People Make Publishing: It Takes a Village

Anna Weir is a publicist who physically cannot stop bringing books into her tiny apartment.

I decided early on that whatever my career wound up being, it had to involve books. Books were how I made friends and how I understood the world. I had come across nothing else that could so quickly engage and connect people.

And that was finished books.

I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that bookstores, publishers, agents, and printers all played some role in getting the book from the author to the reader but it took a while for me to realize what those roles were. For a long time I imagined books to be a direct link to the mind of whoever’s name was on the front cover. Everyone in between was just a step in the process, a colored square in the great board game of publishing.

But over the past few years, I’ve come to realize how the engaging, collaborative power of a book begins earlier than when I take it off the shelf. Since working at the University of Nebraska Press, I’ve been able to see the publisher’s role in action—from acquiring and editing, to designing, packaging, and reviewing. UNP cranks out about one-hundred-fifty new books every year, and we’re hoping to add to that number in coming years. Amid the constant hustle and bustle in-house, it’s easy sometimes to lose sight of the life of a book once it’s out of our hands.

At the Heartland Fall Forum in Minneapolis this year, I had the opportunity to learn about a book’s life once it reaches the bookseller. I spent the weekend listening the ways store owners engage with authors and publishers, as well as individual readers and the larger community. Around me were brainstorming sessions of community outreach, ideas to promote literacy in low-income areas, and an overwhelming desire to get more people excited about more books. As a publisher, it was incredibly helpful to hear firsthand what I could be doing on my end to make the bookseller’s job easier, but as a reader, it was heartening to hear such excitement for the written word.

I stood in a long line on the last night of the event, waiting to get a book signed by a local author. Behind me, already with an armful of signed books, stood a bookseller from Wisconsin. With a long wait ahead of us, she asked me how I enjoyed the conference. And I told her what I already wrote above—that it’s amazing to see how many people work so hard to get one book into the hands of one reader.

She smiled, nodded, and said, “It takes a village.”

So the next time you buy a book, even though it might feel brand-new, remember its pages are covered with the fingerprints of so many people behind the scenes. It took a village, a community to put together, and they’re all a little stronger for it.

Take it, read it, and pass it on.