Intern Reflections: Lucy Bartel

Each summer, Penn Press welcomes interns to introduce them to the world of academic publishing, asking them to participate in and contribute to the ongoing work of academic publishing in four 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. At the end of their time, our interns have the opportunity to look back on their experience in a series of blog posts that we call Intern Reflections. For our second and final post from this year, we hear from Lucy Bartel.

Preserving Publishing: Meeting the People Keeping the Academic Book Business Alive

In a world increasingly driven by immediate access to technological forms of media, there are a few staunch fighters in the battle to preserve knowledge in its most basic, pure, and reliable form. This summer’s internship at Penn Press introduced me to these warriors of words.

While academic presses are, to some extent, moving with the times—they publish e-book versions and utilize online platforms such as Amazon to sell their books—they also strive to protect the more nostalgic notion that a book is an object of beauty and sensation. Hearing the sound of crisply turning pages, feeling the weight of a book in one’s hands, and smelling the freshly printed ink and paper are all things that book lovers cherish. (And you can be sure that the people working here are readers, from the quirky book exchange shelf in the Marketing offices to the passion they show for the variety of subjects on which they publish.)

Far from grasping at the dregs of a dying industry, unwilling to face the reality of inevitable changes, the experts at Penn Press are doggedly dedicated in their pursuit of knowledge and maintenance of the art of academic publishing. They integrate new practices into the tried-and-true techniques that have stood the test of time, since the advent of the first printing presses and the first commercially printed materials distributed to wide audiences. I was struck by the importance of each component in the “life cycle of a book,” as it is so fondly called at the Press. The cover designer spoke so affectionately of the visual movement and aesthetic of old-fashioned typeset ink and his determination to mimic this lost effect in his contemporary designs. The Direct Mail and Advertising Manager, Tracy, was always game to teach me a little about both the art and the rationale behind the type, spacing, and design elements for various promotional materials. These are just two examples of the unparalleled enthusiasm at Penn Press that powerfully demonstrate the continuing relevance of academic publishing.

I spent the second half of the summer with the grammar gurus in the Editing and Production department, responsible for the quality of the content that is published and ensuring that books are properly copy-edited, revised, typeset, indexed, and eventually printed into a form that is recognizable to the average consumer. One of the real assets of a publisher is this process of review and refining, resulting in clear and accurate portrayals of history, philosophy, politics, and much more. Not only are the managing editors experts in house style elements and communicating with authors and editors, I’m fairly certain they are also the world’s most reliable customers for yellow Post-It notes.

The wide variety of books that I had the opportunity to check over at various stages in the process and the others that I got to proofread and read from cover to cover was remarkable. From a book about the depictions of nature in the early modern Atlantic basin—a bit of a niche topic to say the least—to one about Muslim women’s rights and US foreign policy, to a book about the history of Christian Zionism in America, to a meditation on the invention of rivers and colonialism in India, I certainly got a glimpse into the startling array of subjects on which Penn Press publishes. Furthermore, these are all valuable contributions to their respective fields, something in which the employees of Penn Press take great pride. I was happy to enrich my knowledge on these subjects in addition to my vocabulary, as words like eschatological and expiation were commonplace in these manuscripts. I found myself with the Merriam Webster dictionary as perpetually open next to my desk as the Chicago Manual of Style was.

The first part of the internship was spent helping the Marketing team of the press. Not only are the members passionate about producing the books, they are also extremely savvy about marketing them. From monitoring actual sales, to doing online and print promotion of the books, to soliciting reviews, to providing information to authors, they leave no stone unturned in an effort to appeal to book consumers. It was a dizzying few weeks of learning the many acronyms for academic conferences, writing copy for book jackets, and designing a variety of marketing materials. Evidently, much of a publisher’s work goes on behind the scenes, but it involved more consideration of audience and knowledge about the various academic fields than I had initially expected. My time in this department also opened my eyes to the difficulties of academic publishing (both print and e-book) in this epoch, marked as it is by the ability to have any information instantly at one’s fingertips. Marketing, therefore, plays a vital role in continuing the mission of the press.

My personal conclusion is that Penn Press is an invaluable resource on the university’s campus and contributes significantly to the development of myriad intellectual fields.  While you likely won’t see me on the employee roster at an academic publisher in the near future, I wholeheartedly believe that academic presses serve an important function. I had previously not considered the process that books go through from the moment of their conception to their appearance on my course reading lists and the shelves of the campus bookstore. However, I have gained a great appreciation for the work that goes into just one such book throughout my time at Penn Press, in addition to having been able to consider more broadly publishing as a business, a profession, and as a gatekeeper for the production and dissemination of knowledge.

And as for the future of the industry? That, I believe, is a question for the experts, but rest assured if Penn Press has anything to say about it, the integrity of academic publishing will continue to be upheld. Needless to say, I’m fortunate to have been a part of a tiny slice of the publishing world for these ten weeks.  

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