Writing and Publishing

I’ve spent a good bit of time this past month preparing the Punk Archaeology volume for publication (hopefully within the next week or so) and laying out the volume dedicated to a series of short posts from last year’s 3D Thursday series of blog posts.

At the same time, I was thinking about this year’s series of posts on craft and archaeology, and it occurred to me that the process of managing a book from writing, to contributors to lay-out, represents an artisnal approach to production. As the artisan, I’ve managed just about every step in the process layout, with the appreciation that my late friend Joel Jonientz did much of the basic conceptualizing of the punk archaeology, cover design, and laid out the first draft, and Andrew Reinhard and Brandon Olson have done more than their share of copy editing for Punk Archaeology and 3D Thursday respectively.

PunkA cover 1

Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

1. Book layout is hard. It has taken me endless hours of fussing (and still more on the horizon) to get the basic layout of the book right. Things like gutters, margins, and overset texts have become a preoccupation. I still can’t get pagination right: who realized that chapters almost always start on odd numbered pages? It has taken me weeks of fussing to get things right for even a relatively simple book design. If the technical details are not complex, the execution is.

2. Book production is invisible. While I’ve been laying out my own books, I’ve also been editing page proofs for Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town for the ASOR Archaeological Report Series. As I’ve carefully re-read the text and made small corrections here or there throughout, I got to thinking how relatively invisible book designers, layout people, and even copy editors are within the system of academic production. So many of us academics consider ourselves sensitive to the various inequalities intrinsic to the various systems at play in our worlds. At the same time, I’ve never seen a particularly spirited defense of those folks who participate in the publishing industry below the levels of the clearly evil corporate overlords who spend their days converting the fruits of academic labors to the fruits of their table.

(With not a little embarrassment, I remember enabling a co-author to rewrite a good chunk of an article at the stage of page proofs, and the editors and production folks, through gritted-teeth, accepting our requests. As someone who is now spending time on the production side of publishing, I am becoming more and more aware of how our late-game creative decisions do not exist in a vacuum.)

3. The Heterotopia of Independent Publishing. Over the past few years, the potential of self or independent publishing has emerged as a largely unrealized threat set against the worst abuses of the academic publishing industry. As a blogger, I’m sure that I’ve expressed and even acted on some of those threats by pushing out pre-prints, sacrificing time that I could be spending producing products for publishers to make my ideas accessible on my blog, and by, finally, using my blog platform as an incubator for content that I will eventually publish with my low-fi press.

New Digital Press logo

At the same time, by actually following through on becoming an independent/self-publisher, I’ve realized how much time and energy goes into the production process. The time and energy involved in preparing a manuscript for publication redirects my work flow from writing toward editing, layout, correspondence, and even financial matters. The result of this reassignment of energy is that I will be a less productive scholar – at least for the foreseeable future. 

If our concern is making scholarship accessible to a wide audience in an efficient way, self and independent publishing represents a way of streamlining the appearance of scholarly works in print and cutting through a certain amount of corporate overhead. On the other hand, it shifts the burden of production closer to the hands of the author (and much of this burden is invisible in traditional, corporate model of academic publishing). 

3 Comments

  1. Besides the enormous time and effort involved in self publishing, the other huge problem is getting reviews, and even letting people know that you’ve written the book. Brick and mortar houses (even small academic presses) have access to markets and distribution networks that ignore self published works.

    Reply

  2. This is also the challenge of self-publishing fiction. It’s nice to have control over all those elements, from layout to cover design, even editing, but it takes time away from writing the Next Book. I’m going through the self-publishing process for the second time, now — the first time was HONOR AMONG ORCS which I published with the assistance of my agency, and now with Postcards from Asgard, I’m going it alone, because I feel like I want to have that understanding of the process. I’ve coded the ebook myself (using notepad) which is for me, the most tedious part of the process, and I did all the interior paperback layout, which I find to be a LOT simpler and less stressful, and I designed my cover from scratch via photoshop. I’ve edited and re-edited, and am working through copyedits now off the proofs. But doing all that has definitely cut into my writing time, and while I think that’s fine, I absolutely won’t be coding my own ebook again in the future if I don’t have to! Not for anything longer than a short story, anyway!

    It’s an excellent experience for EVERY writer to have as far as giving them an idea of the work involved in getting a book from the manuscript stage to the shelf, but it definitely requires a different tool set, and for fiction authors, the pre-publication elements are really the easy side. The post-publication stuff is where it gets a lot more complicated and time-sucky. Marketing, Publicity, Advertising. Getting reviews (because you need between 25 and 50 before the Amazon cogs start working FOR you, in spreading the word) and just trying to make people aware that the book exists. If you have an established readership already, it becomes a touch easier, but until then, I’d say it’s those elements which take the MOST time away from writing the next book.

    (Also, in fiction contracts with publishers, there is usually a clause which limits the substantial edits an author can make once the book reaches the copy-edit stage. Somewhere around changes of more than 10% of the content, and the author will be charged for the cost of the alteration. Presumably this means layout and editing.)

    And this is also where the “how much should a ebook cost” debate centers — on the cost of production — which, with larger publishers, means significant overhead, even for digital volumes.

    Reply

    1. I appreciate hearing about your experiences, Amelia. My own writing falls somewhere between fiction and biography. The fiction being to fill in the gaps. I haven’t a clue about technology so I outsourced that to a friend. Even so it’s a lot off work. Every time I look at the books again I find punctuation to correct. Fortunately fixing that in Createspace only means throwing out old copies. I can’t get reviews, maybe because the books are hardly light summer reading yet not academic either. FYI: I write under the pen name Paul Kastenellos. Here’s my website with a lot of Byzantine and non Byzantine (fun) stuff: apuleiusbooks.com. Maybe you’ll find something interesting there.

      Reply

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