October 31, 2016
The Making of The Making of Donald Trump
by Ryan Harrington
Publishing books can be a very slow process. Imagine the labor of researching and writing a book, a few rounds of editing, and up to ten months of production, then pepper in a few missed deadlines along the way, and we’re looking at sometimes several years between a book’s contract and its landing on the shelf. There are outliers of course. On the slow side, some books take a full decade to come out. To my knowledge there is no industry-approved name for this phenomenon. On the fast side, some books appear in a matter of weeks. This is known fondly as a crash.
A crash is never ideal. Most of us didn’t get into book publishing because we’re hellbent on speed and built for action. But sometimes, when the fate of our democracy is at stake, we can apply a bit of leather-padded elbow grease and really get moving.
Such was the case late last spring when Melville House took on what would become David Cay Johnston’s bestselling book, The Making of Donald Trump, which enjoyed a cool two months between sign-up and publication. Which really means it needed to be sent to the printer right after that first month in which writing, editing, and design all took place. How does one edit such a thing?
It really helps to start with a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has been on the book’s specific beat for thirty years, keeping meticulously organized notes the entire time, then put together a tentative table of contents based on those notes, with individual delivery deadlines for each of the proposed chapters. Send the author off for a sleepless writing day or two (but no more!) before the first small batch is due.
Now it’s time to establish your daily rhythm. First thing in the morning a chapter lands in your inbox (when does our hero-author sleep?). Now we edit! Step away from your computer. This can be hard, so ideally you work at a publisher that is just steps away from a waterfront park and the crash will be perfectly timed for those early days of summer. Try to get your tracked changes emailed to the author by one in the afternoon. While the author is looking over those edits, you should probably be prepping yourself for that afternoon’s phone call with an attorney, on the subject of yesterday’s chapter. I urge you to take a moment to make sure all parties involved have the most recent, and uniform copies of the chapter.
In between, you’re really just a quarterback. Make sure that your production team, sales force, marketing gurus, publishers, and fellow editors (you have to team-edit a project to make it happen this quickly) know the state of the manuscript every day. Oh yes, don’t forget the international publishers —they’re crashing the book, too, and they still have to translate the thing.
Last, pass the project off to an ace publicist who will repeat a similar process in order to hang with a twenty-four hour news cycle.
Now, perhaps you understand how crucial it is that the author be a consummate pro, dealing in nothing but unassailable facts.
Buy The Making of Donald Trump here, at Barnes & Noble, or at your neighborhood independent bookstore.
Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.