Each summer, Penn Press welcomes interns to introduce them to the world of academic publishing, asking them to participate in the ongoing work of at least one of our departments (Acquisitions, Production, Marketing, and Business). Their valuable contributions help keep us up and running, but we hope that we are also able to give them something back: knowledge, skills, and a more complete understanding of the publishing world. In this post, 2023 Penn Press intern Jenny Fu looks back on her experience.
Books have always been my faithful friend. As a child, I was engrossed in fiction, where authors created new worlds at the tip of their pens, and I encountered characters whose anger, despair, ecstasy, and hope so intensely touched my heart. In high school, the infinite possibilities for interpretation and meaning in poetry drew all my attention. It wasn’t until college that I began engaging with scholarly texts. Academic books are powerfully invigorating as a breeding ground for knowledge and discussion. I was lost in the prolific literature, constantly yearning to learn more. So, when I discovered the internship at Penn Press, I knew the right opportunity had crossed my path.
All book lovers wonder what it’s like working at a press. In my mind, I imagined editors marking manuscripts in profound silence. Contrary to this quiet solitude, my time rotating between the Acquisitions, Marketing, and Production Departments demonstrated that publishing is a highly collaborative process: many ideas must converge to make a book possible, and each department approaches a book with distinct questions.
In Acquisitions, editors ask whether a particular manuscript makes a good fit for the list and consider how it adds to existing scholarship. I witnessed how editors help authors perfect their work by giving suggestions and sending the manuscript to other scholars for peer review. I also learned essential concepts like permissions, print runs, jacket design, book types, and gratis, as well as how they may affect a book’s “P&L.” For instance, the cost differences between jacketed books and printed cases can help control a book’s budget. Similarly, the book’s art program may affect its size, with a 7″ by 10″ parameter offering more flexibility for illustrations but also incurring costs.
Marketing makes the books more discoverable and accessible to its targeted readers. Through hands-on tasks and one-to-one meetings with my colleagues, I became familiar with the marketing toolkit, including metadata, academic conferences, book reviews, award submissions, digital channels, and many other strategies. One important takeaway as I worked on subject coding for books on the Press’s website was to put myself in the shoes of a potential reader, asking questions like, who would be interested? and how would they search for this book? In addition, learning about third-party platforms—such as distributors and sales representatives—broadened my understanding of the publishing pipeline to include things such as inventory and circulation methods.
And finally, Production gets into the nitty-gritty of the text through rounds of copy editing, proofreading, and cold-reading. Here, all the materials are honed and put together to create the physical or digital copy we hold. Not only did I work on proofs, but I also learned about printing, editing, and typesetting. The intricacies in every step of the process were eye-opening. For example, the technologies behind offset and digital printing make them suitable for different print runs, with the latter making on-demand printing a cost-effective option for presses.
None of these questions are considered in isolation. Each week, I attend meetings where everyone discusses each book at length. Sometimes, there are debates about BISAC codes, and other times conversations about how covers can better convey the book’s content to name a few things. I am always in awe of the detail-oriented thinking involved in each book and the team spirit behind making the books exceptional. Ultimately, I learned that the book is so much more than the content; it is the intersection of countless thoughtful considerations from editors, scholars, and specialists!
At the same time, I came to appreciate aspects of a book I once took for granted. I remember a meeting in the fourth week where one of my supervisors explained the difference between distribution partnerships and imprints. She handed me books to illustrate her point, directing me to the copyright page, something I paid little attention to before. Now, I understand that it is a part of the front matter, which serves as the book’s “passport,” giving important information about the publisher, the author, and the work itself while clarifying legal issues such as permissions and rights. Likewise, by corresponding with authors about their book reviews, I realized the reviews’ crucial role as feedback for authors, material for publicity efforts in marketing, and catalyst for discussions in the academic community. Through these experiences, I gained a multi-faceted perspective, understanding books through the eyes of a reader, publisher, and writer all at once.
It was an incredible experience to see how books begin their life at the Press. I had a wonderful summer working in academic book publishing, and in no way does this reflection encompass all the things I learned. I am grateful to my supervisors and colleagues for taking the time to share their professional experiences with me. I hope we will see each other again soon!