Staying Current in Book Publishing

by Melissa Jacobson, Book Designer, Chelsea Green Publishing

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Although many facets of publishing haven’t changed in decades, a lot of its opportunities require curiosity and adaptability. In college, I pursued the subjects that interested me instead of focusing on a specific end goal. Interning and volunteering helped me explore a variety of art- and book-related professions. Helping a sculptor who worked on commission taught me I wanted an office job. A letterpress shop introduced me to the beautiful mechanics of type and design layout. Researching new markets and grant funding opportunities for nonprofits showed me how much I enjoyed organizing information and demonstrating results. I discovered my long-term interests and confidently listed over 3 years of relevant experience on my first job application.

Very soon I learned about the highs and lows of working for a company that develops commercial products. My first full-time job began in 2008, so I accumulated and managed multiple workloads when colleagues were laid off. Then, we published the company’s first New York Times best seller and I couldn’t imagine wanting to work anywhere else. I learned the most when priorities shifted and I had the opportunity to be trained in, or more often teach myself, something new to help the forward momentum of the company. My book arts, printmaking, and Excel experience had opened the door for me as a production assistant. My other creative experiences and passion for organization bought new and diverse tasks to my desk. Before long, I had to write up new job descriptions to explain how I routinely assisted multiple departments. When I decided to leave for another opportunity, they had to hire two employees to replace me.

At Chelsea Green, I am a book designer who focuses on print, but I always keep the future eBook conversion in mind. Digital media inherently offers interesting potential for many designers; but, markets are still being researched, budgets are constantly re-evaluated, and designing eBooks frequently just means simplifying the print book styles. But that doesn’t let anyone off easy.

Learning specific software can be a moving target for book designers working on print and digital editions. The first publisher I interned for in college still used Pagemaker even though we were being taught InDesign and most other publishers were using QuarkXpress. Now, I only need familiarity with Quark to work in the archives, Adobe continues to release new versions of InDesign that are barely cross-compatible, and I am brushing up on HTML so I can edit eBook code with Sigil or Dreamweaver, when necessary.

But in a more positive light, many new software developments are providing more efficient steps for all phases in the print and digital book design process. Staying current and relevant in a fast-paced work environment means learning how to facilitate your overall workload. For a book designer, this can make an earlier task take longer but clearly results in time or monetary savings down the line. Every publisher operates differently, but my experience at small, independent companies, has encouraged me to continually improve my skills and efficiency for the quality of our books and timeliness of our releases.

Melissa Jacobson interned for her first book publisher in 2005 and is now the first in-house book designer at Chelsea Green Publishing. Previously, she spent over three years at Quirk Books where she coordinated print production, managed and designed sales materials, and established a digital content conversion program. She earned her MFA in Book Arts/Printmaking from The University of the Arts and her BFA in Illustration with a minor in English from the University of Connecticut.


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