October 1, 2014
Behind the scenes with Erato, the hardest-working dog in publishing
by Melville House
Book publishing is a famously mysterious industry, and the publication process itself is full of steps and layers that often remain unknown to the general public. But at a meeting earlier this week, our newest editor, Mr. Erato “LaRou” Poodlington, made it clear that under his reign, transparency would be a priority. “Readers must know what we do,” he barked. “Only by explaining the hidden processes that make up our day to day lives will we be able to convey the full utility of book publishing to the masses.” We were thrilled about Erato’s enthusiasm, and when we asked him to be the figurehead of Operation Transparency, he agreed. Without further ado, here’s his report on just what happens on an average day at the offices of Melville House.
First thing first. When I get into the office in the morning, I check to see whether the mail has gone out. At a big house, the publisher would never do that. But here at Melville House, we give 110% every day. The way I personally do this is by sitting in the mail buckets and silently drawing attention to the fact that these galleys should have gone out YESTERDAY. It seems to work.
Email, email, email. I put out the small fires first (Q: “where are my author copies?” A: “check the hole in your backyard; if they’re not there, I must have buried them somewhere else– I’ll get on that”), then move on to the big stuff: negotiating contracts, editing manuscripts, liaising with authors and agents. Here’s one of my rules of “paw”: you have to *love* the voice, or it’s just not worth it. Case in point: Georgi Vladimov’s Faithful Ruslan, the tale of a guard dog left behind at an abandoned prison camp in the Siberian gulag. I’m not a “misery memoir” reader normally, but the moment I started reading, I knew we had to do it. Also, I bit the other editors interested in it. You have to get tough.
The morning meeting allows the staff to get together and discuss what’s being worked on and any issues that may have arisen. There is usually some sort of biscuit or treat situation provided, but as you can see, today, we were all business. Here, it’s being explained to me why I can’t, in fact, eat the author contracts. I did not know that was a problem.
It’s important for publishers to stay on top of trends, and to know what’s hot right now, and there’s no better way to do that than to engage directly with the public. And so, I’m taking my turn working the store. A great bookseller is a truly marvelous thing, and I think you can all see that, yes, I’m great at this, very alert and ready to pounce on the next person who comes through. Sometimes when it’s slow, I may find myself fantasizing about moving to Hollywood and becoming the next Toto or Lassie. But it never lasts long; you can probably tell by looking at me, this dog just loves the life of the mind.
A book won’t be read if it doesn’t look good. That’s why getting a cover just right is one of the most important things a publishing house can do. Before explaining to the designer exactly how I wanted Leon Neyfakh’s The Next Next Level to look, I thought I’d take a look at one of our most successful designs. It’s also Miguel de Cervantes’s most relevant book.
They say that the most important thing a publisher can do is read widely. Even though there never seems to be enough time in the day, it’s crucial to stay acquainted with everything that’s out there—and with the house’s backlist. Which is why I always make a point to spend some time in the afternoon reading through a book I’m not working on myself. It’s great for my creativity. Here I am with the new edition of David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Fascinating! I loved this line, in particular: “there’s no particular reason, for example, that English-speakers should choose ‘dog’ to refer to an animal and ‘god’ to refer to a deity, rather than the other way around.”