Face-to-Face Time in Old-Style Publishing

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My posting on June 1 was titled “Good Feelings from Groups.” Soon after posting it, while searching for a document on a wholly different subject, I unearthed a business plan I’d written in the late 1990s for my publishing company at the time. In it, I quoted two paragraphs related to the power of groups within a publishing company. In rereading that excerpt, I realized I have not been as group-phobic as I thought. In fact, I’ve been group-oriented my entire working life.

Here’s how John Huenefeld described the key to an effectively organized publishing house. (I’m sure it applies to all companies to some degree or other.) Excerpted from The Huenefeld Guide to Book Publishing (1993 copyright):

  • In work as complex (and often ethereal) as publishing, it is not always easy for individuals to see just how their efforts fit into the total process—or how they affect group results. . . . But if one is clearly identified as a member of a specific segment of the organization—and if the goals of that segment are clearly and appropriately stated, impersonally measured, and openly reported—it becomes much easier to focus one’s thoughts and labors. And if those measurements are routinely posted side-by-side with the results being achieved by other groups within the organization, subtle but powerful peer pressure is exerted on each staff member “not to let their team down” in hopefully-friendly competition with those other groups.
  • Therein lies the key to effective organization of your publishing house. If the publisher can get one group of people to dedicate themselves to maximizing the sales volume [the marketing function], a second to assume responsibility for finding new books that will give that marketing effort maximum support [acquisition], a third group who’ll put those new products into the inventory on time with a minimum utilization of capital [prepress development], and a fourth who will look after the fiscal/physical assets in such a manner that the publishing house gets to retain a maximum percentage of its sales revenue as “profit” [business operations]—then that publisher can hardly fail! And with the coordinating publisher’s office separately identified as general management, we’ve defined the five basic staff components of an intelligently organized publishing house.

I cannot find these two paragraphs in the 2001 copyright, which was published after the publication rights transferred to a different company shortly before Huenefeld retired. The 2001 version incorporated formatting changes that may have required cutting some of the more philosophical verbiage, which is too bad, since paragraphs such as the above helped me, for one, buy into all the charts and lists provided in that extraordinarily helpful book. It was one of my bibles as I struggled to put together a solid small press.

Timing is everything, though, and I think the content of John Huenefeld’s book started requiring too many changes to hold its own in the new world of publishing, as that world went more and more digital before, during, and after any book it created. In publishing-company operations, both timing and procedures were truncated as digitalization streamlined every step from manuscript preparation through page design, prepress production, printing, and promotion.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, many of the jobs are now outsourced positions supported by people working from their homes. Now a truly group-phobic person (which, it turned out, I’m not) can probably enjoy her/his job even more. But Huenefeld’s original charts and lists supporting each group in his ideal company probably had to be re-created increasingly as each new version of Quark (and such) came out. Face-to-face group interactions–virtual meetings notwithstanding–became more and more rare, and his book was predicated on them. In the end there had to have been too many changes for the final publisher of The Huenefeld Guide to Book Publishing to justify continuation of publication based on the original model.

Publishing can still be a money-making industry, but it has taken new forms and requires some different skills in addition to the age-old ones. People involved in publishing today would still declare “group support” to be a strong factor in getting it all done. But I wonder if there’s a book out there that makes it as obviously necessary as Huenefeld’s book did.

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2 Responses to Face-to-Face Time in Old-Style Publishing

  1. I would say being part of a choir was my favorite group to belong to. Not only are you together in proximity, but the majority of the time every sense and synapse is mutually reveling in syncopated and non-syncopated rhythms. It wasn’t long before we all started walking the same. (JK)

    I am not up on books relating to publishing, but regarding being part of a group the book that came to mind as I was reading your blog is by Sherry Turkle called “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.” The initial decision is based on one’s comfort level and the drift toward what feels better, the introvert v. extrovert. I have a feeling that if they did a study they would find group dwellers live longer than going solo.

    Sorry if this comment was a bit non-responsive.

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