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On Interning at Island Press: 248

In this installment Production Intern Mary Sollosi recaps on her first week at Island Press and why she will never forget the magical number of 248.

Six months ago, in my very first week as a production intern at Island Press, I made the castoff for a book called The Hidden Potential of Sustainable Neighborhoods, by Harrison Fraker. The castoff is the first step in the production process. First, editorial transmits a manuscript in the form of a whole lot of word documents and image files, along with a memo describing the project in detail, and then the production intern (meaning me) goes through every one of those files, getting character counts, image counts, subhead counts, etc. After measuring practically every single quantifiable element of the manuscript, I input all of these numbers into a spreadsheet called the castoff, which calculates a projected page count based on the selected book design model. From here, the castoff page count is central to the production process. Fraker’s book was my very first castoff, and at the time I found it difficult to believe that this jumble of word documents would eventually come together to form an actual book. But I faithfully worked my way through each one, trusting that the numbers I typed into the castoff would eventually mean something. I vividly remember painstakingly tiptoeing through every chapter, determined not to miss a single comma. My supervisor, Sharis, told me when I began that this book had “a rather storied art package,” which terrified me more than she probably realized. Indeed, there were more photographs, drawings, and maps than I knew what to do with. I moved through them all at a glacial pace, anxious not to misjudge a single one as needing more or less space than it would actually take up. After I had obsessed over and finally entered every element of the manuscript, the spreadsheet worked its magic and told me that The Hidden Potential of Sustainable Neighborhoods should end up around 248 pages. I turned in my castoff masterpiece to Sharis and hoped for the best. I wouldn’t see that book again for months. After it had been copyedited and typeset, it was corrected by both the author and a proofreader. My next job on the manuscript was to make a master set of corrections by combining both of theirs. After the typesetter made the changes in the master, they sent a new set of proofs, which I carefully examined, looking at all the elements on a detailed proof checklist. When I found mistakes, I wrote in my corrections, which we sent back to the typesetter, who then sent us a corrected manuscript, which I checked again… The process continued until the book was perfect. By the time the typesetter and the production department had ping-ponged the Fraker manuscript back and forth three or four times, I knew every inch of that book. I knew all the photos, drawings, and maps that had worried me so much when I made the castoff; I knew every chart, every running head, and every chapter title. I have, since February, checked many books and made many castoffs (now with considerably less anxiety), but I do have a special fondness for this one—storied art package and all—and it was with great pride that I told Sharis I thought it was ready to print. Just this morning, there was office-wide email from our Production Assistant, Caroline, announcing that The Hidden Potential of Sustainable Neighborhoods had arrived, and could be found on the new releases shelf in the office library. It was beautiful. It was heavy and substantial; it smelled like a book. I opened to the pages that had given me trouble; I remembered the numbers without even thinking. I couldn’t believe that the many incarnations of this manuscript that had crossed my computer screen in the past six months had finally materialized into this magnificent thing, with a thick spine, hard covers, and colorful, flippable pages—248 of them exactly.