Written by Sydney Whiteside, editorial intern at the University Press of Florida
Most people are familiar with the idea of a midlife crisis—the fear, the doubt, the despair, the new Porsche. What I experienced during the spring of my sophomore year was a mid-university crisis (very similar except for the new car). I woke up one morning halfway through my English literature degree and thought, I’m still not sure what to do with my life. It hit me that I had just two years left of my non-vocational degree before I entered the infamous “real world” with no skills, no experience, and no plans. Uncertain and curious, I decided to take a peek into the mysterious world of book publishing. Luckily for me, I did this at University Press of Florida.
During my summer in the editorial department at UPF, I gained insight into the many steps a manuscript takes from proof to printer, and the meticulous work it takes to get it there. There were many tasks I did not even know were part of the publication process, such as editing book abstracts for an online platform or running transmittal macros on Word files to prepare them for the designer. While I expected attention to detail to be important, the amount of care and collaboration required in book editing astounded me—I was often the third, fourth, or fifth pair of eyes to check for mistakes in a final PDF.
One of my first tasks at the press was to proofread a book (Bioarchaeology of Frontiers and Borderlands, edited by Cristina I. Tica and Debra L. Martin) about people who lived on the border areas of other societies. Soon after, I edited journal articles about topics as varied as the history of agriculture in Florida, ancient Australian burial sites, and international tax policy. I would come home in a daze of new information and ask my housemates things like “Did you know Iceland is the only case study of colonization of a previously uninhabited land?” or “Have you heard of the Yamato Colony settled by Japanese farmers in south Florida in the early 1900s?” I read books and essays I would never have thought to pick up, let alone enjoy. The variety and specificity of the many manuscripts that come in and out of the building astonished me, and it excited me to be a part of a press that supports and champions originality and diversity of ideas.
One of the things I appreciated most about my time at UPF was the confidence placed in me by my department heads, as well as the press as a whole. When I first arrived, I was given a tour of the building, introduced to the entire floor, and briefed on what kinds of jobs I would be doing. I even got my own desk!
From day one, I was editing files and signing off on official manuscript checklists. The work I did never felt like busywork and my supervisors made sure to assign me new and varied tasks as often as possible. The atmosphere in the department was one of mutual respect and camaraderie—it was a place where questions were encouraged, successes were celebrated, and mistakes were viewed as opportunities to learn.
It has been a privilege to work so closely with the people who operate behind the scenes to transform books from ideas into tangible objects. As an English literature student, I am constantly reading academic texts to gain support for critical arguments and analyses. After spending so much time with the finished product in my academic work, it was humbling to witness and contribute to the production process. While I used to view a book as an author’s singular creation, I now know that behind every cover there is team of dedicated editors, designers, finance managers, marketing coordinators, shipping managers, and others doing the invisible labor that makes book publication possible.
Sydney Whiteside is currently completing a BA in English literature at Cardiff University in Wales.