The Publishing Saga, or What I Do

Cecil’s learning the ins and outs of publishing, too! Chirp, chirp.

“So… What exactly do you do?”

I have been asked this question so many times in the past nearly-two months, but I still have yet to come up with an eloquent, concise, comprehensive answer. People are usually looking for no more than a 30-second response to this question, but I still haven’t found an explanation short enough, aside from “Everything, honestly,” or “Um, editorial stuff, mostly.” Neither of which is very helpful or interesting.

So, here is my attempt at answering the question.

Navigating the HarperCollins World

HarperCollins Publishers is one of the largest publishing houses in the world, which makes being a part of the company incredibly exciting. Recently, we began an expanded global initiative after aquiring Harlequin, which means that we now publish in over 100 international markets and 30 different languages (super cool: I’ve gotten to work on one of the first original YA novels to launch in the program!).

The Children’s Books Group lobby is one of my favorite places in the office. The quote on the far wall reads: “I am a former child, and I haven’t forgotten a thing.”

The U.S. branch of the company operates in two departments: Children’s Books (that’s where I am!) and the General Books Group (GBG), which encompasses everything adult. We share a gorgeous office with an open floor plan in 195 Broadway, right in the middle of the Financial District (we’re actually on the block adjacent to the World Trade Center). I’m on the 21st floor, where all the Children’s imprints are located. The 22nd (main) and 23rd floors house the GBG imprints and their publicity/marketing teams; the 24th floor houses mostly contracts, sales, property rights, and the like; and the 16th floor houses HR and the GBG art, copy, and managing editorial departments, among others.

On the left the entire Greenwillow team is crammed into a photo booth; on the right are the six of us interning with Children’s!

There are about 20 interns here for the summer. We’re spread across multiple departments and imprints (a smaller division of the larger HarperCollins house, an imprint is the name under which a book is published), but those of us working in Children’s are definitely the minority. There are six of us in total: two in editorial, one in marketing, one in design, one in sales, and me.

I’m an intern with both the editorial and the design departments, which is awesome enough in itself, but I also work for multiple imprints (with two or so exceptions, most of my co-interns work for one). On Mondays and Wednesdays, I hang out with the Greenwillow team; on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I relocate to the other side of the floor to work for Katherine Tegen.

Greenwillow: Home of Amelia Bedelia

These graphics will be used in Epic Reads promotions closer to the books’ pub dates.

Greenwillow Books is the only Children’s imprint to report directly to the President of the Children’s Books Group rather than its Editor-in-Chief–positions that honestly sound like they should be the same thing, but one is the Alpha and one is a very close Beta. It’s also the only group to have its managing editorial staff on the 21st floor instead of the 16th. As a result, it functions a little differently from the other Children’s imprints, and the team is much smaller and more closely knit. I’m one of the few interns who gets to work in an area surrounded by their entire team.

At Greenwillow, I’ve gotten to do everything from making graphics for social media to creating reading guides to inputting copy editors’ changes in the InDesign manuscript files to proofing jacket spreads to reading and evaluating submissions (editorial interns do a lot of this last bit). My favorite tasks at Greenwillow, though, are:

  1. Making F&Gs (short for “folded and gathered”). These are printed versions of picture or board books, but without the binding. The whole process involves a lot of rote cutting and taping, but I’ll never stop being amazed that I’m making a book when I’m assembling these. Even when I have to make seven in a row.
  2. Reading manuscripts in the pipeline (a comprehensive list of all the books we plan to publish over several years of future seasons–we have three: fall, summer, and winter). We work about a year out, so I’m reading drafts of manuscripts set for publication in summer and fall 2016. I love getting instructions to read something and “have thoughts ready for when we discuss it.” Have opinions? On literature? I can do that!
  3. Attending jacket strategy or acquisition meetings. I love attending all the meetings, honestly, and there are so many of them–sales, publicity, marketing, production, and on and on. But my favorite is jacket strategy, where we look at the different options for cover jackets and discuss the author’s input, as well as the input of sales/marketing/publicity and of the Barnes and Noble representatives, and decide how to move forward. An acquisition meeting–my second favorite–is the moment when a submission is approved and officially added to the pipeline, and it’s so cool to hear my publishers presenting our new books to the panel (which typically consists of the heads of all the Children’s departments).
Assembling F&Gs — aka Ultimate Arts and Crafts Time.

Meetings with the Greenwillow team are always light-hearted and fun; they’re a really witty, friendly group. (They’re also obsessed with Oreos. Needless to say, I have eaten a truly staggering number of Oreos this summer. Our group’s consensus is that the golden thins are the best.) The two publishers and one of the designers recently attended the weekend-long 2015 ALA Conference in San Francisco, so the rest of us were treated to a detailed play-by-play when they returned. The former President of the Children’s Books Group is also retiring and I got to attend her retirement party, which closed down the 21st floor and lasted for a solid three hours. Greenwillow even had guests of honor: Susan Hirschman, its now-retired founder, and author/artist Kevin Henkes, whose books I absolutely adored when I was growing up! Hopefully I did an okay job of coming off as normal rather than as terribly excited as I actually was.

Katherine Tegen: We Are Divergent

I am the luckiest of the interns. Cubicle? What cubicle?

Katherine Tegen (KT) Books publishes stories with commerical appeal, so their books are generally pretty high-profile. I get to work on a lot more long-term projects here than I do at Greenwillow, which is an entirely different, but equally awesome, experience. Not to mention that until the Senior Executive Editor returns from maternity leave in mid-August, my “desk” is actually her office. So far, my favorite tasks on the KT side of things include:

  1. Creating paperback copy. When a book reprints in paperback, we condense the text and move components from jacket flaps to the inside of the novel or the back cover, sometimes adding extra elements. Like excerpts, which I get to select!
  2. Writing blurb solicitation letters. After a lot of competitive title research, I come up with a list of 4-5 well-known authors who we think would enjoy our upcoming titles — and hopefully give us good quotes to print on the covers. Once the list is approved, I use Publisher’s Marketplace to track down the emails of each author’s agent (much easier said than done) and write solicitation emails personalized for each author. As of right now, I’ve written around 40 of these emails, which took a ridiculous amount of time, but it will be so cool if we end up getting–and printing–blurbs from the authors I chose.
  3. Working on IP (intellectual property) projects. IP books are born when one of our editors or publishers has an idea for a story and we hire an author to write it for us — something HarperCollins likes doing, because it means we retain all rights to the novel. I evaluate author writing samples and suggest other well-known authors that we could match to upcoming projects. (In fact, the original YA novel I referred to earlier is an IP project that one of our editors successfully lobbied Alyson Noël into writing for us! It’s really good, and I can’t wait for it to come out next summer.)
Laurel’s wedding shower!

The KT team is full of big personalities, but they’re all ridiculously welcoming–on my first day, we had a team meeting featuring a huge spread of fruit, cupcakes, and pastries, and my editor welcomed me with a bright orange Gebrera daisy. One of the other editors got married this week (her husband is a Harvey Mudd alum!), but before she left for the West coast, we threw her a surprise wedding shower in the HarperCollins cafe.

This photo of NPH was not particularly subtle.

My editor is also very cool about letting me attend meetings I’m not technically required to attend, so I got to sit in on the Children’s Books Group Summer 2016 Launch, which lasted pretty much all day. Launch is the meeting at which editors from every imprint present every one of the books they’ll be publishing in summer 2016 to the sales, publicity, and marketing teams. The number of things we publish as a house every season is staggering, and listening to editors present the novels they’ve poured so much time and love into was one of the biggest “THIS IS SO COOL” moments I’ve had at this internship. That, and when Neil Patrick Harris came by the office to discuss children’s books. No big deal.

The Internship Program

About a third of the summer interns! They took us bowling at Chelsea Piers during our first week here.

As much as I love my own internship, which really feels more like two, I have to admit: HarperCollins has a phenomenal internship program. Part of why my answer to this question has thus far been along the lines of “Um, everything” is because the program we’re all in is under the umbrella of the GBG, since that’s where most of the other interns are working. We have weekly (catered) Lunch and Learn meetings on Tuesdays, where we are bombarded with free books from the week’s featured imprints (side note: there are so many free books around here, it’s absurd) and get to hear from / ask questions of important people from various departments. As a result, I get to learn a lot about the way the GBG functions–and it is so different from the Children’s Books Group. I also get to pick up on a lot of marketing and sales strategy, not to mention contracts and publicity and foreign rights and all the other departments. Though I must admit that I’ve enjoyed hearing from the art department most so far–they go through so many cover revisions in the GBG, it’s truly scary.

We are all addicted to Shake Shack.

We also have weekly “buddy lunches” with rotating groups of interns, which means that we’ve mostly gotten to know each other by now. At the beginning, things were a little forced (our internship coordinators kept talking about networking, a reminder that doesn’t make for the best start to friendships), but we’ve reached the point where we’ll regularly meet up for treks downtown or semi-spontaneous socializing in the cafe. I think I’m one of the youngest here–most of the other interns are rising seniors or recent graduates–but people are so friendly that it’s impossible to feel any rift. Everyone here is amazing, and I’m going to be genuinely sorry to say goodbye. I’m going to miss all the jokes, celebrity/pop culture gossip, and storytelling.

How Did This Happen to You?

Putting aside my personal feelings on the publication of Go Set a Watchman (I don’t like it), it was incredible to walk in on pub day and find a free copy of this on my desk.

The funny part is, I don’t really know the answer to this question. I didn’t even apply for this particular internship initially. I applied for editorial positions with HarperTeen and the Children’s Books Group generally, but when HR called me, I was politely urged to submit a cover letter for this position instead. And after a two-hour phone interview with four different people, I was offered the position. After talking with the other interns, I’ve learned that apparently this happened to a lot of us. We don’t really understand how or why we were chosen, but we’re all so grateful to be here.

So this is what I do at HarperCollins, dear prospective/admitted students, and others who are asking. It’s a little long, but I think the whole thing is terribly exciting. However, in the interest of time, I think I might have to stick to keeping my 30-second response generic.

“Oh, you know. A lot of different things.”