The Answer to the Blank Stare

[I asked Sarah Olmanson, one of our production editors, to write a post on how she sees her job.]

Have you seen the blank stare in response to an answer you’ve given? I have. Every time I tell someone I’m a production editor. The question remains, “So what do you DO exactly?”

While the answer varies depending on the company (and on the day), at Lerner Publishing Group (LPG), PEs are responsible for putting together text, photos, captions based on the series template and making sure all other pieces of the book are complete. In addition, we serve as product managers for the last steps of the compilation process.

By far the part I most enjoy is putting together the basic pieces of the book. When A Desert Food Chain comes to me, for instance, the carefully edited manuscript has been typeset into a series template (a sample spread from the rough dump at left). All of the fonts have been applied and pages are the correct size and have the backgrounds in place (or at least available). I also receive a stack of photos from a photo researcher that have been requested to align with the book’s content by the text editor. I get to look through the photos and choose which ones—based on content, size, and cost—will go into the book (the final spread is above right). I follow design specifications for the series and go through each page of the book, deciding which photos to use and writing captions as appropriate. For some books, the options are clear, but for others, it can get tricky. In our just-released series The Decades of Twenty-First Century America (cover at right), I had many photo options for any given spread, as well as how the photos would be used.

Once this initial, or rough, layout is finished, PEs work with the text editor, designer, author, proofreader, indexer, photo researcher, and finally editorial director to make sure the final product is of the highest quality. Finally, we oversee the routing of the final proofs before printing: checking pages, requesting last-minute alterations as necessary, and making sure any photo issues that slipped by at earlier stages are resolved.

Each series and book brings new challenges as well as new opportunities for creative thinking and learning about new subjects, which is why I enjoy being a production editor (even if I do get a lot of blank stares when I say it)!