Humble Beginnings

“But what’s your point?”

This question, more than any other, echoes in my mind every time I compose. It can be phrased multiple ways depending on the situation: Where’s your thesis? Or perhaps Where’s your hook? Either way, the question has become such a central part of my writing process that I cannot begin writing without theme or purpose. Most writers will know this feeling. We have been hardwired in school to be aware of our theses, to always have a point to our writing. 

But it is one thing to be told this is important and another to understand why. My recent editing experiences at Autumn House Press are one such situation where the why has become apparent to me. Though editing is not all I do at the press, it has become one of my most important (and most enjoyable) responsibilities. My specific obligations as an editor involve scanning (ascertaining whether submissions are worth reading in full) and copyediting. 

The former is not a full scan. I am tasked with skimming 80-300 pages of poetry, nonfiction or fiction and voting on whether or not it is worth a full readthrough. For efficiency’s sake, every scan takes no more than twenty minutes. When I first started scanning, I was at a loss. How could I ascertain a manuscript’s potential in twenty minutes? 

Hook, that’s how. Hook, skim, ending. The first day of my internship, the head-editor advised I read the beginning and ending of the work to form an opinion on its potential. Is the introduction strong? Is the hook promising? Does the manuscript have a consistent voice? Is the writing evocative? Has the ending been carefully crafted? These are the types of questions I ask myself when I scan. The procedure has only further solidified the so what? question in my mind.

Thankfully, this question has been so engrained into me as an English student that it is not such a difficult mindset to take on for this internship. English majors are, by their very nature, tenacious editors and careful readers. It is thus no surprise that my experiences as an English graduate student have helped finetune my editing skills. Close-reading experience has made spotting inconsistencies within any given text easier, and grammar–– well, grammar is never easy, but it’s definitely a lot less intimidating after accumulating so much writing and editing experience.

Other than the editorial work, I have been tasked with doing other in-office tasks that, while seemingly mundane, are imperative to polishing a manuscript. One such task involved carefully comparing a PDF of a finished manuscript to the designer’s printed version. I spent more than an hour staring between the printouts and the screen and, when at last a consistency error appeared–– “grey” rather than “gray” –– I struck it off the page with a grin so manic that anyone watching might have been concerned for my state of mind.

Suffice it to say, such tasks are meticulous, but they’re also extremely important. And, though many people raise an eyebrow when I confess this, it’s the kind of work I enjoy. There is something truly humbling about being one of the first people to read a writer’s work. Even more awe-inspiring is being a part of the process that transforms that work from a cloudy gem to a sparkling treasure. 

Everything I have thus far done in-office has been enlightening. Even the simple task of constructing a calendar of literary events has made me more aware of the type of planning and timing that goes into advertising creative work. The Autumn House Press staff are all extremely friendly and are always happy to answer my questions about the publishing industry. 

It’s only been one week, and yet I can already say I have gained valuable insight into the world of publishing. I am very much looking forward to diving even deeper into this world! 

– Chelsea Abdullah

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