Final Manuscript as an Accomplishment and a Gift

Article first published as Final Manuscript as an Accomplishment and a Gift on Blogcritics.

Here’s something I miss from my early days in the book-publishing world. I miss the symbolism and camaraderie that was inherent in the way a final-edited manuscript was packaged, at least in our company, for its production phase. I’m not quite as ancient as this will make me sound, but here goes. I’ll use “we” to mean any of us in the editor’s chair at the time.

We’d begin by catching our breath as we noticed how clean the double-spaced manuscript looked now that all those hand-written, smudgy changes had been transformed into perfect copy. It had taken three or four rounds of proofreading what the secretary had been retyping over several months’ time.  We’d exhale, smile, and then take hold of the now messed up pile—let’s say a ream’s worth—and start to neaten it. We held the pile upright on one end and slammed that two-inch-thick side against the wooden desktop. Then we’d turn the batch 90 degrees to slam it again, another 90 degrees to slam it again, and the final 90 degrees to slam it again. Usually it took two rounds, a total of eight shattering slams. If someone in the office looked up, it was to cast a congratulatory glance our way. We’d grin back.

With the neatened pile in front of us, we’d place the yellow transmittal sheet, carefully typed by the secretary or ourselves, on top of the pile. We’d find the wandering spool of blue cotton ribbon (Has anyone seen the blue ribbon?), measure off the right length, and cut it with the scissors from our desk drawer. Wrapping in blue ribbon symbolized the winning or creation of a first prize. We’d wrap the ribbon around the manuscript like a gift, and tie it like a kid’s shoelace so that the recipient in the graphics department could open the gift with one pull. We hand-carried it to the graphics’ secretary, perhaps lifting it up high on the way by the designer’s desk so she or he could applaud that it was being delivered on time.

“Forwarding of final manuscript” was a time for celebration, and we all acknowledged it on behalf of each other. Compare this process, admittedly a time-consuming one, to how a final-edited manuscript is packaged and delivered today. There may be a variety of cover emails, ranging from “Here it is” to a more descriptive set of information. Aside from that cover email (and not even that is created if the delivery is via ftp upload), here’s what happens: Alone in her or his cubicle or home office, the editor clicks on “send.”

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