Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Intern Dreams Big

Day 2

Today, my first job was to finish up reading the online submissions I’d been given to look over, and to finish the letters. One of the submissions required a different kind of rejection letter because the book had already been published overseas, and Charlesbridge isn’t currently looking to publish foreign titles. Because of those reasons, the book wasn’t a good fit, and was declined. I found this sequence of decisions and reasoning fascinating. The other story I had left to read was an almost 200 page chapter book. I really enjoyed it, so instead of submitting a letter of rejection, I typed up a one page, bulleted paper of the things I liked about it, and why I thought it would be a good choice for Charlesbridge. Some points I looked for and found in the text were educational, historical references, strong characters, and a really interesting plot.

Shortly after finishing those two things, Julie called me into her office to teach me how to file a CIP application. CIP applications, or Catalogue in Publication, is an application which goes to the Library of Congress to register a book that is being published. When the book is printed, the Library of Congress will receive a copy of it. They literally have a copy of every book published by a professional publishing company, in the United States. In the CIP data application, it was my job to input the author’s name, the name of the editor, where it was being published, by whom, what its ISBN number was, what kind of book it was (including its projected audience), etc. After that, I had to open up the book’s file, check to make sure its title page and publication information were correct, and then transfer that into a notepad document and put in commands for the Library’s computers such as for “Title Page” or for the end of the title page, for “Table of Contents,” and or to go around each chapter, with the final chapter of the book ending in . I’m so nervous I messed up and forgot one of the commands or screwed up part of the application on one of the applications. If the information is not correct when it comes back from the Library, someone will have to request a change and do it all over again.

After showing me how to do this, Julie was kind enough to ask me to lunch with Susan and Whitney. Susan is an art director, and Whitney is a design assistant. The four of us went to a delicious (though admittedly expensive) burger place, and I got to listen to how they each found their place at Charlesbridge. It was fascinating. I also asked Julie about graduate school which is a topic I’ve been worrying over for a while now. There are a few schools here in Massachusetts that offer graduate degrees in Publishing or even Children’s Literature. I’ve been agonizing over whether or not I should be taking the GRE and attending graduate school once I graduate in the Spring. After fifteen years of school and working hard to stay on the honor roll, graduate school isn’t my favorite choice of things to do after I graduate. Julie says that while going to graduate school would help me look at children’s literature more critically, it is not necessarily a requirement for publishing jobs. I certainly hope this is true for me when I get there, but if not, I’ll go back to school in a couple years and earn my Masters.

After lunch, I got to work on the CIP applications, which I did until 5. In all honesty, it’s not the most entertaining job as it’s pretty repetitive, but I don’t mind it at all because I think it’s probably the coolest work an intern could be doing—to help authors (even if they don’t know it’s happening) to have their books filed within the Library of Congress. Seriously—does that not sound like the most amazing thing ever?

Day 3

My first job this morning was to finish up the CIP applications, and after that, Julie gave me a draft for a middle-grade novel they're publishing in the fall. I don’t want to give too much away, but to everyone back home, the book takes place in Idaho! Right in our very own Old Penitentiary! The book is about the youngest inmate in history—a ten-year-old boy known as Prisoner 88—arrested for murder. When I told the staff that my high school actually had our Halloween dances there, they were tickled. They asked if I’d give them some pictures, so hopefully mom and dad will be able to go and take some for them to see. Reading that book was so nice because it was like taking a trip back to somewhere familiar. Don’t get me wrong—I love this city so far, and I’m enjoying the meeting new people and doing new things—but I appreciate home, and it’s nice to read about a character who lived where I live. Even similarities such as being able to say we’ve both seen the sagebrush-covered hills, is cool.

When I finished the book (it’s a chapter book so it took a couple hours), I got to sit in on a meeting with Julie, Susan, and Whitney. They were having a discussion about potential covers for the book and proposed designs for the title page. It’s truly remarkable how much time is put into deciding not only which cover illustration is best, but what typeface, and where the author’s name should be positioned on the cover. The coolest part for me was when Julie asked what I thought of the cover proposals, and which one I liked best. Everyone actually really liked what I had to say, and my reasons for why I picked the one I did. In fact, my comments even inspired everyone to discuss those same factors within another one of the covers, which had been the frontrunner at first, but had since been pushed back a bit in favor of another option. In the end, Julie, Susan, and Whitney decided on the cover which was discussed more after my comment, and it was basically the coolest thing ever to have been a part of that decision-making process! They also liked what I had to say about the title page which was awesome. Before this week, never in a million years did I think I would have had the chance to observe and contribute to a discussion with the people whose job it is to create the book you see in bookstores and online.

After this, Julie brought me a draft of another book they’re publishing next spring, called Eat Your Science Homework. It’s a sequel to one of their already published non-fiction books, Eat Your Math Homework. She asked me to read the previously published book carefully, and determine in what ways the new book was or was not consistent with the first. Were the page layouts the same? Did it have the same feel to it? Was the science understandable? I did my best, but didn’t get all the way through. Hopefully on Monday I’ll have the chance to finish it and hear what Julie had to say about my comments. I wish I could convey here how incredible it felt to have pages in my hand of a book being published, and be able to write comments on sticky notes and put them on those pages. The feeling is so great it’s hard to describe.

Day 4

Today, Julie had plenty of work for me to do. I was able to revise the rejection letters I wrote, and she gave me a lot of good critiques to use in future writing. She also loved my first reader's report which was awesome to hear, and I only had to revise a few things on it before it went to Yolanda, the Editorial Director. After this, I finished up reading and commenting on the upcoming sequel to Eat Your Math Homework, and got that turned in. I know I said it in the last post, but it truly is an amazing thing to be asked to critique and add suggestions to an upcoming book. I don't know how helpful I will be, but it's still fantastic to be asked. Following this, I read a poetry anthology submitted through an agent, and as I thought it was a good fit for Charlesbridge, I submitted it to Julie with a one page bulleted document detailing my reasons. There were many for why I liked this particular anthology, but namely, I liked that it was geared towards a child’s audience, that it was entertaining, and that was also educational without being too advanced or preachy.

Later this afternoon, Julie had me look over the second set of proofs for a book that will be out in the coming spring, called Here Come the Humpbacks. For all those with children who adore Finding Nemo, and stories about ocean creatures, this whale of a tale is about a mother whale leading her baby to their feeding grounds. The story is really sweet and it’s got the most beautiful pictures, as well as great science facts. All the artwork has officially been checked and approved, but Julie wanted me to check the writing on each page and make sure no words had been dropped in the printing process. Even though it's pretty easy to go between the originals and the new copies, it's so stressful and I find myself double and triple checking each page because if I don't catch something, I don't want Julie signing off thinking I've done my job and have it be all my fault that there is a mistake.

Finishing this, I worked on the slush pile until the end of the day. Right now, I'm working through the manuscripts sent in in October, and I hope I'll be able to get caught up through July by the time my internship is finished. As there are two other editorial interns, I think we’ll have it done in no time.

The slush pile is very interesting. For those who don't know what a slush pile is, it's a pile of unsolicited manuscripts— in other words, manuscripts sent in by authors without agents. Most manuscripts are only a few pages since they're kids' books, but there have been some chapter books. Some authors send in illustrations (typically not very good, though some are pretty cute) to go with their stories, and others send supplemental "gifts." Whitney said there was one that came with a giant chocolate dachshund. I opened one today that had a fake one dollar bill in it. I pinned it up on the wall of my cubicle to stand as my first bribe (kidding). A lot of the books are very strange. Today I read one about a fly who wouldn't be killed, and another about a girl who had juice on her face and turned into a superhero. People come up with some strange things. Julie says she once got one that was about animals a person had killed. Why someone would think this to be good literature for children, I’m not sure. Some manuscripts in the slush pile are actually pretty good in my opinion. I put two in the "Yes" pile today, and a few in the "Maybe" pile. Most went into the recycling pile, however. Before these go out to actually be recycled, Julie will look over some of them to make sure we’re on the same page. I’ve found it isn’t easy to do the slush pile, because even though I genuinely enjoy reading the submissions (even the awful ones), it’s tough to read someone’s cover letter, listen to their hopes and ideas, and then have to throw those away when the story attached is sub-par. For those reading this who’ve ever aspired to be writers, I’m obviously new at this, but these are some pointers I’d offer from my few days of experience:

1.      Have several readers look over your submission before sending it in. If you’re going to pay for postage, you might as well make sure what you’re sending in doesn’t have silly typos.

2.      Ask your readers to critique you, and listen to their suggestions. If your reader doesn’t understand something, chances are, the editor here won’t either, and it’s too much effort to sit and decipher what you’re trying to say with so many other submissions to get through.

3.      Give your characters names, and show the action, don’t tell it.

Day 5

Today I worked a lot on slush, but I also got to attend another Editorial meeting which is my favorite part of the week. It's so fascinating to listen to these women who are my mentors while I’m here, discussing the decisions they are making within publishing. After the meeting, Whitney let me join her discussion with Susan about the art in a book coming out in the spring, about Winston Churchill and his dog. I have not had a chance to read it yet, but as a dog-lover, I approve.

I never knew there was so much to illustrating. It seems so simple to readers— someone wrote a book, someone drew some illustrations, the illustrations were put in, and TA DA! Book! I’m quickly learning that is not at all how it works. In reality, books can go through several sets of proofs from printers, and the design staff works to ensure that the finished product is as close to the original as possible. That means pouring over first proofs, checking to make sure colors are the same, and the contrast is right. Is there enough yellow or red? Do the colors blur, or is the clarity in the original accurately depicted? Sometimes they have to use Photoshop to fix small errors, or "flop" an illustration so that what was on the right is now on the left and visa-versa. Whitney also taught me some publishing lingo: "Leading" is the space between lines of text, and "Kerning" is the space between words. Sometimes there can be too big or too small of a space, and you can see that if you look at a page and un-focus your eyes. If you don't see lines going across, the leading is probably off.

Towards the end of the day, Julie gave me another interesting job, which was to read along with the book, A Pirate’s Life for Me!, as I listened to the recording. The book is getting reprinted soon, and some of the softcover copies will include CDs in the back which not only tell the story, but contain several musical tracks about pirates. I am 21 years old, and I actually really enjoyed the songs.

Day 6

Today, I spent a lot of time doing slush, but I also attended a team meeting which went over the publication schedule for the next two years. The meeting was eye-opening, and a good lesson for me, as I too stick to a schedule that helps me plan out the Coyote issues. Publishing a book takes so much work, thought, and time. It is truly a long and arduous process. From what I gathered at the meeting, it sounds like most books take two years before being published. The calendar we looked at went out to two years in the future. 

Throughout the morning, I also worked on small tasks such as writing rejection letters for Yolanda, Julie, and even Susan. They all have to approve the letters of course, so that what is being said is representative of their feelings, but after attending that team meeting, I definitely learned why they use interns for the job of writing some of the letters—they are all up to their eyeballs in work.

                At lunch, Julie was kind enough to walk over to the Stop and Shop with me, and I got some lunch foods to keep in the refrigerator at work. It was really sweet of her to walk over with me—I don’t think anyone else in the program has as nice of a boss.

At the end of the day, I typed up a menu for the sound recording for a book that is being reprinted soon.

Day 7

            We have a new Editorial Assistant! Her name is Karen. This morning, while Yolanda showed Karen around and introduced her, I got my directions from Julie and began proofreading the second set of proofs of a book coming out called I Love Our Earth (the bilingual edition). My job was to look between the first and second set of proofs to make sure that the errors Julie had found on the first set had been fixed in the second. Most of the changes had to do with italicizing certain words while making others Roman. A few of the changes were fixing comma errors and realigning the text on a page so that it was right-justified instead of centered.

            The editorial meeting was rescheduled for today, and at the meeting, I learned so much. After Yolanda talked about her projects and mentioned something she felt good about last week, Julie put up four different layouts of part of one of her books. Each layout had a different font. One had a font that looked like Times New Roman at the top, with what could have been Kristen ITC in the “Side bars” below. Another was all Kristen ITC, the third was Kristen ITC on the bottom with what could have been a relative to Monotype Corsiva on the top. The fourth was all Monotype Corsiva (if that’s what the other font was). Julie’s dilemma was that she didn’t especially love any of the choices, and was having a hard time making a decision about which typeface would best suit the illustrator’s elegant style, but still convey the character’s voice, as the book is meant to look like it was made by a child. Each of us got to take a turn and say our thoughts on which versions we thought were working, and which were not, as well as why we liked one over another. In the end, we didn’t have an answer for which one to choose, but Julie was able to go back to the designer and ask for more contrast, which was thought to be something that might fix the problem.

            Also at the meeting, I got to learn a little bit about how books are made/used to be made prior to digital printing. I learned that books are made with pages in multiples of 16, because when pages are printed, they are made in stacks of 8 long sheets, which, when folded over, create the 16. This folded over section is called a signature, and when you look at a book from the top, you can see each signature folded into the spine. Yolanda also showed us film that is as big as an X-ray, which used to be used for printing picture books. The way it worked was that you would have four pieces of film—each would be responsible for a color (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, or Black)—and each print would be made into a metal plate which would have the color put on it. Then, since the prints all work to overlap, they create blends of colors from the three listed preciously, as the paper is stamped by the plates. If you look through a nifty tool called a Loupe, you can actually see the tiny dots of color in every illustration, created in the printing process. Fascinating, right?

After the meeting, I worked on reading manuscripts submitted to an editor who is no longer working at Charlesbridge. I sorted them into “No” piles and “Maybe/Yes” piles, in order to prepare to write the letters and reader’s reports. This kept my busy until the end of the day. Before I left, though, Julie gave me a paper with all the “official” editing marks on it so I can study them and better understand her marks when I get back an edited rejection letter, reader’s report, or submission. I studied it on the bus all the way back to the dorm. It is my goal to have all of the marks memorized, as well as all the hints in my edition of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, before the end of the summer.

Day 8

            Today I worked all day on writing letters of rejection, and writing reader’s reports for the submissions I read yesterday. I ended up liking a few of the submissions, but there were some I was not a fan of. Many of the pieces involved anthropomorphism, which means giving animals humanlike qualities. I’ve seen this work in a variety of cases—look at the Warriors series, Clifford, or the Spot the Dog books. Even The Jungle Book or Wishbone would be good examples. Knowing how to write anthropomorphism successfully is an art in my opinion. How do you make an animal say something or do something he/she wouldn’t normally and realistically do, without appearing childish or cheesy? This is a skill I am nowhere close to mastering, so I understand when I see it not working out for authors whose submissions I read.

            At lunch I went to lunch with another one of the interns, and it was really cool to talk to someone who is in a similar situation as me. Both of us will be seniors next year, and both of us are in love with the field of book publishing. Hopefully one day both of us will have fulfilled our dreams.

Day 9

            Today we had two meetings. One to go over the publication schedule for the books which will be coming out within the next two years, and one to discuss communication within Charlesbridge, and what can be done so that all departments feel included and represented in production. We also watched an interesting short video on calligraphy and how fonts are created. Aside from our meetings, I mostly worked on shush, did a brief filing project for Karen, and worked to track down facts for Prisoner 88. At lunch, a bunch of us went out to celebrate Karen’s first week of work. I sat with Yolanda and Alyssa and got to bombard them with questions about publishing and how they got into the editorial field. Thankfully they’re both patient, nice people, and I learned so much. I feel a lot more focused now in knowing what I want to do for a career someday, and I have a better idea of the things I need to learn before I start applying for jobs.

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