How Publishing Really Works

The proofs of Le Road Trip came today!


These pages are all set to go into production: if I have any objections I have to make then now, or forever hold my peace.

The proofs are on the same quality of paper that will be used for the book itself, so I can get a good look at how the art work will print.

Suddenly, all those homely hand-made pasted-up sheets of paper look dignified, presented in (almost) end product form.

Each sheet of proof paper holds two pages of text in numerical order. This happens to be pages six and  seven. I’m supposed to look each page over and let my production editor know if the color saturation and contrast in up to snuff.

I looked, I judged it perfect, I sent in my OK.

As far as my part in the creation of this book, my work is done.

To celebrate, Top Cat said “Let’s pack a picnic dinner and a bottle of Bordeaux and go to Morgan Park and watch the sun set tonight.”

And as we are hauling ourselves and our buffet from the parking lot to the lush lawns of Morgan Park, I say to Top Cat, “I’m putting out a request to the Universe for a Blue Jay feather tonight, so keep a look out.”

And, not a half minute later, Top Cat says to me, “Oh, here it is.”

That’s the Blue Jay feather that Top Cat almost stepped on, on our way to our picnic dinner. (That’s my dear sweet Top Cat in the background, with the picnic hamper.)

I was ecstatic, of course. And I said something like, “More! More! I want more Blue Jay feathers! This is a Blue Jay feather goldmine!!”

Top Cat tried to calm me down by saying, “Sweetie, come on, what are the chances that lightning will strike twice?”

And then he said, “Oh. Never mind.”

That’s one of the best things about my Top Cat. His magic is strong.

And as the last SkiDooer motored in to port in the last light of day, me and Top Cat were grateful that most of the 20 million people who live within a 20-mile radius of our picnic paradise decided to stay home and watch Entertainment Tonight than come out and watch the sunset.

Even though this looks fake as can be, this is for real. I took this picture with my own camera and, of  course, with my own eyes.

Life is good.

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I schlepped into Manhattan late last Thursday afternoon to deliver the finished manuscript of my Damn France Book.

I took a train into Manhattan, and a taxi to the Flatiron Building, and when I got to my editor’s office I took a photo of the Damn France Book sitting in her guest chair:

One of the reason I hand-deliver my manuscripts is because I get such a charge out of hanging out in my publisher’s offices, because my publisher is Bloomsbury, and Bloomsbury’s offices are in the historic Flatiron Building in New York City. You know the Flatiron:

Built in 1902, it’s been famous since it was erected on a peculiar triangle-shaped bit of land on 23rd Street in lower Manhattan.

In 1903, the artist Alfred Stieglitz made the first iconinc image of the Flatiron in a snow storm using that new fangled technology: photography.

In 1904, the artist Edward Steichen paid homage to Alfred with his iconic image of the Flatiron, using that new fangled technology: color photography.

The Flatiron is situated at the heart of lower Manhattan, where Broadway (an old Indian trail that slashes its age-old way diagonally down the isle of Manhattan) crosses Fifth Avenue.

See how the Flatiron is built like a triangle? Like a flatiron of yore? (Photo of a flatiron of yore to follow.)

On this visit to Bloomsbury, I was on a mission: I wanted to penetrate the inner sanctum, get to the heart of this publishing culture. I wanted to get here:

I wanted to get to the head office.

Well, they are very nice people at Bloomsbury. My editor, Kathy Belden, was more than happy to take me down into the pointy part of the building. Turns out that the Publisher of Bloomsbury, George Gibson, has his office in Bloomsbury’s front wedge of the Flatiron, on the third floor.

This is what a distinguished literary Publisher’s office looks like:

This is George’s desk, in the cradle of the Flatiron Building.

If you step carefully over George’s lateral filing system on the floor, and look out his window (which faces uptown, north, towards streets that number 24 – 220th, the highest street number on the island of Manhattan, by the way; anything higher is in the damn Bronx), this is the view:


And then I was out on the pavement, heading up to 29th street to check out the latest hipster haven in Manhattan, passing through the Fifth Avenue plaza at 23rd street:

My destination was The Ace Hotel at Broadway and 29th street.

The Ace is the anchor to Manhattan’s newest (and some say, last) new neighborhood — NoMad.

NoMad was the only stretch of un-named real estate left in Manhattan, a dreary stretch of streets north of 23rd and south of 34th that are full of discount perfume stores. The area is north of Madison Square Park = NoMad.

I wanted to see the Ace Hotel because the Ace chain (of four hotels in America so far) was founded by Portlander Alex Calderwood for Portland-ish travelers — cultural travelers— who travel to see film, design, art, literature, food, and music.

The sidewalk evergreens  have fetching little blue lights in them.

Inside the hotel it’s very dark and word is, there’s a hip bar scene going on in there.

It was so very dark in there that I didn’t take photos, but I wasn’t there for the bar scene. I was there for the Stumptown Coffee bar.

Stumptown Coffee is famous in Portland , Oregon — a strictly hometown institution, full of Portland ethos and style and insider jokes (Stumptown is an old nickname for Portland, from when it was a pioneer town and the developers were cutting down trees and the locals, already showing signs of their peculiar brand of Portland tribalism, decided to come up with the least catchiest town moniker ever).

So there I was, standing in the middle of the Stumptown coffee bar in the Ace Hotel,  and I start shooting pictures, and this is what the barista does:

That is sooooo Portland, soooo Stumptown coffee.

And yes, all the baristas wear hats.

One last picture, not related to this post at all: I walked to Penn Station on 34th Street, passing the Hotel Pennsylvania on my way to Penn Station to catch the LIRR home to Long Island. And on the sidewalk was the cabin crew for Air India, waiting for their bus to JFK airport:

I just loved the sari -ish uniforms — in turquoise!

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Just one last thing to do to get Le Road Trip manuscript ready for publishing.

I have to out my original art work and original hand-set type into a format that can be turned into a book-shaped object.

Heres how I do it (on my dining room table):

Top left: binder containing original manuscript.

Bottom right: 11-inch by 14-inch sheets sent to me by my publisher Bloomsbury with position marks for each page, numbered from 1 – 215.

Center: paper cutter to trim these out-sized sheets down to a more manageable 11-inch by 11-inch square .

Bottom left: pile of already-trimmed sheets.


This is my light box, on which I have taped (Scotch tape is crucial to the whole process) a guide that represents the true dimensions of the final trim of the book, with lines and markings to show me where the center lines of the page are, both vertically and horizontally.

I have to place every single page of my manuscript onto this guide and position it so that all the art work and text is straight, aligned, and mounted with the proper margins for top and bottom AND with extra allowances for the “gutter”…that is, the edge that is going to be bound.

Yes, I have to do this manually for each and every  page, all 208 of them.

Got that?

For reasons that have to due with the fact that during this scrutiny I still find stuff that three editors missed and rectifying it takes research and materials i.e. glue, scissors, tape, white-out, mucho cursing. I also have to keep all these loose, mounted pages in order and, well, it gets messy.

I got the bright idea to tape pages onto the walls of my dining room so they could dry — remember, I am gluing the art work, and taping the text into place.

This is true: I sprained my left hand with repetitive motion somewhere around page 135 and had to tape up my favorite index and middle finger to prevent further injury which meant that I was, for all accounts and purposes, left totally right-handed … and still I had to keep turning out pages, and pages, and pages…

Today I am happy to announce that I have finished all the mounting, the last-minute editing, the last-last-minute patching up, and the last-last-last-minute re-writes/re-paints (yes, I did re-paint two whole pages)/re-edits.

From now, until pub date May 2012,  it’s Bloomsbury’s baby.


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This is what a hand-made, illustrated travel memoir in process looks like:

See that slip of green paper on the cover? It’s a note to myself, a definition of life that I read somewhere and wrote down:

Life: A length of time marked by periodic changes of luck.

Words to live by.

As I create each page, I tape in my text and my illustrations into the approximate positions that will have when they are printed.

The yellow stickies on the edge of some of the pages are there to remind me that there’s something that I to fix on that page; the little yellow stickies on the bottom of  sheet are there so I can keep track of the page count.  I use those sheet protectors because that makes it easier to move pages around, and keeps the schmutz off the art work.

Repeat 208 times, and you have a book!

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