Book Publishing

Emily Wong Posted by Emily Wong, Digital Editorial Intern, Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Book Publishing

I’ve been interested in publishing since I was a punk kid. Not only was I a voracious reader as a child, but I also seemed to have a knack for finding errors in the books that I read, and it piqued my interest in how books were made. I later went on to head my high school newspaper and eventually began to do freelance editing. After gaining more experience in editing jobs, I was eventually hired to manage a health magazine, relearning design principles, copyediting, editorial calendaring, and the fast-paced, audience-driven writing of articles in the magazine industry.

I had still never worked in a book publishing company, though. Newspaper and magazine publishing was fun and fast-paced, but there was something about book publishing that seemed more timeless, important, and significant in the ways it affects how our world works.

When I began interning at Berrett-Koehler, I was pleasantly surprised by how serious the company took that mission to “create a world that works for all.” This had been my initial attraction, and their reputation of living up to this mission had preceded them through other publishers with whom I’d been in contact. My internship had a unique but eye-opening start with the two-day strategic planning event. I was plunged headfirst into the issues publishing companies are facing in an information- and technology-saturated society. To be honest, I was surprised that the event wasn’t a more somber, depressing event. After all, traditional publishing is dying, isn’t it?

Fortunately, I didn’t receive that impression at all. Of course, all publishing companies are aware of the drastic changes being made in their industry of providing information and knowledge to society. They recognize that they are no longer the only ones providing that information. However, I submit that Berrett-Koehler has challenged the common misconception of the dying publishing industry. And I have three reasons why:

1. They are a relationships company.

2. They are picky.

3. They are quick on the uptake.

What—weird list? Let me explain.

A publishing company will succeed if they focus on relationships. Instead of treating their authors like dumb mutts who happen to bring in a dead rabbit that they might be able to make into a decent soup, Berrett-Koehler treats their authors like their loyal and trusting companion, aware of their influence on the world and the huge contributions they make in helping the publishing company remain successful. Berrett-Koehler hosts author days, allowing the author to have a say in their book design, title, marketing strategy, digital publishing possibilities, etc. Authors do more than turn in a manuscript; they help create a platform around the book and build a community of supporters to create a positive change in the world. Creating that deep community ensures that there are others willing to help with the company’s success. The lesson? Don’t treat authors like a mangy dog.

A publishing company also succeeds when it’s picky. This one didn’t make sense to me at first, either. How can publishing fewer books and enforcing a smaller, focused subject matter mean better industry? I have a tired old (but proven) cliché to answer that: quality over quantity. If the books meet a laser-beam focused criteria that demands unique ideas, fresh concepts, and prolific experience, they will be of higher quality. Creating a criteria for books that will fit a certain audience ensures that the books reach a particular standard of excellence for that specific audience.

Perhaps the most significant method that I’ve noticed as the digital publishing intern is being quick on the uptake. This doesn’t mean all employees of a successful publishing company should always be able to understand a funny joke or underlying sarcasm. It means that as society changes, so does a successful company. If people are becoming accustomed to quicker, more digestible information, books should become shorter and easier to read by dividing the books into sections, chapters, points, and subpoints to convey information quicker. If people find digital books more accessible, a company had better create exactly that. Interactive PDFs more interesting than a hardcover book? Get collecting your videos and links. People are more interested in browsing Twitter and Pinterest than a dry old publishing company website? Better get on those social media sites and make your presence known in a way that is refreshing and interesting. Any successful company (publishing or not) knows that you have to provide what your audience wants, and those wants will change over time.

Basically, you have to be the Beatles of publishing companies. Change your style, your technique, and your product according to the times and according to society. If you think the Beatles would have been as hugely successful if they had stuck with singing songs like “Love Me Do” without ever progressing to “Hey Jude” or “Let It Be,” then you don’t understand the music—or publishing—industry. The Beatles changed along with the times, and as a result grew exponentially in popularity and success. Who knew the Beatles were such great businessmen?

This being my first experience at a book publishing company, I have one takeaway that I didn’t expect. That is that every part of the publishing process is just as glamorous as the editing part of the process. There is more to publishing than being an editor. Whether you’re creating hype for the book on Facebook in the marketing department or you're stretching your creativity limits in the production and design of the book, every aspect of bringing a great book idea to fruition is exciting because—they’re books. They spread great ideas. They help others think in a different way and they help people become better. I didn’t feel that in the magazine or newspaper industry, and it’s not an opportunity that many get in a career.

So my overall impression of book publishing? It really is creating a world that works for all.