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Perspectives on production

Resources for authors: Newsletter

I have something of a dual personality at the moment. At work I am Lizzie Evans, academic production editor. I work within the academic department at Newgen Publishing UK, managing the production of titles for clients including Manchester University Press, Goldsmiths Press, the Royal Armouries and Practical Inspiration Publishing, as well as overseeing an online conversion project for SOAS.

After work (I was going to write ‘at home’, but as we are all working from home at the moment that doesn’t seem to be a clear distinction anymore), I am Lizzie Pearson, academic author with my own book currently nearing the end of the production process. Before I worked for Newgen, I was in academia, having completed my PhD in 2016. Now the monograph version of that PhD is due for publication in March, so I am in the unusual position of experiencing academic production from both sides at the same time (although I should add that I am not responsible for producing my own book!).

Dealing with production from the perspective of an author is something I have previously encountered with articles and book chapters – being in contact with copy-editors, reading proofs, working to production’s deadlines. Dealing with it from the production editor’s perspective is now second nature. However, to encounter both at the same time has provided me with some insight that I think will benefit both my work as a production editor and my approach to publication as an academic.

• Indexing – As a production editor, I ask authors to produce indexes all the time. For the presses I work with, author indexing is now much more common than engaging a freelancer to do it. I send out the guidelines and field questions about the process. But having now created my own index, I have a much greater appreciation of just how much time and effort is involved in actually writing one. Identifying terms, finding page numbers, adjusting the terms, deciding what shouldn’t be included (if it’s got its own chapter, it doesn’t need to be included, however much it feels like it really ought to be), final checks for alphabetical order and closing number spans and most of all the endless scrolling back and forth and back and forth. It is hours of work. And I had the benefit of knowing what the final outcome should look like, both as a word document and once typeset.

• Schedules – At work, scheduling is a relatively simple task. I am given a final files deadline to work to. We have expected timeframes for all of the elements of production. Working on many titles simultaneously means the schedules need to fit into a patchwork of other production projects while keeping everything on track. But as an author, suddenly this schedule was being imposed on me. I had to fit the requirements around my full-time job as best I could. My experience at work meant I knew what to expect, but it was still a bit of a shock when the reality came. Academia might be a publish or perish sector where researching and writing is an integral part of the job, but production still feels like an ‘extra’ task.

• My book is my baby – Writing a book is a big endeavour. Writing your first book is even more so, especially if it originates from a three- or four-year PhD project. For me, this has been nearly a decade in the making. So, yes, I am precious about it. I want it to be done right, and I admit to having strong feelings about what ‘right’ means. With my production hat on, this attitude can be a little tricky. I have the same high standards of wanting everything to be ‘right’, but now I am approaching it from a different angle. ‘Right’ can mean something a little different and exists in a different context: grammar not content, typesetting not writing. There is of course overlap and often this can be where some disagreement arises. Now I’ve been on both sides I have a much greater appreciation of that. Ultimately, we all want the same thing: a beautiful book/baby.

Lizzie’s monograph Exploring the Mid-Republican Origins of Roman Military Bureaucracy: With Stylus and Spear is published by Routledge on 23 March 2021.