So, usually I do an interview for my Friday Feature but this week, when I asked my writing group member, Lauren Barrett, to be my feature this Friday, this is what she came up with! Easy to see why she’s a writer! Enjoy. 🙂
Busy morning. I’ve finished paying three invoices and got a good start on the monthly billing. Have to file some tax paperwork after lunch. I answer the phone. “Lauren Barrett speaking. How can I help you?”
“Hi, I’m looking for someone to publish my book,” the woman on the other line says.
“Oh,” I say back.
Three months ago today, I landed my first job in the publishing field as an administrative assistant and expert paper pusher.
I’m excited to be on the business side as a young professional, but I am probably the lowest man on the totem pole at a very large company. This is the third such phone call I’ve gotten from an author hopeful. I probably work in the last department that could publish this woman’s guide to Llama farming.
The first thing you learn is that publishing is a business. I know, I know. Writers have had this lectured at them time and again, but until you’re on the phone trying to get a rights holder to send you their W-8 in ink from Belgium or we won’t be able to withhold taxes for publishing their article on the nervous system of goats, you don’t really know.
On the writer’s side it’s all dreaming and scheming and working insane hours, after a full eight hours at your day job for most of us. All so people will take a look and think our work is important. For publishing professionals, this is their 9-5 job. If we can make the time, they should, right?
I feel like I’m a spy from the writers’ camp sometimes. Taking notes on strange office behavior of editors and interns alike and reporting it back to my friends.
“They don’t like fussy authors,” I say in a hushed voice. “The House also seems to run on cupcakes and cookies.”
Sometimes, I have Office Space flashbacks.
Publishing pros spend the majority of their time at their desks compulsively pulling their hair out in chunks of frustration because their supervisor won’t approve unless projected sales exceed a certain amount and on the other side the author is frantically making last-minute changes that have to be approved by three different departments. Any one person could have a dozen projects during a slow season. When it gets busy they juggle upwards of fifty. They spend their days negotiating with authors and houses and generally dealing with grumpy people.
The energy is sucked out so quickly that they all meet around 3pm in the kitchen when the email goes out that there are free cupcakes. The sugar sustains until 5 or 530 or when the cleaning lady comes and kicks them out of the office to see their families. Then begin again the next day.
I see what it looks like from the other side now. Your book is a product and their focus is on fixing, packaging, and selling that product like mayonnaise at the grocery store. There’s a little more love that goes into selling your mayo, we all love books after all, but it’s the same concept.
Some hints when dealing with these strange animals:
Time is at a premium. They’re not trying to be snippy, they’re just busy and don’t have time for more than a certain amount of words per phone call/email. Be as patient and polite as you can. Even the jaded people will respond to that.
Do your research. They don’t have time for phone calls from the slush pile. Doing your research can mean reaching the right person instead of being transferred to the newest admin who has no idea how to help you.
They’re creative people. I’d say almost half of the people on my floor are in publishing because they love books and writing. Chances are they’ll empathize with you to a point.
“My department doesn’t really handle this kind of thing. But give me your email. I have some links I can give you,” I finally say, looking through my emails for the list. Writing and publishing hybrid that I am, I’m part of that demographic now.
On Twitter: @lahbarrett