The Forgotten Heroes of the Book World

Marian SchembariBy Marian Schembari, Contributing Editor, Digital Book World

“Production editors are the forgotten heroes of the book world.”

So proclaimed Kevin MacDonald, Senior Production Editor at Hyperion, during last week’s Digitize Your Career: Marketing & Editorial Forum, much to the delight of the attendees.

Participating in the closing session of the Forum, “Working with Production and IT”, MacDonald contributed to a highly entertaining and insightful discussion whose primary objective was to improve communication between some of the “forgotten heroes of the book world”, and the editors and marketers who depend on them.

All three panelists — MacDonald, Pablo Defendini (Open Road Integrated Media) and Kate Rados (Chelsea Green) — agreed that everyone in publishing needs to learn how the other departments they work with operate, understand their capabilities and responsibilities, and really know what they will and will not (and can and cannot) do for you.

“IT, at least to me and what I think it is, is a very specific discipline which has shit all to do with everything else,” declared Defendini. “These are the guys who are optimizing network performance, managing firewalls, email servers, etc. It’s very different from the production side of things.”

“People like the bucket of ‘IT’,” Rados agreed, clarifying, “Information Technology does not equal ‘Anything That Beeps’. I kind of feel like I’m in a unique position as I’m in marketing half the time, the other half in IT, but communication [between them] is definitely key.”

MacDonald suggested that physical separation causes some of the communication problems, particularly in large corporations with departments on different floors.

“At Hyperion, we’re on different floors meaning there’s less social interaction and therefore less communication, especially in terms of understanding what the other does.”

MacDonald also felt the need to clarify that production is very different from other departments where change is happening so fast it’s often overwhelming.

“Production is dealing with something that’s very old; set in stone. Marketing is dealing with something changing every day.” While production does try to find ways to make things faster, at the end of the day “we’re still putting ink on paper.”

“We’re aware we’re dinosaurs.”

Some practical solutions the panelists and attendees came up with included:

  • Make a point to learn what the other departments are responsible for. This will not only make you friends, but reduce the anxiety that will inevitably pop up when you need something done fast.
  • Once you know what the person next to you does, recognize and appreciate it. In terms of developing productive relationships across your company, “individual recognition” is your most powerful tool.
  • Stop expecting everyone to move as fast as you do. While publishing is changing at an extraordinarily rapid rate, every department faces its own unique challenges; take a deep breath and realize not everyone is on Twitter. Talk to the people around you, too.
  • Help find replicable ways to make things faster. MacDonald made an excellent point when discussing crash books; most people don’t understand how a regular production schedule is put together, and a procedure for crashing books needs to be developed instead of reinventing the wheel each time.

Despite the fact that a lot of attention is given to editorial and marketing because it’s “the interesting part” of the business, it obviously pays to give a little more attention, and credit when due, to the “forgotten heroes of the book world”.

Marian Schembari digs social media and books. Usually at the same time.

2 thoughts on “The Forgotten Heroes of the Book World

  1. Rebecca Maines

    Worth noting as well the fact that what people are called, and what department they’re in, can vary from publisher to publisher. Kevin noted, for example, that at Hyperion, where he works, production editors are part of the production department (which handles manufacturing), which is fairly unusual: more often, production editors are part of the managing editorial department, or occasionally editorial, and where in the process the production editor takes over can vary from publisher to publisher, imprint to imprint, and even from book to book in some houses. Sometimes there aren’t separate production editors; the editor who acquires the book takes it all the way through to hand-off to manufacturing. Then there are project editors . . .

    Yeah, you (whatever your role is) will be well served to understand exactly who does what in your particular house. Even more important: learn who CAN do what–people you work with are very likely to have experience at other places where perhaps they took on different parts of the process, and that knowledge and skill may be very valuable as we rethink our workflows and adjust to change. Don’t be locked into the assumptions of the current job descriptions of the people you work with, and you may open a trove of expertise and new ideas.

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