Books Issue 2017: 7 publishing secrets a Florida book publisher wants you to know

Judging a book by its cover and other musts.

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Sian Hunter is senior acquisitions editor at the University Press of Florida, where she develops manuscripts in the areas of Florida general interest, cooking, American history, and African American studies. Contact her at [email protected].

A curious thing happened in 2016 (no, not that thing): For the third year in a row, sales of print books grew while e-book sales declined. Book publishers are just happy to have readers, regardless of the format chosen. Here are a few other tidbits from the book world to enjoy while waiting out that thing…  

7. Mommy, where do books come from? 

Oh, for a book stork! But in the reality-based world, one of two tracks tends to prevail: an author or author’s agent contacts a publisher to pitch a manuscript, and the topic fits a press’s established list, and a publisher actually says yes, and then the author and press get down to some serious polishing to transform the draft into a book. Or, a publisher is listening to a podcast, or reading an article, or talking with friends, and a book idea stands up on two wobbly legs in his or her brain, and then the publisher runs around trying to find a suitable author to drop everything for the next months or years to write That Book into being. Although I also recall Harper’s Index calculating the enormous odds of a primate spontaneously typing the full text of Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City.  

6. Consider the index.

While e-books are infinitely searchable, the index of an ink-on-paper book remains a powerful tool in the bookmaker’s kit. Indices can surpass a table of contents for an at-a-glance measure of a book. Not to mention that they occasionally harbor a surprise, such as “De Tocqueville, Alexis, obligatory reference to.”

5. Facts matter.

University presses’ insistence on rigorous standards of accuracy has given our books new cachet in the present sociopolitical fray. In November, the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) sponsored University Press Week 2017 with the theme “#LookItUp: Knowledge Matters” to highlight the value, nay necessity, of reliably accurate knowledge in a free and open society. And in October, during the white-supremacist event in Gainesville, the University Press of Florida sponsored a #FactsNotHate giveaway of books about the true history behind Confederate monuments and shared quotes from Press books to celebrate knowledge, diversity, and truths.

4. The Amazon Buy Button is not an easy button. 

If you are buying a book on Amazon and want or expect it to be new, and you want royalties to go to an author and revenue to go to a publisher, then please examine the Add to Cart button before you click it. Publishers big and small this year are waking up to an unannounced policy change in the Amazon Buy Box; whereas publishers used to be automatically assigned the Buy button (and third-party used options would be listed below), Amazon quietly changed the terms so that many third-party vendors “win” the Buy button. In some cases, a book’s publisher has been removed completely as a possible seller of that title, and the publisher does not know. (See Brooke Warner’s Huffington Post pieces if you are an Amazon customer and would like to be better informed on a number of their practices.)

3. Publishers still take two-martini lunches. 

No, we don’t. In fact, we rarely take lunch at all. (Just temporarily beset by a Mad Men–inspired daydream.)

2. Judge a book by its cover.

Go ahead — we do! Publishers at houses nationwide debate images and fonts and approaches and which-shade-of-blue-is-better-for-this-topic before wrapping the text. The AAUP even hosts an annual traveling Book, Jacket, and Journal Show to showcase the remarkable aesthetic range of what designers can do with 6” x 9” surfaces.

1. Scrabble, anyone?

“Deckle” refers to book pages that are slightly ragged at the edge rather than smooth cut. “Serif” refers to an added stroke at the end of a character (see the top and bottom of the “h”); “sans serif” refers to typefaces without those strokes are called “sans serif” (think Calibri or Arial); “Kerning” is the adjustment of space between characters. “Leading” is the amount of space between lines of text. Arcane? Not to folks who work in book production.

So, this holiday season, walk into a bricks-and-mortar bookstore and enjoy browsing free from attack ads by discount-shoe retailers. Find an audio book for a family member. Pick up a kids’ magazine or comic book for a child you know. Consider a fake-news-free history book. However you read, enjoy it!

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