Sarah Blau, Class of 2007, Guilford College
Magic and Lucky Means: An Internship at Open Hand
Before this semester I knew that once a person writes a book they must, through some lucky means, find a publisher. That publisher must then work some kind of magic so that many copies of a finished book appear and make their way to bookstore shelves and people’s homes. Working at Open Hand Publishing, LLC these past months has provided me with a little insight into what the “lucky means” and the “magic” are of a book becoming published. Two weeks ago a truck arrived at Open Hand delivering six thousand copies of the publisher’s new release, Face to Face with Katrina Survivors: A First Responder’s Tribute by Dr. Lemuel A. Moyé. When I joined the Open Hand team this book was still in one of its final editing stages, and through its journey from edit to print, I was able to learn much about publishing.
On my second day at Open Hand the publisher, Richard Koritz, asked me to look over and edit a new press release about Katrina. Shortly after that, Richard, in an effort to get me acquainted with the new book, gave me old copies of the introduction and the conclusion. From these assignments I was able to see exactly where in the publishing process I was coming in. Open Hand was just beginning to advertise their upcoming December release at around the beginning of September, and judging by the small portions I read, the book still had a lot of editing to undergo.
I found out later that Katrina is the first book Richard has decided to publish which was brought to his attention by an agent rather than the author directly. However, the subject caught the publisher’s attention, and I think when he flew down to Houston to meet Dr. Moyé, Richard knew he had made a good choice. Due to Open Hand’s small scale and Richard’s passion and ethics, the publisher has been able to work very closely with the author, and both seem to be very happy with the whole process of Katrina’s publication.
One example of this close relationship and the advantages of interning at a very small company is when Richard explained to me about how he suggested the author keep a concluding chapter which had previously been cut. The conclusion was still weak so Dr. Moyé made many changes. Near the end of the editing process, Richard had me read over the conclusion and make suggestions for how it could be improved, made more fluent. I spent quite a while making some comments and moving paragraphs around. After reviewing my comments and those of other trusted editors, Richard approved most of the changes I had made.
Almost completed, one draft of Katrina was sent to a printer and we received some advance galley copies. These were the copies Richard and Dr. Moyé sent out to the major review journals as well as to others which require galley copies months in advance of the publication date. In addition, copies were sent to family, friends, and acquaintances for editing suggestions. Some copies were also sent to important/recognizable people in society who may support and show interest in the book, and give us promotional assistance in the form of blurbs. For example, we received short reviews and promotional statements from people like the President of the National Medical Association, Dr. Albert Morris, Jr. and the (soon to be) Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Through these contacts, Open Hand hoped to get additional reviews for advertising purposes and for potential buyers.
In addition to promotional and advertising efforts, Richard had to deal a lot with the selection of and negotiation with the printing company. Many more decisions go into producing a book than I had considered before such as choosing a trustworthy printing company, the quality and color paper to be used, and the quality, color, and thickness of the cloth cover. Plus, Katrina has sixteen pages of black and white photographs which needed different paper and positioning within the other text, etc... Every slight decision affected the cost to the publisher on a small scale for an individual book, but on a huge scale for six thousand books, especially for such a small (and limitedly funded) company.
The next step of the process focused on design. Richard had to decide what information to put on the back cover, how to arrange that information, and other little details that were small, but not minor. Andy (Richard’s assistant) and I did a lot of work in this designing process as well as in the creation of a promotional postcard for the book. In addition to a postcard, Andy organized fliers, press-releases, author bio’s and other information about both the book and the company in order to create media kits.
Meanwhile, Open Hand’s website designer had to update the website and supply a page for online viewers to order the new book. Someone suggested that Richard put an excerpt from Katrina online so that potential buyers could see what the writing was like. Dr. Moyé suggested part of one story from the book, but Richard thought that section left out too much of the meaning and power behind the book’s conception. The publisher asked me to read the author’s excerpt and to tell him what I thought. I experienced a total mental shift after reviewing Dr. Moyé’s selected text because I realized the importance of the part he had chosen. Richard was correct, this excerpt did not really reveal the optimism or the conviction of the rest of the book; however, the excerpt did present graphic descriptions, emotional turmoil, and a cliffhanger ending. The shift in my mentality had to do with how perfect this excerpt was from a promotional viewpoint. If I had read that section of the book online, I would feel drawn into the story and disappointed by its inconclusive nature – disappointed enough to purchase the book! I told Richard my thoughts about the author’s choice, and he went with that excerpt.
Eventually, a near-final copy of the manuscript was sent to the printing company. The printers then sent Open Hand blue line digital proofs which Andy and I checked page for page to make sure the correct words were on the correct pages and that the correct number of pages were present ….
Richard put me in charge of finding, searching through, choosing, and applying to book awards. I did not previously realize that authors and publishers had to apply to award contests. I suppose I never really thought about it, but this experience really opened my eyes to what magazines, groups, and organizations are available for authors and publishers to become associated with. It took me about one month to feel completely informed about the different book awards, to fill out the application forms, and to keep track of (compile a list of) which award needed what number and type of books, the entry fee amount, and other necessary items for shipment. Once the books arrived and all the award applications were finally sent out, I felt a great sense of completion. That was probably my most stressful and most satisfying day of this internship.
While the focus of Open Hand this past semester was mainly the task of producing Katrina, some other chore always needed to be done. For example, Richard had decided to reprint one of Open Hand’s old books, Mississippi to Madrid… I was put in charge of editing this manuscript by a word for word comparison with the original to insure that the re-print would have no mistakes. Also, over the course of the semester, there was constant busy work to be done such as making boxes and boxing books (for a 5-book set) and folding pages to include in Katrina’s press kit.
In addition to different aspects of the publishing process that I have described, one of the major lessons I learned from my experience at Open Hand was that everything takes longer than you think it will. When I was put in charge of organizing promotional blurbs in a list, I thought it would take no time. However, I realized every choice I made had an effect. I had to ask myself whether this certain person’s top political position was more important to a hypothetical viewer than the fact that someone else’s comments were more powerful, more heartfelt. Prioritizing the blurbs ended up taking at least an hour, and Richard re-ordered my list in the end anyway.
Every time Richard did accept my comments and used my suggestions, I felt honored and useful. Also, having the entire responsibility for completing the book awards was refreshing. The knowledge that Richard trusted me enough, and could tell that I was dependable enough to carry that responsibility really made me feel grown up and empowered. Through the process of gathering and applying to award organizations, I also learned an immense amount about how to approach multi-stage tasks – to take things one step at a time, but to keep the larger picture and deadlines in mind.
Additionally, I have learned certain things about myself. Part of my reasoning behind performing this internship was to gain career experience and see if publishing was a possible career for me. I know I do not want to work behind a desk, but I do love reading, editing, and being able to affect changes in output. I like having multiple tasks, and not just working on one job endlessly every day. Also, and possibly most important, I like to work with and for people whom I can relate to on a personal and semi-informal level.
I say this because looking back over the last semester, I realize how the publisher himself has affected me as well as my outlook on life. Richard is a wonderful, strong-willed, honest and fair man. He is an activist and holds on very strongly to his beliefs, yet he is willing to listen to others and accept their methods even if he does not believe they are correct (although, he will tell them he disapproves). He clearly cares about this world and the people in it, and through his publishing company, he strives to (as we say at Guilford) be the change you wish to see in the world. In fact, I believe Richard has become one of my heroes; I admire him for his courage and fearless tackling of the world, and I feel that just from his influence, I will strive to make my life more meaningful. He told me one day, “I’m not very sophisticated, but I’m a knowledgeable and formidable source of power in this universe.” He was not being pompous; he was being honest. I hope that one day I can honestly and proudly repeat those same words.