Passion for the written word

June 2, 2011 at 8:53 am 1 comment

In the twenty years that I’ve been working, I’ve held a variety of jobs.  Babysitter and lifeguard.  Communications director for a lobbying firm in Topeka and marketing assistant for a company in Lawrence that produces hot stamping foils.  (Don’t know what those are?  Check the front of a toothpaste box or the cover of a greeting card.  See that shiny stuff?  That’s hot stamping foil.)  I’ve worked for a beauty services and supply company, a real estate development business, a chain restaurant, as a freelance magazine editor, and in the financial services industry.

(Believe it or not, all those jobs had a common thread between them in tasks and responsibilities.  I really did have some focus, even though my work history may not obviously reflect it.)

Some of my favorite jobs, however, have been those that centered around books.  Yeah, I know, I already told you how much I love books.  In college I turned that passion for the written word into part-time jobs that helped put me through college.  In the summer before my junior year, I worked for Barnes & Noble.  It was mundane work: shelving titles, assisting customers, running a cash register.  But I loved it.  I loved being able to identify titles for customers and discovering new authors as their books were delivered to the store.  I loved the smell of coffee brewing in the cafe mingling with the distinctive smell of new books.  I loved taking advantage of an employee discount to increase my library.  Truth be told, I probably barely broke even that summer, spending most of my paycheck on the titles I found during work hours.

In my senior year of college, I landed a receptionist position at a book publisher in Lawrence.  The University Press of Kansas publishes mostly regional and academic titles.  Although it is based just off the KU campus, UPK is actually sponsored by the Kansas Board of Regents, the governing body of all the higher education facilities in Kansas.

Although most of my duties were generic clerical and office stuff you’d find at any company, working at UPK gave me a glimpse into the publishing end of the books I loved.  One of my tasks was to file manuscripts that were submitted but not accepted for publication.  It was fascinating to me to see how many people had written books, how many there were for the editorial staff to slog through and choose which ones would work and which ones wouldn’t.

One of my other tasks was to work with the production department.  After a manuscript is accepted, it is laid out in book format but printed in what is called “blue lines,” a pre-production draft of the book.  This draft is used in the final hard printing of the book.  I would look over the blue lines for major smudges or glaring problems with the draft.  One of my best days at that job was catching a spelling error in a blue line before it went to final print.

I often think that I should have gone into publishing as a career.  However, I have to wonder if the traditional publishing industry is a dying breed, replaced by digital publishers and online content.

For the first time ever, Amazon reported that April sales of e-books outpaced those of traditional books.  For every 100 hard copies sold, Amazon sold 105 e-books.  Amazon is now selling more books for its Kindle than hardbacks and paperbacks combined.

Consider the college textbook industry.  How many of us have spent a gazillion dollars on textbooks for college classes?   Yet textbook publishers are trending towards producing their publications in digital format for tablets and smartphones.  What will this shift do to traditional publishing profits?  And how will this shift impact profits for universities, who have traditionally had a nice little profit center in their whole “buy back” program where they buy textbooks for pennies on the dollar and resell them at full price?

And what about writers?  Sure, I have a market in the online publishing industry; in fact, I have had much more opportunity to get paid as a freelance writer and blogger because of the internet.  Yet the siren song of seeing my name on a published book still calls to me.  There is nothing more thrilling for a writer than seeing your byline on a printed article.

I don’t think books are going away any time soon.  However, I think books – as with most things – will become relics of our past, replaced by new technologies.  Don’t get me wrong: I love the new technology.  But I also love the old-fashioned printed word.


Entry filed under: Life in general.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Sandy Taylor  |  June 8, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    Amy, the writing market is changing, but there will always be a need for wordsmiths like yourself. The “book” in some form will always be with us. Go for it, girl.


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