By Pamela Turchin
I didn’t really surprise myself all that much when I finally decided to pursue a degree in creative writing. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time but put off for various reasons: I didn’t have time, my job was too demanding, etc. But mostly it was because of that little voice you hear in your head—a composite of family, friends, society: Writing? Why would you want to go and do that? One day in late 2015, I found myself determined to ignore that subtle message that I think writers, and all artists get, especially in an age where the arts are deemed less and less vital—that writing is a waste of time.
But here’s a cliché—if someone had told me that one day I’d be working in the creative writing department and for the publishing company of a university, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. When I became a graduate assistant at Wilkes and started working for Etruscan Press, my background was primarily as a waitress and an elementary school teacher. I knew how to balance a tray of food without knocking anyone over and refill the ketchup containers at the end of a shift; I was well-versed in the art of tying shoe-laces and using different voices for all the characters when reading stories aloud to children. But on my first day in the creative writing office, when I was asked to write a marketing plan for one of our authors, I almost wanted to cry. Not only had I never written a marketing plan before—wait for it—I didn’t even know what one was.
The people I’ve always most admired were my teachers throughout school, and far in the distance—the beloved writers of all my favorite books. But teachers were easy to look up to—they were everywhere. Authors, not so much. To me, writers have always been like celebrities—untouchable, perched up high on Mount Olympus, rubbing elbows with gods and goddesses. The chance of meeting one seemed as remote as flying to the moon.
Working at Etruscan Press, initially the only contact I had with our authors was reading their manuscripts. And writing their marketing plans—which I now enjoy doing since I’ve gotten the hang of it. The next thing I knew, I was emailing and making phone calls to authors to confirm details about everything from their manuscript, to the cover concepts for their book, to an upcoming reading. I interviewed Patricia Horvath about her memoir, All the Difference, and then had the pleasure of meeting her at the AWP17 conference in Washington DC last February. Recently, I traveled with Etruscan Press to the Boston Book Festival to support Will Dowd and the publication of his collection of essays, Areas of Fog. Funny how things come full circle; now I’m rubbing elbows with the authors I have come to work so closely with.
Since I’ve become the production editor at Etruscan Press, I am in daily contact with our authors, following their work as it progresses from their original manuscript to the final printing. Besides learning what a marketing plan is, I have picked up all kinds of lingo: first page proof, front and back matter, blurbs, galleys, advance print run…Here’s a quick tutorial: front and back matter is everything from the copyright page to the acknowledgements to the table of contents; blurbs are the written praise for the book you see on the back cover; a galley is a copy of the book which is sent to reviewers; and an advance print run is the printing of the book before its official release date.
But what on earth is a first page proof? As writers we are eager to publish our work, right? There are probably people out there who think that when they, or someone else writes a manuscript, this finished product is a book that’s ready for publication. Not so. Going through the Wilkes program, and working for Etruscan Press, I know nothing can be further from the truth. When we accept a manuscript, it doesn’t mean we publish it right away. The manuscript is often sent to a copy editor who reads over it for grammar, syntax, and to flush out anything that might be confusing or unclear to readers. When the manuscript is complete, it is sent to an interior designer who creates the first page proof. So, this must be the final book? Well, where there is a first, there is a second, third, maybe even fourth or fifth page proof until the book is galley ready.
Alongside this process, there are other things simultaneously going on behind the scenes. Options for the front and back cover are designed until the final cover is decided upon. I create other marketing materials like a one sheet, which is like a fact sheet about the book with pictures of the cover and the author, and is sent with the galleys. There are sales kits and lists of reviewers who will receive the galleys, and there is never, ever a dull moment. It’s pretty exciting and rewarding to help our authors go from their first manuscript to holding the final printed copy of their books in my hands because I’ve experienced how much work goes into reaching that moment.
What’s another bonus besides working with authors, and learning the ins and outs of the book publishing world? It’s made me a better writer. I think more carefully about the editing process now. So as I’m working on my own manuscript, I think about what I’ve learned from writing query letters for authors, everything that goes into making a cover more marketable, and what it takes for a manuscript to be accepted and taken through the whole process to publication. It’s hard work all around, but isn’t that why we’re all here, to one day see our efforts turned into an actual book? I know I am, and you are, too.
Pamela Turchin earned an M.A. from the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University where she is currently pursuing an M.F.A. in fiction. Prior to joining Etruscan Press, she taught 4th grade and language arts on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.