. But so far, a lot of our blog posts have focused on other topics. We hear you, loyal readers! You want to know about the ins and outs of editing, and we plan to bring it to you.

Today this post is all about copy-editing, the often confusing, mostly frustrating, and frequently overlooked aspect of editing that many authors forget they need. Copy editing does not concern itself with major plot holes, aspects of drama or action that need livening up, or even fixing those incredibly annoying characters that you just cannot stand. In a nutshell, copy-editing involves editing a text to make sure it is clear, easy to read, and most of all, consistent.

When I talk about copy-editing’s concerns with being clear, I am mostly taking about issues of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Misspellings, an over abundance of semicolons, or passive voice are all concerns of the copy-editor. This also ties into making the text as easy to read as possible. Copy-editors scan your manuscript line by line, just waiting to find those devious little sentences that are too long, too verbose, or just plainly too confusing. Like a tiny little word ninja, they swoop in and cut those sentences down, making them pleasing and simple to read.

One of the absolutely key jobs of a copy-editor is to make sure the manuscript is consistent. There are many out there, mostly frustrated writers banging their head against battered keyboards, who would love the writing process to be simple and straightforward. The reality, of course, is that it is a highly creative and organic process. As such, characters undergo major identity changes, settings are moved, and events are scrapped and written again. This means that your average manuscript can often be full of inconsistencies that the author has overlooked or simply forgotten to fix. When your Hobbits begin by marching through the Misty Mountains, and end up at Hogwarts, that’s when you know you need a copy-editor.

Most inconsistencies aren’t usually as drastic as all that (although, now I think about it, Bilbo Baggins’ sorting would make some awesome fanfic). Usually checking for consistency involves fixing characters who were redheads in one scene and brunettes in the next, or whose names have mysteriously changed halfway through. Not only that, consistency with word choice is also important. How many times have you Aussie writers battled frustratingly with a Microsoft Word that insists on changing your ‘s’ to a ‘z’. Small issues like these occur frequently throughout a manuscript, and finding and fixing them is an important part of the copy-editing process.

I can see the cogs whirring in your brain from here, even though none of you have yet read this article as I’m writing it. This sounds like proofreading! Proofreading is easy, I do it all the time in my essays, why have you gone and given it a fancy name? I should note, before our publisher reads this and then decides to hunt me down for my factual inaccuracies, that there IS a difference between the two. Although proofreading and copy-editing have several things in common, they are different parts of the editing process. Proofreading is generally the final stage of editing, where we look for errors that have been overlooked in previous edits. These are usually small spelling mistakes and typos. Copy-editing is a far more intensive edit, and aims to make the text as cohesive as possible, in order to provide the most pleasure for you, the reader.

It’s very easy to think that editing is just the one process, rather than the many-layered beast it is in reality. Manuscripts go through a number of edits before they are even proofread, and a major part of this is the copy-editing. We’ve all been frustrated by a sudden change in a character’s appearance or name that shouldn’t be there, but the sign of a solid editing process is when that never happens. And as someone who wants to be an editor, boy is that a lot of pressure!

Disruption Is The Decline of Publi- Shh!

What’s to fear from disruption? More to the point, what is disruption?

Disruption is the use of digital technology to supersede established businesses by newer and leaner competitors. Disruptors are often regarded as “smarter” companies, but the truth is that they are nimble and able to disrupt because they don’t have the existing systems that prevent the established companies from moving quickly (often in ways that hurt their traditional model). Disruption is a creative, yet destructive force.

Publishing companies are among some of the oldest established businesses in the world, and hence stand to lose a lot. Even if they can innovate incrementally, the destructive nature of disruption (literally the removal of parts of their business chain) means that they can never competitively disrupt their own practice to defend against newer and more aggressive competitors.

However, it’s a very big leap to assume that publishing is doomed by disruption. I was reading an article late last week that began with the premise that publishing is in decline. This is a premise that I strongly disagree with. I hope many of you reading this will also disagree. I want to look at this from the perspective of an intern or in a more grandiose (or delusions of grandeur) sense, from the perspective of a young-publisher-to-be.

I can understand the doom and gloom when we get stuck on the Disruption narrative – the Amazon narrative. And boy, what a narrative that was last week! Amazon’s office culture was exposed by the New York Times and then there was a subsequent flood of “surprised” and “concerned” articles that ranged from expressions of disappointment to demands to boycott. I found these particularly bemusing. If you’re expecting a company founded on disruption to be the friendly ideal of the childhood ballpit as opposed to the brutal reality of a childhood ballpit, I cannot understand why.

See what just happened there? I got distracted by the Amazon narrative. This happens very often. It happens to all of us. But books are more than their commodification, as is the publishing industry, despite its critics.

Now, are we in the death throes of this industry? No, no we are not. It’s simply a period of change. Whether that change is ending now, or will drag on for a longer period still remains to be seen. It is clear, however, that the initial panic has faded and things have stabilised. I mean, publishing companies are even hiring bright, young people like me. Or more specifically, slightly brighter, slightly older people kind of like me.

That’s not to say that there are no threats or concerns that arise from disruption by digital technology. But more simply, that the business of publishing books seems to be rolling on, ever on. It’s different now in the details, and probably more competitive, but from a big picture perspective, the game remains largely unchanged.

“Is it a good story? Yes, huzzah, let’s publish it. Will it sell x amount of copies? We’ll hedge a bet, let’s publish it. Is this a book that people need to read? We think so, let’s publish it at a greater risk.”

What can be said is that there are dwindling opportunities for new and midlist authors at the bigger end of town. Conversely, however, there is an abundance of new opportunity at the smaller end of town. The changes we’ve seen in the publishing industry allow small presses to be more competitive and more active than ever before. Digital disruption has increased access to publishing tools and services and transformed self-publishing from a difficult affair into a manageable and potentially profitable model for authors.

It’s the literal meaning of swings-and-roundabouts. Yes, a large corporation is making large inroads in controlling a significant portion of the book trade. Yes, they are disrupting the traditional publishing model, but they aren’t burying it (at least not successfully). None of this is an integral part of the publishing industry: it’s all ephemera. It’s affecting, it squeezes the margins tighter, but at the end of the day they were already pretty tight. As an intern and student, I’ve studied the history of publishing and the industry has survived bind after bind just like this. It’s going to do it again, and I’m going to be there when it does.

The Cave Where Dreams Are Made: An Intern’s Visit to the Printers

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The Lightning Source/ Ingram Spark Headquarters

by Jenna O’Connell

So, something I’d never thought about until recently was where our books came from. I’ve been interning for Odyssey for almost a year now, and I’d never questioned the appearance of our books. We just got them out of boxes when we needed them. Intuitively, I’m sure I didn’t believe that our publisher just waved her fingers and the books appeared in a puff of smoke, but I certainly hadn’t given printing a moment of consideration. As I learnt recently though, not only is there a lot that goes on between the final edit of a book and pulling out a knife to slice open that first crisp box of books, but it’s something that almost no one thinks about.

On a recent trip to Melbourne, I was lucky enough to have a site visit at the Lightning Source/ Ingram Spark printers in Scoresby. While it doesn’t initially sound like an awesome adventure, let me tell you now, for all you booklovers out there: IT. IS. CANDYLAND! Ingram Spark is a publishing-on-demand platform that offers both print and e-book versions. Publishers like Odyssey, as well as authors who are self-publishing, upload their manuscript, and the relevant details like ISBN, pricing, territory rights etc. The book is then processed, printed at a facility like the one we visited, and distributed out to warehouses, retailers, publishers, whatever you like! But, as with everything in life, there’s a bit more to it than that.

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Piles and piles of printed books waiting for their covers. The process begins…

Our visit started with a meeting with the manager for content acquisition in Australia, Debbie Lee. We had a chat about Odyssey’s relationship with Lightning Source/Ingram Spark, how Odyssey likes the relatively new Ingram Spark platform, and the small publishing industry in general. Here, one of the main themes stressed again and again was quality. That’s something my boss is passionate about – delivering quality books that are worth reading. For both Odyssey and Ingram Spark, quality control is a big issue, and one of the reasons my boss uses Ingram Spark as a printer.

Then we headed out onto the floor. And that’s where the real fun began. Just this site here processes between 40-50,000 books a month. You walk through the door onto a raised lookout over the factory floor. That’s when the excitement hits. Books everywhere! It really is the book-birthing suite, with books in every stage of the printing process. Lightning Source has two black and white digital printing devices on the floor. There’s a digital link that routs the publications from a database in the United States. You submit a book through the Ingram Spark portal; it travels digitally to the US, is processed and re-routed back to this device, which begins the printing process. At this facility, publications are routed three times a day, at 3pm, 5am and 8am. Inside here the book is cooking away, producing all the pages. From there the books are cut, and we start dealing with covers!

The cover-printing machine rolls out the covers in big long strips, which are then cut and assigned to their relevant books. Everything is done via barcodes. At any stage of the process, if barcodes between covers and manuscripts don’t match up, the machine won’t work. So if you’ve ever wondered what that barcode in the back of your book is for, now you know!

From there, the books are put into a binding machine, to finally attach cover and pages. The newly created book is shot out the end. But wait! This doesn’t look like a book! There’s cover hanging off everywhere! That’s because after the book is bound, it still needs to be trimmed. Something I hadn’t realised was that the books don’t shoot out automatically bound perfectly. The cover printer has a standard size paper to print on. This means the book is often quite a bit shorter than the cover at first. Once it’s through the trimming machine though, everything is finished. And boy is it tempting to pick up those books and run away with them!

The mighty book binding machine. Magical!
The mighty book binding machine. Magical!

The visit to Lightning Source/Ingram Spark (or as I’m now referring to it, The Cave Where Dreams Are Made) has been one of the highlights of my internship so far, because it opened my eyes to a whole side of publishing I had never even considered. I started this internship with my eyes firmly focused on learning how to be an editor. But sitting in on this meeting, and touring the site where books are actually, physically, made, I’ve discovered a world of other interesting facets in this industry, and one I’m definitely keen to explore further.

Give Me Paper or Give Me Death

This is not the debate you think it will be. I love both ebooks and print and this is not about which one is better. That fight has been played out more times than there are new titles in a year (for the curious, that’s some huge number I don’t want to look up).

This is about editing, and style. It’s about old fashioned copyediting vs. the digital, track changes kind. They are basically the same thing; I’m looking for same errors, I’m changing the same sentences.

But one turns the page into rivers of blood and bubbles (I’m looking at you, Word), and the other involves beautiful, albeit antiquated, markings that are a language unto themselves. A subtext that any trained eye can read. . . Well, that depends on the legibility of the craftsperson (yes, editing on paper is a lot like artisanal sourdough).

An insistence on editing on paper is pretentious. But I can live with that. The reason I love editing on paper is much simpler. In a digital document, there is just a stream of words and pages, without a significant indicator of progress made. Sure, things turn red and comments appear thick and fast, but you don’t have the stacks. The stacks are the true measure of whether you’re on pace for a deadline. If the stack to your left (or right, I’m not a cop) isn’t decreasing and the stack to your right (or vice-versa, your left, you uncultured swine) isn’t increasing, than you know you’re not getting much done. If you are powering through it, however, the shifting stacks can be a source of motivation and pride. You just don’t get the same sense of achievement when you check a page indicator at the bottom of your Word doc.

Then there’s the way you can sort paper stacks into chapters and assign them to days. You say, I’ll have this stack of chapters done by Tomorrow, and that stack by Tuesday, etcAnd then you get to keep them in separate piles and feel extraordinarily organised and industrious. Now, you could do this with a Word doc, but it’s just annoying rather than inspiring and then you have recompile them into a single document later, which is far more laborious than stacking paper.

A mark against on paper editing is that, due to the nature of the industry, any changes you make are going to have be made to the digital file eventually. Almost certainly by YOU. This means editing on paper increases your workload. But conversely, this also means that by the time all the edits have been transferred digitally, you will have edited the manuscript twice. Turning weaknesses into strengths is part of my repertoire of excellent (party) tricks.

I could consider the environmental impacts of printing each manuscript to edit it on paper when I could just edit it digitally, but in this industry that argument is pretty laughable. Do I still feel terrible about the trees? Yes, but not terrible enough to seek a different career.

In summary, you can take my pens but you’ll never take my freedom! preference for editing on paper.

The Hitcher in the Picture: An Odyssey Intern takes Supanova

by Jenna O’Connell

Have you ever been to a convention? No, not those super boring things in the boardroom where everyone wears a name tag, and if you’re lucky there’ll be a Monte Carlo and some hot orange juice for morning tea. I’m talking about a fan convention, in this case, a pop culture and all round awesomeness convention. I hadn’t been to anything like that before I started interning for Odyssey. But for authors and publishers, they are so much more than a chance to dress up and overspend on a heap of cool things.

What I’m constantly learning about, working in the small publishing industry, is that there are so many more ways to market books than just shipping them off to a bookstore and crossing your fingers. And when you’re a small press, you REALLY need to be pursuing all those other opportunities. So far this year, I’ve tagged along with our publisher and some of our authors to two Supanova conventions, and learned a ton about the opportunities that come out of events like these. For those of you who haven’t heard of it before, Supanova is a pop culture convention that runs across Australia at various points in the year. It bills itself as a celebration of all things pop culture, so fans of anime, fantasy, sci-fi and everything in between unite over three days to dress up, meet some of their heroes, and (hopefully) buy a lot of cool and quirky things.

The set up for those selling things is quite like a market. A lot of booths, mostly small, although the bigger companies had massive ones. We were located in what is called Artist’s Alley, which is an area specifically put aside for smaller artists, from comic book designers, to jewellery makers, to publishers and authors like us. Before we went to our first one, I assumed we were going just to sell books. We publish quite a bit of sci-fi and fantasy, so I figured this was a new way to sell to our target market. And it definitely was. What I didn’t realise, is just how much more than that it would also be.

Supanova was a great way for us to make our brand more recognisable. For every one person that bought a book from us, we had 10 more picking up cards, chatting to us, wanting to learn about our website. Many of those people will lose the cards, and forget all about us. But a picture of us is in their head, and they’re more likely to recognise us next time. I began to realise that awareness is just as important as actual sales. Awareness is about engaging a customer so that they will return to see what we do next, and who wants to know what else we do. I also learnt just how important being different is in building that awareness and recognition.

On the second day of Sydney Supanova, I dressed up as the Hitcher, from the television show The Mighty Boosh. One of our authors, Tracey Joyce, dressed up as Isaura, from her very own novel Altaica. The amount of photos we got stopped for, even when we were just hanging in the booth, was amazing! And just by drawing people into the booth, having them look at what we were doing, we captured a lot of people who otherwise might have walked right past us. And not only that, we had some awesome conversations with some truly amazing costume artists.

Speaking of conversations, one of the things that took me most by surprise was the amazing opportunity for networking that Supanova is. At both conventions, not only have we sold our current books, we’ve also been approached by prospective authors. A couple have already joined our Odyssey family, others who have amazing manuscripts that I honestly can’t wait to read. And not only that, we’ve met self-published authors and talked strategy, we’ve met illustrators and graphic designers interested in working on cover art with us, and we’ve also had a chance to chat with other publishers, both small and large, and see how they approach conventions, and even marketing in general.

Just sitting around with our publisher and her authors at these conventions, I absorb so much. The conversations that come with meeting others in this industry casually, or even in outlandish costumes, provide more hands on experience than you could ever hope to get trying to research all this stuff. Selling books at a pop culture convention turned out to be so much more of a learning experience than I could have ever expected it to be. For me, it shows just how much can be learnt by being a fly on the wall in every possible publishing and marketing experience. As usual, I learn just as much outside the office as I could ever hope to inside it.

Starting Small

You there! Want to crack the oldest game in town? The Book Trade, I say!

Step right up! Publishing is not an easy industry to get a start in. Sometimes it seems like there’s either a feast or famine in the job market, and for entry level positions it’s a particularly ravenous existence. This is where internships help. Often people perceive the best internships or the most desirable internships to be those with the big five or other suitably large publishing operations. I disagree with that and would argue an alternative view: the best experience for an internship you can get is at a small press.

Why intern at a small press? Comparatively you might meet less famous authors, work on less high-profile books and have a less stylish office to frequent. But you will also meet local authors, most of whom are incredibly friendly and happy to talk shop and share their advice from their perspective of the industry. You will probably get to do a more diverse range of tasks because frankly, many small presses need more hands on deck than they can afford. You will be assigned projects that are important to the press as opposed to tasks that no-one in the office has time for or is particularly keen on doing. Essentially, you become part of the team.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved interning at a big publisher. It was a wonderful experience and I did learn a lot. For example, how to use Adobe Bridge, the ins-and-outs of the restaurant scenes in both Melbourne and Sydney and what it’s like behind the scenes at a cookbook photoshoot. It was brilliant and the team I worked for were a fantastic bunch of people who I couldn’t be more grateful to.

But my time at this small press has been really different (but equally as brilliant). I’ve been everywhere, and I’ve learned so much. The internship here has been one of the most versatile experiences I’ve had so far in my life. And one of the most flexible.

Work from home? Mandatory. Pyjamas? Hey, it’s your house. You can only work 8-10pm? That’s fine.

In a big press, from my own experience and the experience of those I’ve spoken to, interns tend to be placed in one area and work exclusively on a set of tasks within that area for their whole internship. This is not true of all big publishers of course, but in many there are set lines which interns, like the staff they are attached to, do not cross.

At a small press, there are no such lines because there are often not more than a handful of employees. This is great! You get to do a whole lot of things, sometimes all at once. Look! Two hands! I’m typing with two hands! Marvellous. Due to the significantly smaller size of presses, you will often find yourself in direct contact with the publisher, if not interning directly for them. This is also great. You get the full experience of what it means to be a publisher by working so closely with them. The stress, the victories, the excitement at finding a good book to publish.

Anyone looking to start out in publishing will probably find themselves doing more than one internship. Or should, because really, where do you get that competitive edge? So why not do the big press internship that everyone seems to drool over, and ALSO do a small press internship. My own small press internship has been an absolute blast and has skilled me up for the publishing industry unlike any other internship. It’s inspired me to continue in publishing, even when it seems I’m going against the odds.

Futuristic Books

Editing and the Way Forward
by Jenna O’Connell

Nobody reads books anymore. Anyone can self- publish these days, why would we need to be signed? Publishing is dead.

These are all sentiments that have been punted back and forth, usually by your average person on the internet. As we enter an increasingly technological age, debates on the future of the book, particularly the print book, are becoming increasingly common. I won’t lie, as an intern, a student, and a young editor; the potentially tenuous future of the publishing industry has frightened me at times. Is there a point trying to crack into a notoriously competitive industry when many out there are predicting its downfall? I’m sure I’m not the only young publishing hopeful who has considered this question.

However, my feelings have been largely assuaged, thanks to my attendance at the Australian Publishing Association’s recent seminar: Editing Futures: How Commerce, Culture and Technology Are Changing Editing. As I took advantage of yet another opportunity to tag along to an event with our publisher, I was largely unsure of what to expect. What was the future for publishing in an increasingly dense media world? Apart from all the things I actually learnt, which I’ll get to in a moment, it was enriching to hear so many individuals discussing the future of editing. Among the casual discussions to be had on the day were comments on the rise of small press, increased focus on social media, and opportunities for distribution. Whatever else you say about the nature of publishing in the present time, from my experience, you can’t accuse them of not looking towards the future.

We began with a focus on acquisition and commissioning. Sue Hines, Group Publishing Director at Allen & Unwin, stressed the importance of knowing how to put books into the market. In a society with access to a greater volume of books than we have ever had before, this struck me as particularly important. An increasing variety of categories and sub-categories allows us to more easily position books in relation to their most likely consumers, something which I believe allows us to more accurately assess how well a book will do. But, as Sue ruefully noted, it’s not always as easy as that.

The importance of trends to the publishing industry was highlighted, and the difficulty of attempting to be ahead of the curve duly noted by all with a sigh. It was a sentiment further reinforced by publisher Robert Watkins, of Hachette Australia. Robert began by noting the challenges of a highly competitive book market, something we’ve all felt across the industry. The pressure to innovate and provide new talent is ever looming, and Robert’s advice was to be as across media and popular culture as you can. This was something I hadn’t much considered before, but his point that these are the areas from which trends most often emerge was spot on. I’ll certainly be keeping closer tabs on culture, news and social media from now on. And hey, if I can justify a sneaky movie as ‘cultural research’, you can bet I’ll be jumping right on board!

However, it was the second part of the seminar where things got really futuristic. Editorial Consultant Sarah JH Fletcher and Sydney University Press’ publishing manager Agata Mrva-Montoya took us through the technology that is best assisting publishers in innovating, from writing and reading, all the way through to the production of the final product. An important area, that print-centric little me had barely considered, was eBooks. Many publishers still tack on their eBook as an afterthought, but in this day and age, the role of eBooks as an important and separate form of media was stressed. What I hadn’t realised was how much cool tech was out there to make creating eBooks a happy little dream.

The most useful and interesting bit of tech to come from this was the idea of a content management system. This is a platform in which the content (i.e. the text of the book) is created, managed, and then exported into a variety of formats. After a particularly disastrous experience with a content management system earlier this year, I was initially reluctant to consider one again. However, with a realisation that increasingly, adaptable book formats are becoming key, I became resigned to giving the frustrating, intimidating technology another go.

I could blither on for pages about the insights I gained from attending this seminar, but I worry I’d scare you off! Suffice to say, the most important thing to come out of the presentations and discussions of the day was this: there IS a future for publishing, and it has the ability to be a dynamic and vibrant one. With a willingness to innovate, and to embrace the inevitable progressions of society’s demands, books, in all formats and iterations, will thrive long into the future.

Diamonds in the Slush

I’m going to tell you the story of a story. Not of how the story began, because that is the domain of the author. I want to talk about how the story becomes a book; an object and so much more than that. It all starts with the slush pile, or the submissions list.

The small press submissions list is a place of new beginnings, where first time authors might find themselves picked up and finally offered publication. It’s a wondrous place, filled with both incredible stories and also a lot of passionate writers. They don’t always hit their mark or their words aren’t always for us, but when we find those stories that are “it”, there’s nothing better. It’s an affirmation of what we do, as people bound to the publishing trade. After all, we are passionate readers and writers, and passionate publishers (even if only budding) too. The distinction between a manuscript and a book is an important one, but there are those manuscripts that break the line; that appear as if already bound and printed.

On my first day in the intern job, I was deep in the submissions list. I want to tell you about a manuscript I found that day. I was expecting to find some flaws or a reason why I shouldn’t suggest it for publication. Honestly, I was new at this and I thought that I might come across as naïve if I recommended anything. Half an hour later, I was raving mad. I sent off for the rest of the manuscript. I needed more. There had to be some way in which the first four chapters had overpromised, I thought. The new intern could not have found such a gem on the first day.

But I had.

The whole manuscript arrived. Sure, it had a few things that needed tightening. I scribbled a few notes in places where changes were needed. But it was good. I wanted to write up an acquisitions proposal immediately. But I waited. I again feared that I was being naïve. That there was no way this book was as good as I thought. I re-read bits here and there over a week and my conviction grew: I’d found a brilliant book, not in a book store, but earlier than that. It was like when Harry received a Weasley jumper for his first Christmas at Hogwarts.

I went on to lay out a tentative publishing strategy, mock up a few ideas for the cover and then, finally, I got to edit the book. Yep, me. Editing. A real book. As an intern, this was a big thing for me. This was the first full manuscript edit I ever got to do and this will always be an important book to me, because it was the first that I believed in before I saw it in a bookstore.

We’re publishing it this September, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. For those curious, it’s Hero by Belinda Crawford and thoughts of publication day are giving me butterflies.