The Publishers Association of New Zealand and the Whitireia publishing programme run an annual publishing internship programme with Creative New Zealand funding. This offers three six-month paid internships at publishing houses to graduates of the Diploma in Publishing. Amber Carter was an intern at Victoria University Press in 2013.
Before I arrived at Victoria University Press I had formed a vague mental image of what it would look like: perhaps a modern, shiny edifice, with phones ringing, piles of paper everywhere, shelves stuffed with books, and authors and editors waving their hands at each other like flustered ducks. Consequently I was somewhat daunted when the reality turned out to be an old two-storey house hidden up a steep, vegetated track behind the university. Fortunately, inside this suburban camouflage is a publishing house that is (more or less) what I imagined, although no flustered ducks so far.
There are four staff members in the building (excluding myself), each secreted away in their own offices, so the atmosphere is one of quiet busyness rather than frantic chaos. The piles of paper I visualised unquestionably exist — manuscripts, copyedits, page proofs, cover options, checklists, (constantly re-jigged) schedules. They colonise every surface and have to be periodically attacked and tamed back into some semblance of order. Then there are the books, which — thanks to some handy rearranging in my first week — there is now adequate shelf-space for.
Due to its location and construction, downstairs can get pretty chilly, but I am fortunate enough to have a desk upstairs, where the heat accumulates and I have an excellent view out towards the harbour. I am also placed conveniently close to the coffee, which is generally understood to be an essential part of the publishing process. I copyedit, proofread, typeset, manage images, send out books and author wrangle as needed. The variation is stimulating, exhausting and wonderful.
There are periods of intense concentration when I?m unravelling a particularly knotty sentence or trying to typeset disparate content in a way that doesn’t look like a child’s scrapbook. There are flashes of triumph when everything is sent off to the printer, often preceded by brief moments of terror when a previously unseen error is spotted. There are also little spikes of humour that punctuate the workday. Sometimes it’s a particularly apt quote or a line of dry, understated wit. Other times it’s contact with the outside world — one (handwritten, photocopied) submission letter included the persuasive argument that the attached manuscript was not only a guaranteed bestseller but also that ‘the film producers will make $20 billion’!
VUP publishes an astonishing range of books for such a small publishing house. In the last three months alone I’ve worked on poetry, novels, short stories, serious non-fiction and illustrated non-fiction. Highlights include the recently launched Fighting to Choose: The Abortion Rights Struggle in New Zealand and the upcoming The Royal New Zealand Ballet at Sixty (over 300 images to organise!).
The Whitireia publishing course prepared me well for my work here. All the things I learnt through my projects last year also apply here: schedules are not ironclad, author availability varies, managing images takes a lot longer than you’d expect, InDesign is a marvellous but occasionally intractable beast, and publishing is a lot of fun. Also, cake is always welcome.