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On Interning at Island Press: The Value of a Good Title

Photo by Pablo Rios, used under Creative Commons licensing. Photo by Pablo Rios, used under Creative Commons licensing.

In this installment, Editorial Intern Sorrel Dunn puts together the puzzle pieces behind a successful book.

Although I know it’s meant to be metaphorical, the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” has long rankled with me. Finally supporting my suspicion that the saying is misleading (to say the least) was a meeting I attended the other day with the editorial, production, and marketing departments at Island Press. The meeting was devoted purely to book titling, and we took at least an hour to discuss just five projects’ prospective titles. I already knew that author’s get very little say in book covers, and the same is true with titles: these short but essential phrases are wrenched, coddled, twisted, and nurtured into being by a surprisingly significant team of people. As a student who simultaneously dreads and longs for, agonizes over and savors titling papers, this meeting was a pleasure. More than that, though, it served to further underline just how many hidden layers of careful thought stand behind all aspects of a published book. Other meetings have revealed the same sort of intensive, challenging, and constructive collaboration to keep the books, and Island Press, going strong. My own work during this internship has also contributed to Island Press’ ongoing and variegated internal dialog. All my work has, in some way, been an important contribution to the editorial team. I am grateful for Island Press’s small size since it has allowed me to understand how even the smallest or most remote-seeming tasks fit into the publishing process. All in all my favorite job this summer has been reading and reviewing book proposals. Writing proposal feedback that contributes meaningfully to an editor’s understanding of a project and helps them decide whether or not to pursue it requires an open but sensitive mind. In my reviews, too, more elements come into play than meets the eye: even if an author has a top-notch idea and a great writing style, I have to consider the timeliness of the project, the viability of its intended audience, the author’s connections to sources of funding and publicity, and its relationship to other books in its area. Writing a review is like solving a puzzle whose shape I find out as piece together these different elements into a cohesive picture of the viability of the project. No matter how much I was fulfilled by the work at Island Press, though, I wouldn’t love the internship if I didn’t love the office, too. From the moment I arrived I have been welcomed, and my work has been respected and valued. I can only echo what so many others have written when I say that everyone is truly interested in what interns have to say and glad to share their vast wells of knowledge and experience. I am so grateful to have been able to spend my summer with an organization of such wonderful people who are making equally great contributions to the advancement and implementation of environmental knowledge.