In all honesty, this was my first internship. Understandably, I was nervous, so much so that my internal monologue on the way to the first day of my internship was, “You cannot possibly mess up so terribly that they don’t want you to come back.” I prepared myself for all the clichés of internships, but I must be the luckiest person because my internship was a godsend. Everyone was so nice and friendly and encouraging. It wasn’t the coffee-fetching nightmare most internship stories seem to prepare you for – I was the one offered tea. So aside from the societal niceties, the internship was a learning experience. I asked questions about the programs and how they were used. I asked about day to day stressors, personal motivation, and whether the work was rewarding. I had the mind-altering revelation that when so many people are working on a book, a lot of people have to keep the plot a secret, and are usually legally obligated to do so. Overall, the best thing I learned is that my past work experience and my education can easily be applied to many aspects of the work done at Palimpsest. Learning that I am actually employable is a huge relief. So what exactly is it that Palimpsest does? I figure the best way to explain that is to tell you about my week.
Monday was typesetting. Not the old fashioned kind that I had training in from undergrad, but typesetting digitally via InDesign. The page layout is specified by the publisher (margin measurements, line count, where the page number should be). The text is then inserted into the document and it is then that the text is formatted (paragraph styles, flush-left openers). I forgot to bring a notebook the first day, which was a huge mistake because learning from someone who knows the ins and outs of typesetting like I know the plot of Pride and Prejudice means that there was a lot of detail and shortcuts that I could have been writing down. That was the first big lesson. BRING A NOTEBOOK. You may look like an overachiever, you may look too eager, but you will be the most prepared. Thankfully, I already knew the basics. After a one-on-one lesson, I was given a desk and a job spec and sent off to try and apply what I had just learned. Again, I must repeat this would have been easier had I brought a notebook. Palimpsest has paragraph styles for every inevitability and they are a time-saver. It’s just figuring out which one to use and when to use them that was a struggle. By the afternoon, I was given a massive manuscript full of editor’s corrections and had to input them into the text of another project. That was quite a bit of fun. Deciphering an editor’s handwriting is a new form of code-breaking. The standard editor marks are used, but text insertion is just a lot of eye-squinting and hoping for the best. But really, if the editor’s handwriting cannot be understood, the proofreaders can usually figure it out, and if the words are still unintelligible, an email is sent to the editor to clarify. That was my first day done.
Tuesday was digital publishing, and yes, I brought a notebook. There is certainly a more technical aspect to the digital publishing process, but my describing it would be lacking. My brain may have gone into overload as soon as I realized that coding was involved. What I can explain is the process of checking the document before and after uploading it to ePub conversion website. Trying to explain this makes me feel extremely inept, but I’ll forge on. While the original typeset document was made in a more recent version of InDesign, the file gets converted into an IDML so that it can be read by earlier versions. The file is then opened in an older version of InDesign. The paragraph styles are checked. The copyright page is double-checked for being the e-book version, not the physical edition. URLs are hyperlinked, images are embedded, and the color is checked as RGB not CMKY. After all this, the file is then uploaded and converted to ePub. Then the ePub is checked for errors and if there are any the process is done again. Digital publishing is an involved process and while it was being explained, it sounded doable. I am one of the most technologically inept people ever. I’m not a grandma who doesn’t understand the internet or how to use “The Facebook”, but I struggle. This is a process that I could eventually learn, but it was certainly the most trying part of the week, well outside my comfort zone. In the afternoon, I went to work with customer service and it was here that I realized that my past work experience is applicable to publishing. Emailing vendors, inputting job information, staying on top of incoming emails – been there, done that. The nicest part of this form of customer service is that there is no person-to-person aspect of it. No fake smiles, or earnest customer service personas, just emails and data entry. It’s like raking a zen garden for me.
Wednesday was proofreading and I was given a checklist. I love checklists. It was an ebook checklist. Basically, the ebook creation of Tuesday was then corrected on Wednesday. Is the copyright page accurate? Is there a hyperlink to the publisher’s website? Is the body text justified? Does the linking in the book work? When you click on a footnote does the ebook take you there? When you get to the footnote can you go back to your place in the text? Do all the formats work on the differing devices: Kindle, ePub, Apple? Like I said, I love checklists. In the afternoon, there was more proofreading. It was nice, but the level of attention to detail is certainly a learned skill. Also, trying to not read the books I was proofreading was really difficult. The easiest way to not read the book was to realize that if I had a choice, I would never read some of these books. Once the plot was dismissed, it became easier to pay attention to hyphenation, spacing, and stacking. I also learned that proofreaders have to depend on the aesthetic decisions of editors. To all, widows are never welcome, but orphans are fickle things (please read this as the typographical terminology, not humanitarian terminology). Some editors don’t mind if three lines end on the letter e whereas other editors circle every stack they see. Double stacks are forgivable if only one word, triple stacks are unacceptable. So on and so forth. It is a lot of detail and when I closed my eyes that night, I dreamed of stacks I had missed.
Thursday started with operational management. If you think about what keeps a company going, operational management is that. Keeping the office supplied, mailing and receiving packages, scanning in books, dealing with outsourcing, and general office management. It was a lot of singular responsibilities that culminated into a very busy job. Having to juggle multiple responsibilities can be exhausting, I learned that a few years ago being the bookkeeper/office manager/customer-service person at a small company. I was taught the various aspects of the job and then got to scan in a book which would later be outsourced for keying. Then I went back to proofreading where I went through a few more manuscripts. I found most of the mistakes, but I still need a lot more practice.
Friday, I was supposed to start in proofreading and then go back to typesetting later in the day to enter more editor corrections. However, Friday was chaotic and very stressful in the office. But that was another kind of learning experience. How a company handles pressure and treats its employees during stressful times is important. I’ve had jobs where the stress in the office impacted everyone negatively. If anything, I thought that was how stressful moments were typically handled in a work atmosphere. Palimpsest seemed to become stronger. They were kinder, more considerate towards one another. They took a step back, re-assessed, re-prioritized, and pulled through. It was impressive to say the least.
After a week of working at Palimpsest, I realized that I could be very happy working in book production. However, I’m still going to keep my options open. Trying new things can be scary, but asking questions can help mitigate those fears. Honestly, the hardest part was waking up early to make the bus on time. The people at Palimpsest were what I hope to find in my future employment – kind, supportive peers. The work was stimulating and feeling like a part of a bigger picture was the ultimate reward.
by Isabella Pioli