A Day in the Life of a Small Press Editor

Are any days typical? I doubt it, but today has had its share of admin and editorial work around family life. I’m not good at mornings – a leftover from the assaults and the illness that came after them, so I tend to do the bitty jobs first. This morning’s post was big for a Monday – about four letters – we get a huge amount of post, but generally Mondays are thin – I think the slow donkey that brings mail to Blaenau Ffestiniog parties at the weekends. A couple of Envoi renewals to put into the database, a small cheque that’s been owed since last September and a catalogue for bird feeders with a letter thanking me for requesting the catalogue – I shop online partly because it’s the only way to exist in a little remote village without a car and partly for environmental reasons – stop sending me catalogues! Rant over.

This morning’s bitty jobs also included uploading an extra newsletter for March into our email newsletter service, tweaking a page on the website, doing a paying in slip for some cheques for Rowan to take to the post office tomorrow, putting a couple of orders into envelopes and answering a batch of emails. The little jobs always seem to take more time than I imagine they will, but I also managed some editing. The anthology Lung Jazz – young British poets for Oxfam is almost ready for the editors to do a last read. I’ve been handling the stage where over 160 authors sign off on the proofs, make corrections, give me their details for complimentary copies to go out to… After three calls and now a week past the deadline we’re doing really well with only about a dozen still to reply. Things happen – people change email, move country, have babies (though the new mum in the group sent in her reply), but we’re nearly there and as the emails come in I tweak the text, make amendments to the biographies, correct misspelt names, add addresses to a labels database and change people’s names from red to black on my list of poets.

The final task of the morning was to buy some rail tickets – one set for my sons to go to their sister’s house warming party and another set for me to go to the first Lung Jazz launch in London in May, when I’ll also be meeting with Italian poet and novelist, Andrea Bianchi to begin work on his brilliant and very funny novel, Fellinesque. The tickets to Northampton seemed really expensive– the cheapest I could find for two people with 16-25 railcards were £128 return for the pair. At the last moment, the Virgin site had a little wobble and I had to start again. When I did the tickets again (same changes, same times, same trains, still off peak tickets) they were £84 instead. I kept reading to make sure I’d put the same dates and destination in, but I had.

My tickets were trickier. There was a very good price for the total journey with an advance fare and a choice of two routes. I know from experience that the route that changes at Chester and Crewe is a trap. It leaves five minutes to get from the train coming into Chester onto the Virgin train leaving Crewe. The Virgin train is almost always just pulling out as people run down the stairs onto the platform and an advance ticket means you have to pay again on the spot to get from Chester to London at great expense. I’ve seen lots of arguments. No matter – there was also a button to get the train that only changes at Llandudno Junction and Chester with proper times between trains for the same price – except that when you click on this button and get shunted to the Virgin site to pay that route disappears and it will only let you buy the one that is worse than useless. Instead I bought one return journey from Blaenau to Chester and another from Chester to London – this costs £14 more than the advance fare, which is much cheaper than having to pay £60+ on the spot if/when I miss the connection and gets me on the train that the button offers as part of the cheap deal, but never delivers.

Last task of the morning was to plug the figures into the accounts package for cheques in and train fares out. That took me up to a quick lunch with Seth before he went out to try to repair a friend’s computer – it’s his old computer that he passed on and he managed to do some work on it previously to get an extra six month’s life from the poor old thing – the graphics card is now ailing and Seth (encouraged by YouTube) has a theory that it needs cooking for a while – literally – we’ll see.

And then for some editing. This autumn we have some amazing books coming out and I worked on three of them today. First of all I did a proof scan of Girl in White, a poignant and beautifully detailed novelised account of the life of the much-overlooked artist Paula Mendelsohn-Becker, by art critic and poet, Sue Hubbard. It’s just back from the proof editor so it was a quick read through, tweaking some chapter headings and making a first pdf to let Sue see the first draft. Secondly a layout edit of the gorgeous journey through landscape and fatherhood, Counting Steps, by Mark Charlton. At this stage I was putting each of the essays or short sections into order, putting it all into house style fonts and type sizes before it goes off to the wonderful Ann Drysdale for copy editing (I asked Ann to look out for any tyops J – the much more insidious cousins of typos). And then a layout process and putting into house style for A Small Life by Suki – this is an extraordinary account of life modelling to make ends meet to support writing – the persona is a little bit anorexic and a little bit suicidal – also darkly funny and deeply moving with not a hint of sentimentality. The finished book will contain around 60 artists’ drawings of Suki from the life modelling sessions and is being launched at Leeds Gallery where Suki will life model as a friend reads the accompanying texts. Putting the book together, which also includes scanable MP3 codes is going to be quite a feat, so we’re starting by getting the text perfect and then we’ll move on to layout.

As I worked on these projects I had a few more Lung Jazz emails and did a bit more tweaking there and also had a conversation with Charlotte, who was emailing from her blackberry to say that I must get 100s of these requests a week, but could I appraise and publish her sci-fi novel. I replied that we’re not currently open for submissions, to which she wrote back to say surely I could do an appraisal of the opening. I wrote ‘I’m afraid not’ and Charlotte told me she would be sending it anyway. I didn’t reply.

Well – it’s almost eight and I’m going to break to cook dinner for me and my sons – a linguine perhaps since I forgot to put the dough in to rise early enough to do pizza –– and to watch a quick episode of In Treatment with them over coffee (not light viewing, but fantastic head to head short vignettes in a counsellor’s office – just two (occasionally three) people in each episode and astonishing narrative build up. Then I promised Todd Swift, one of the hard-working editors of Lung Jazz, that I’d do the final proof pdf of the anthology so he can work on it for a last week before the absolutely last corrections are made and it goes off to the printer.

A day in the life of a small press editor.

Stop press – still working on the Lung Jazz proofs, but, amazingly, cooking the graphics card worked.

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One response to “A Day in the Life of a Small Press Editor

  1. I’m breathless, just reading this. Amazing. Go, Jan!

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