Intern Reflections: The Circle of (a Book’s) Life

Each summer, Penn Press welcomes a collection of interns. Far from coffee runners and copy makers, these young people are truly introduced to the world of academic publishing, and asked to participate fully in the work of the departments they serve.  While we certainly get more from them than vice versa, we hope they leave us having learned some useful skills and with a better understanding of the publishing landscape. To that end, we ask them all to write a reflection on their time with us. This week, we'll be featuring a few of them on the Log. First up is Maya Afilalo, with "The Circle of (a book's) Life."

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On our first day of work, all nine of us interns gathered around a conference table as the director of the Press welcomed us aboard for the summer. A lot was said (much of which has escaped my memory!), but one thing from that morning stuck with me in particular.

“If you’re looking to go into the publishing industry,” the director said, “this is the best place you can be.” He went on to explain that at large trade publishers, interns are often confined to whatever department they’re working in and don’t get to see much beyond that. In contrast, a smaller publisher like Penn Press allows you to see all the steps that go into making a book—from the acquisition of a manuscript to production to marketing, and beyond.

Over the course of my time at the Press, this promise came to fruition. Between working in the Marketing and Acquisitions departments and attending seminars about other departments, I gained a solid understanding of how an idea for a manuscript gets turned into a book that you can hold. However, what surprised me the most was how my experience at the rare books and manuscripts library at Penn (The Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts), where I work during the school year, lent another dimension entirely to my work at the Press. As I completed various tasks throughout the day, I realized I recognized some of the names I came across as patrons of the rare books collection. During the school year I fetched rare materials for them, listened to their discussions with colleagues and visiting scholars, and now I was seeing the fruits of their labors. It was a pretty cool, Circle of (a Book’s) Life moment.

Looking back on the past couple months, I think that learning about the process it takes to turn a manuscript into a book was one of the most interesting parts of the internship. It made me wonder about the books that I read on my own time in a way I never had. How long did this manuscript take to complete? What did the publisher decide to put on the back cover? Was the author easy to work with? Overall, I think I gained a good understanding of the “bigger picture” of creating a book.

That said, the work I completed on a daily basis—from logging book reviews to designing promotional postcards to processing payments and everything in between—also felt valuable. These tasks gave me a sense of what to expect should I choose to pursue a career in publishing, and most important, in doing them I felt like I was actually contributing something. I am thankful to the people I’ve met at the Press who made this experience what it was, and I look forward to continuing to reap the benefits of my time here in the future.Maya Afilalo

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