Publishing your PhD (or, the secret to a stressful life): Part II

In the first of these two posts, I discussed the initial phases of publication: writing the book proposal and submitting the final draft. Now, I want to talk about the book’s production.

My book went into production at the same time that Palgrave was being restructured. It no longer uses an in-house production team, instead outsourcing to external partners. I was just very unlucky that these things coincided. Unfortunately, the result was a series of miscommunications and mishaps. I have insufficient patience to discuss everything that went wrong, so I’ve selected three of the more instructive examples.

(1) An author by any other name

A few months before my book was scheduled for publication, it became necessary to change the way my name was presented on the front cover and the header of every page. For simplicity, I had initially gone with ‘Anne Hanley’. Unfortunately, another Anne Hanley was already a published academic author. She works in a wholly unrelated field, but this did not stop booksellers attributing my book to her. A seemingly easy solution was to add my middle initial. The production team were initially unwilling to make these changes, so I emailed my commissioning editor at Palgrave, who very kindly instructed the production team on my behalf. However, I needed to be proactive in chasing up corrections to the metadata that fed into the online catalogues for Blackwell’s, Waterstones, etc. I had to find the organisation that controlled this data and request that they manually update my details. Should you ever encounter these problems, I’d thoroughly recommend contacting Nielsen BookData, whose staff were professional and efficient.

What would I do differently next time? Well, I would use my middle initial. To hell with simplicity! Use any available initials or eccentric names to make yourself recognisable. 

(2) Shouldn’t there be an index?

My page proofs were made available through an e-proofing system, which was very straightforward and user-friendly. It was only after I had proofed all the chapters that I discovered the index was missing—odd, since parts of the index had been actioned for my attention. I was told that the index could neither be incorporated into the existing page proofs nor be sent as a separate e-proofing document.

I therefore faced the following dilemma: reproof the entire book and make several hundred edits all over again, or proof a PDF copy of the index. As anyone who has tried to edit a PDF can attest, it is a laborious and imprecise process. To make matters worse, the production team had introduced stylistic and structural errors (yes, in an index), many of which required complicated corrections that could not be annotated effectively in PDF format. Nonetheless, I picked the second option and edited a PDF copy.

Regardless of the format your proofs arrive in, I recommend making full use of the ‘find and replace’ function. This will help identify inconsistencies, which arise most commonly when work is written over extended periods and your style improves. Making such changes manually would be time-consuming and, despite your assiduousness, some inconsistencies would be overlooked. And, if you find yourself having to proof a PDF, I also recommended using Adobe Acrobat Pro. It is not a perfect solution (editing an e-proof is still much easier) but it will allow you to make many of the necessary changes. The software is not free, but you may be able to access it via your academic institution.

What would I do differently next time I am tasked with checking proofs? I shall, before anything else, make sure that all the constituent parts (e.g. contents, abbreviations, index etc.) are where they should be. If anything is missing or in the wrong place, I shall be requesting a revised copy. 

(3) Where did these copies come from?

Because of these (and other) problems, it was agreed that I would have an opportunity to check over the corrected proofs before they went to print. When they didn’t arrive, I emailed my editor, who discovered that my book had been sent to print without our knowledge and before I was able to double-check the proofs. When I did finally receive them, I was dismayed to find some of the same errors that I had highlighted at an earlier stage. These included missing references, poor formatting and typos on the back cover.

I hope this never happens to your book—my understanding is that this type of mistake is unusual. But if it does, you need to be very firm about having the book recalled and shredded. Unfortunately, a few dud copies of mine made it into circulation. Because the book had been recalled, the distribution date was pushed back to January 2017. Dud copies, however, were distributed in December 2016 and, without my or my editor’s knowledge, made available for sale.

A definite low point was walking into Blackwell’s and handing over £65 for a copy of my own book. But at least I was able to take one of the dud copies out of circulation. And, as my colleagues now joke, those copies may be worth something in fifty years when I’m (in)famous.

By the way, if you have bought one of these duds, please let me know.

What would I do differently next time? I assumed that, by the time it came to double-checking proofs that had already undergone multiple edits, I didn’t need to micromanage this final stage. I was wrong. Next time, I shall chase up my proofs much sooner and expect to find uncorrected errors about which I shall need to badger the production team.

* * *

So, how did I feel at the end of this omnishambles?

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But as I said in the first of these posts, the editorial team at Palgrave and my series editors were fantastically supportive through every mishap. I truly cannot thank them enough. Getting this book to print has been an excellent learning curve. It has taught me a great deal about what I want my work to look like (both in terms of style and content). It has also taught me what I will and will not accept in the publication of my work. Now, whenever I talk to friends or colleagues who are starting to think about publishing their own PhDs, I offer four pieces of advice.

(1) Don’t suffer in silence

Compare notes with colleagues, mentors and friends who have been or are going through the publication and production process. This is important not only for your sanity. It’s essential also for knowing whether you are being fobbed off, exploited or misled. And this applies equally to healthy communication with your editors. You need to keep them in the loop on any changes you want to make, any aesthetic or stylistic decisions you’re unhappy with, any deadlines that are unworkable or any issues with the production phase.

(2) Know your own mind

Listen to the advice of your commissioning editor—they understand the nuts and bolts of the publishing industry. But also know what you want your book to look like and don’t compromise on quality.

(3) Be attentive

Don’t assume that the production team will do anything perfectly. You must be hand-ons from the moment you begin developing the book proposal to the moment you promote the finished product on Twitter. Double-check everything and then check again. At the end of the day, it’s your book and your professional reputation. Your name will be on the front cover, so it’s your responsibility to make sure everything is tickety-boo.

(4) Know when to let it go

It’s important that you’re happy with the book, especially if it’s your first. But editing obeys the law of diminishing returns, and time spent here is time unavailable to the next project. There will always be the stray comma, the missing hyphen or the misspelt ‘spirochæte’ (my apologies for that one!). Few readers will notice. Hand over the proofs and pour yourself a G&T.

 

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