Each summer, Penn Press welcomes a set of interns to come and learn about scholarly publishing (and help us do a lot of work!), and we asked if any would be willing to write up some reflections on their time here. We'll be featuring them over the next few days. Here's our first set.
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The Sound and the Fury has already been published, and William Faulkner is dead
For many burgeoning English majors, the publishing industry is a mythical beast. Having recently graduated from an amorphous English program at a small liberal arts school, the distant reality of “The Publishing Industry” always felt familiarly vague; it resembled other popular umbrella terms, such as the infamous “Real World,” that are both fear-inducing in their open-endedness and comforting in their obscurity. It is unclear to me exactly why publishing has become the default answer to every English major’s looming career question. In some ways, the reason seems obvious. If one loves books, then it follows that one would want a career to revolve around books. Do what you love, our fortune cookies and helicopter parents tell us. Make books. But underneath this reasoning can be heard the low hum of nostalgia. There is the desire not only to make books, but to give back to the system that created the books that we loved. This is how I saw publishing before this internship. It was the chance to be a part of The Sound and the Fury or The Infinite Jest, or what have you. I couldn’t see the glaring problem with my ideology until I had my first publishing internship. And the problem was this: The Sound and the Fury has already been published, and William Faulkner is dead.
This realization was, admittedly, shocking. Far from being Faulkner-specific, this epiphany spanned the length of my literary knowledge. All of the works that I had adored were not here on my desk to be copy-edited or sitting in piles to be culled and reported upon. They were not in my future as a publisher; they were unequivocally a part of publishing’s past. In that moment it became clear to me that loving books is not reason enough to become a successful publisher. Unlike many jobs, publishing requires a significant amount of hope. I don’t mean hope as the passive, mindful processes of wishful thinking. I mean hope as the active, diligent pursuit of more and better knowledge. The hope that great books have yet to be written, and perhaps even more optimistically, that people will want to read them.
In reflecting on my time at Penn Press, I found the most affirming part of my colleagues’ work to be their hope. I spent time in two disparate departments, Business and Acquisitions, and I found the same mindset in each. The unique and critical ability to recognize talented work and the excitement of promoting that work with the hope that it will venture out of the Press and into classrooms, personal collections, libraries, and onto digital screens. Because of publishing’s commitment to producing physical content that cannot be easily upgraded or uploaded, it has unfortunately been pegged as a sinking ship in today’s increasingly technology-obsessed sea of consumers. But contrary to popular belief, publishing is not an industry that dwells on the past.
As the saying goes, “Hope is not a course of action.” But publishing is. —Zoe Gould
A bizarre, almost Kubrickian nightmare
I spent five weeks of my summer proofreading a 334-page manuscript about the settlement of the Northwest Territories. To some, this may sound like a bizarre, almost Kubrickian nightmare, but to me, it was something I looked forward to for months! On my first day here, my supervisor looked around her desk, crowded with odds-and-ends tasks, came upon a stack of papers bound with a rubber band, and asked me, "How comfortable are you proofreading manuscripts?" "Very!" I replied enthusiastically, already setting page count goals in my mind. She gave a look of relief, handed over the manuscript and a pack of tiny post-its, and sent me on my way.
So began my internship at the University of Pennsylvania Press.
With the Chicago 16 manual at my side, I spent hours every day poring over the proper comma placements, capitalization, inconsistencies in tone, and everything else I could muster up a reason to mark. I was very excited to be proofing a real manuscript, something actually on the road to being published.
Of course, sometimes I would become exhausted. Reading an academic text closely for four hours straight can be a little draining. When my mind started to drift and I realized I had gotten through a few pages without retaining any information, I would always go back. I had the sense that what I was doing really mattered. Someday, I thought, a student or a professor will be citing this text, so checking to make sure whether this word should be capitalized in this context matters.
Everyone at this press does what they do because it matters. We tediously proofread for the betterment of scholarship in the future. We send out 50 galleys of a book to be reviewed so that it sells well and educates people. We debate and change the title of a book six or seven times so that it accurately reflects the point the author is trying to make and, in turn, reaches the correct audience.
I learned a lot about publishing during my summer at Penn Press. Mostly, I'd say, I rediscovered the importance that books can hold. Penn Press is a place where knowledge and learning are championed. Academic publishing gets new and exciting knowledge into the world so that people can begin to understand something completely obscure or under-researched. Each step in the process a book undergoes, from Acquisitions all the way through Production, is done for a noble purpose: the pursuit of knowledge.
That's why I love books and why I will always have such respect for the publishing world. It was amazing being a part of this world for a summer.
Lastly, here's a quick haiku!
Being at Penn Press
Was a great experience.
I'd do it again.