Publishing a Book (19-02)


I was going to write about Eugene V. Debs and his relationship to the Industrial Workers of the World this week — the first major topic of volume 4 of his selected works reflected in the book’s working title, Red Union, Red Paper, Red Train. The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley…

mouseYou see, this turned out to be a week with a Friday deadline for turning in the manuscript of volume 3 (postponed from October 15 by mutual consent with the publisher).

And that was a lot of work, heavily time consuming. It’s very much akin to a hitting a deadline for turning in a college term paper, complete with the requisite “all-nighter” as the zero hour approached.

That got done. I’m more or less happy with the 42 page introduction. There are still two or three paragraphs to write and insert for topics that I inadvertently missed, but definitely good enough that the professor should give me an A.

And, I got my work for the week done, exceeding my 15,000 word weekly quota for Debs content and getting a few years of old socialist newspapers scanned.

But an article on the “Debs and the IWW” for this blog?

Dream on…

Instead, I will torment you with a little essay that I can write for you in about 90 minutes on a rainy Saturday morning in February, before the sun comes up.

•          •          •          •          •

If you will forgive me the youthful indiscretion of the 50 copies of a small xeroxed volume of stupid stories and bad poetry that I did back in college, I was involved with my first book publishing project back in the early 1990s. It was a numismatic catalog that I did with a fellow collector from Virginia,  and was published with a very bland but very descriptive title: United States Sales Tax Tokens and Stamps: A History and Catalog (1993).

STTThat project involved a few months of research and writing, with me pounding away on my trusty old IBM Selectic typewriter. My partner, the late Merlin Malehorn, wrote the technical section of the book and I did the historical section. He took care of all the publishing details.

The book is still being used by the couple hundred dedicated collectors of sales tax tokens, which is pretty good mileage for a numismatic catalog. Exonumists use “M&D numbers” to denote one type or variety of these depression-era tokens from another.

I’m the D. Whoopty doo.

I did think it might be interesting to write a few words about the actual publishing process today — a little peek behind the curtain of academic (or serious political) publishing.

•          •          •          •          •

The first step to publishing a book is to understand book publishers. There are essentially four animals in the zoo. These are, in no particular order: (1) commercial publishers, (2) academic publishers, (3) specialized publishers, and (4) Do It Yourself or so-called vanity publishers.

Most people casually think of publishing as a dichotomy between numbers 1 and 4 above — either a publisher is a commercial entity (“all about the Benjamins, baby”) that is out to make lots of money tracking down potentially big-selling titles and moving tonnage by any means necessary; or a publisher is a shysterist firm (“all about the Benjamins, baby”) that is out to make lots of money from gullible saps willing to pay cash for the privilege of having their otherwise unpublishable and mostly unsellable books.

ChicagoWhile both of these things are real, neither is it of the publishing world with which I am at least a little familiar. There’s a huge world out there that is neither fish nor fowl — publishers that focus on content rather than sales. These include the academic presses more or less associated with various universities (Princeton University Press, Indiana University Press, University of Illinois Press, University of Oklahoma Press, Stanford University Press, and so on) or the presses associated with a particular theme or political orientation.

This is the world of serious scholarship, focused specialization, or distilled politics.

Is your book about some aspect of the history of a given state? Chances are there is a press catering to such fare. A certain highly specialized topic? There are probably publishers similarly focused. Obviously, all of these need to sell enough books to sustain their operations, they aren’t oblivious to commercial considerations, but the primary criteria is content: is a title a potential contribution to the serious literature? The potential market is secondary.

So the first step to publishing a book — assuming one is not trying to flog a potential best-seller (better have an agent!) or going the Do It Yourself route (and there’s nothing wrong with that!) — is to find a publisher who “does” the type of book which one is interested in publishing.

That’s the first half of the battle right there, fully 50%.

•          •          •          •          •

As for the second half of the battle, getting from concept to published content…

The first step in the process, after a submission of an idea or a manuscript is accepted, is to negotiate a contract. Any publisher bigger than a breadbox has a standard contract that they use, so the “negotiation” aspect from the author’s side of things is pretty limited. The publisher will specify the form in which a manuscript is to be submitted (generally a file in Microsoft Word format).

Do you hate Word and use a different word processor program, as do I? Tough titties. Figure out how to convert your stuff into Word format. That’s not something that one is apt to be able to negotiate away, try as one might. Get yourself a copy of Word if you don’t have one, you’re gonna need it.

mai-frontThe publisher will specify its royalty system. For my own extremely specialized little world, I don’t care a whit about that part of the game. It’s all about getting the book out there. Basically, the publishers’ system will be their system and while there might be a little bit of bend on a couple trivial details in this structure, I wouldn’t count on it. This is again something that one is gonna have to accept as it comes. Quarterly or annual statements and some percentage of gross revenue of sales of copies not discounted more than a certain rate — after costs are met — is typical, I believe.

For the Debs, David and I have signed over all potential royalties to Marxists Internet Archive, the underfunded internet content platform for which we volunteer. Their annual budget is something like $5,000, and there is no Daddy Warbucks character behind it, so a few hundred bucks might mean something if it ever materializes… But if it never does, nobody’s feelings will be hurt… (It’s not about the Benjamins, baby…)

But there are things that can be negotiated during the contract process.

1. Size of the book. The publisher will want a certain size of book. Is this the size you want to write? There is give and take to be had. The author’s opportunity to set this parameter doesn’t come at the end, it happens up front. For the Debs, it was important for David and myself to have as many pages to work with as possible, as we knew how big the iceberg was and didn’t want to be the 9th Debs selected works project delivering the same exact set of ice cubes. The publisher (whom we adore) offered “Long.” We got them bumped up to “VERY Long.” Our publisher, Haymarket books, is actually known to have done 1,000 page paperbacks before, we knew there would be flex there — so know your publisher’s track record and comfort zone.

haymarket-logoWe started thinking the project would be three volumes long. We figured out it was actually going to take four. The publisher bought in to this idea. Then we figured that wasn’t going to be enough either and told them we needed five. The publisher bought in again. Then we figured out even with five volumes, the content skew would be unrepresentative (too much early stuff, not enough late stuff) without a sixth volume. The publisher, god bless them, again bought in.

Did I mention we love Haymarket Books?

We love Haymarket Books.

2. Format of the book. One thing I was really worried about was seeing that there was a hardcover edition published. Most book sales happen in the paperback format, but libraries want the permanence of hardcover. Don’t assume that both formats are going to happen automatically, because they are not. If hardcover is important to you (or, conversely, if paperback is important to you and a publisher is hardcover-driven), the contract-negotiation phase is the time to make it happen.

The most haggling and wrangling we did involved this aspect, as Haymarket historically has been about 98% paperback-only. I had a previous experience with a publisher that I didn’t care for and wanted to make sure that the catastrophe of being associated with a hardcover book selling for 190 Euros ($215) was not repeated. So I went into the project wanting an assurance of a hardcover AND I wanted the price capped at no more than about $100 — a rate that academic libraries can deal with. Getting there took a while, but it turns out that Haymarket had previous experience with the format deep in their back catalog, so it wasn’t totally uncharted territory. Lucky break.

calendar3. Deadlines. A contract specifies when a manuscript is due. Make sure a suitable date is selected. A contract also generally specifies how long a publisher has to get a manuscript through the printing process after the manuscript is accepted.

For the Debs, we’ve been pretty relaxed, mostly since this is a big, multi-volume project and publishing wheels turn slowly. Volume 3 was supposed to be turned in on October 15, 2018, but there was a gridlock forming because volume 2 was still in the proofreading process and volume 1 hadn’t yet been cleared for production. So things moved back to February 15.

On the publishers’ end, I think they are supposed to be operating on a 10 month shot clock. I’m pretty sure that volume 1 has been running longer than that.

No big deal, it takes as long as it takes. Far best to do things right.

4. Author copies. Authors get complimentary copies of their book. From big, bad $215 book publisher, I got 3. There was no provision for paperbacks at all, even though they knew going in that they were going to license the format out. I managed to beg two from Haymarket, who published it under license. For the Debs, David and I are each due to get 10 paperbacks and 3 hardcovers of each title as they appear, as a point of reference.

A contract also specifies the rate at which authors can buy additional copies of their own book. For Haymarket, this is a standard 50% of cover price. The problem is, Haymarket  runs 30% off discounts off their website probably 350 days a year, sometimes running sales at 40%, and occasionally special sales at 50%.

So what is really the price of the book?

Live and learn, I really messed this up. If I had it to do over again, I would have specified the right to preorder up to 100 copies at 30% of the cover price or something like that. They probably would have thought it over and priced it out and said, “sure.”

The time to negotiate these things is at the front, writing the contract. Whoops.

5. Indexing. The contract generally specifies who does the index (author or someone paid by the publisher, the cost of which is charged back to the project). Generally, publishers have their people to do this work and they charge what they charge. If one wants to go DIY with the indexing, this needs to be negotiated up front.

•          •          •          •          •

Okay, so now you’ve got your contract and you write your book.

You submit the manuscript in the form specified by the contract (MS Word) meeting the size requirement specified in the contract — the coin of the realm being NUMBER OF WORDS, not number of pages of manuscript.

Then comes the next stage of the process, proofreading.

In the old days, I think they probably used to give things the once over for errors in the manuscript, set things to type, and then manually sort through physical printed sheets looking for typographical errors. I am guessing here, but that’s my understanding…

This has absolutely nothing to do with the way things are actually done today.


In practice, the original manuscript in MS Word gets marked up by the copy editor (I use here the Wikipedia term, the industry may use a different description), who sends it back to the author for amendments and approvals. Depending on one’s relationship with the copy editor, this can go back and forth through several rounds of fixes and changes, with lots of questions and answers and comments tacked into notes on the side.

The text morphs during this process, presumably emerging better at the end. (My writing is naturally kludgy. Hopefully, it finishes up a more efficient and grammatically-correct kludgy…)

The copy editor of Debs volumes 1 and 2 — and hopefully volumes 3, 4, 5, and 6!!! — is a woman named Amelia Iuvino. She’s fucking brilliant at what she does, pardon my French…

•          •          •          •          •

After the manuscript is corrected to the satisfaction of the author and the copy editor, things move to the publisher’s production department — what I call “layout.”

layout.jpgCover art is done by the art department, or whoever handles such things. We had a little disconnect with the exact book title for volume 1. This is work that needs to be carefully inspected, no matter how brilliant the art might appear at first glance.

The corrected manuscript itself is inserted as a giant Word file into a template constructed within the layout program, which for Haymarket is Adobe InDesign.

Things are read over by the person doing the final page layout. On Debs volume 1, I got an email with at least half a dozen excellent observations about confusing wording or typos that were somehow missed in the earlier proof reading process. (You try getting 750 pages 100% perfect, I dare you!) So this is a new set of eyes with yet another layer of proofreading.

At the same time, a certain number of new errors are introduced into the layout process at this time, and this is where the author has to do more work. The manuscript in laid out form needs to be read again, top to bottom, and layout errors observed, noted, and fixed. Sometimes indentation is wrong. Sometimes ornaments are inserted where ellipses belong, or vice-versa. Sometimes italics were botched earlier in the process and the error is finally caught. And so on and so forth.

So a few things that were messed up get fixed, but at least as many things that were fine before now need to be fixed…

•          •          •          •          •

Once the layout is all fixed up and approved, the publisher sends the production pdfs of the InDesign layout to the publisher, and the waiting game begins.

There’s the question of promotion, too. This varies on a case-by-case basis, I am sure. Some of these particulars are probably part of the contract for some publishers.

Well, the sun is up, it is time to scan some microfilm of old newspapers… I hope this has been at least a little bit interesting. I promise to actually write about Debs next week.



The official deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 4 is October 15, 2019. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 23 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words. And so it begins…

  • “Berger and His Opponents: Letter to the Toledo Socialist (June 17, 1905) — 1,295 words
  • “Speech to the Founding Convention of the Industrial Workers of the World, Chicago” (June 29, 1905) — 2,752 words
  • “The Industrial Workers of the World: The Convention and its Work” (July 29, 1905) — 1,534 words
  • “The Industrial Convention” (August 1905) — 703 words
  • “Industrial Unionism: Address at Grand Central Palace, New York City” (Dec. 10, 1905) — 8,389 words
  • “Railway Employees and the Class Struggle” (Feb. 3, 1906) — 6,549 words

Word count: 1,417 in the can + 21,222 this week = 22,639 words total.


David Walters will be running all of this material up on Marxists Internet Archive in coming days.

To find it, please visit the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive



Here’s a list of the microfilm that I’ve scanned this week, available for free download. There is a short delay between completion of the scanning and its appearance on MIA.



Thomas Kirkup, A Primer on Socialism. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1908. — Short historical overview, including chapter length coverage of early socialism, German socialism, and Karl Marx.

Marx Lewis, Meyer London: Pioneer Labor Lawyer. New York: Tamiment Library, New York University, 1975. — Uncommon pamphlet written by veteran Socialist Party member about the second socialist congressman in America.

G.H. Lockwood, How to Live 100 Years. Kalamazoo, MI: Lockwood Publishing Co., n.d. [1912]. — Socialist Party cartoonist and pamphleteer offers his suggestions on living a long life, like not taking opium or drinking or eating too much food… He only lived to be 77, so I guess he needed to take his own advice better.



About carrite

Independent scholar from Corvallis, Oregon with a strong interest in early 20th century political history.
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