Sticking It Out to the Bitter(sweet) End: Musings of a Long Process, in Three Acts

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a stylish launch for Changing Channels: Confessions of a Canadian Communications Lawyer at the Offices of McCarthy Tétrault in Toronto. It was a great event, and as I sipped my wine and took in the ambiance, it really hit me that this project, which has been on my radar for a very long time, had finally come to fruition.

I thought that as I took a stroll down memory lane, I would record my experiences and share them with you. An insider’s glimpse into the process—start to finish—of turning a manuscript into a book. It’s a long story, but it’s one that documents not just the publication of a book, but my gradual evolution as a porcupette here at PQL.

Act I—Into the Breach

Girding my loins for battle. Undertaking this campaign was a challenge, but I was determined to prevail.

Girding my loins for battle. Undertaking this campaign was a challenge, but I was determined to prevail.

About two years ago, I started doing the odd internship-y task for the Quill. Some document preparation, a bit of image scanning, random stuff here and there, then one day, Tim sent me a typically to-the-point email:

here’s a draft of a memoir 
that will eventually need tip sheet material.

This was my first big “project” directly related to the book publishing business of the Porcupine’s Quill. It was exciting, it was gratifying, it was intimidating as hell.

I downloaded the file to find a manuscript entitled “Northern Journey.” It contained a memoir—a long, single-spaced memoir—of communications lawyer Peter S. Grant.

Writing product descriptions has never been my forte, but if this was a war, gosh darn it, I was going to conquer. I went into full-on brainstorm mode, with scrap paper full of mind maps and diagrams covering my desk. I even annotated those notations, with blobs of hastily jotted ideas and reminders crowding margins and running sideways up and down pages like the mad ravings of a lunatic.

Battle plan drawn up, I mounted the campaign. I started small: bibliographic data, selling points, competitive titles and so on. I researched and wrote and revised until all that was left was my own personal Thermopylae: the product description.

I wrote and rewrote and rewrote again. I spent hours on those few sentences, paring them down, moving them around, reading for comprehension, reading for style. I researched competing titles and how they presented information, separating them into ones that worked and ones that didn’t. I attempted to figure out why the effective ones passed muster and the ineffective ones fell flat. I rewrote some more.

I sent in my attempt and…success! My words had passed muster. What a relief! I called it a small victory.

Act II—Book Meets World

"Don't let PExOD get you my friend. The world grows dim...darn you bibliodata! I am slain."

“Don’t let PExOD get you my friend. The world grows dim . . . darn you bibliodata! I am slain.”

My next experience with the book occurred as the snow started to melt, and the imminent spring heralded the inevitable arrival of sales conference. Which meant we were busy getting everything ready to put on the web. Tim kept himself occupied with the cover design (which was no mean feat!), while I wrestled with the Beast—PExOD. Knowing which information to input and where was a struggle, but a necessary one. The data that we feed into PExOD not only gets pulled onto our website, but also gets disseminated out into the world, where it helps to populate our listings all over the web. Getting this step right is crucial. When you’re new to the process, it’s also very time consuming!

For some reason, things just look different on the web, so a lot of the copy that had come from the tip sheet received even more attention. A few tweaks here and there, each one necessitating another foray into the Beast’s lair to tweak the PExOD entry. Eventually, we arrived at the finished product and we were able to move on to the next step—sales conference.

As you may recall, I travelled to Toronto to meet the LPG staff and deliver our pitch in person. The feedback from LPG staff was invaluable, and it was a great learning moment. (For more on that trip and on sales conferences in general, see this post and this one.)

A few months after sales conference, it was time to get serious about introducing the book to the reading public. Peter Grant kindly invited me to his office to meet with some of his firm’s marketing people and to discuss the lead up to the launch. I prepared a marketing plan and several materials and ideas to bring with me to share with the professionals. They seemed quite receptive, and offered many suggestions of their own. We all left with a few more items on the to-do list.

But the planning didn’t end there—phone calls and emails continued. With invites to design and mail—or email—we had plenty to keep us busy. I learned a lot about coordinating with a larger team, but also about some of the finer details about sending out web invitations, namely, always follow up!

Act II—Dizzying Heights

You'd need that telescope to spot us on the 53rd floor. Such dizzying heights, but...what a view!

You’d need that telescope to spot us on the 53rd floor. Such dizzying heights, but . . . what a view!

Finally the big day. Tim and Elke made the trip down, and I also travelled up to the event. The event was everything that you’d imagine a successful book launch would be. Well dressed professionals sipping wine, tasty hors d’oeuvres on a side table, books on display, multimedia displays, fascinating conversations.

The speeches were incredibly well done. Tim gave a funny talk about his relationship with the author, the process of making the book, and a few comical references to his fear of heights and very real distaste for the elevator ride up to the event. Carolyn Wood from the Association of Canadian publishers also spoke briefly, congratulating Peter Grant on the publication of his book, thanking him for all of the great work that he has done on behalf of Canadian publishing, and presenting him with a small gift as a token of everyone’s appreciation.

Then, the speech we had all been waiting for. One thing I can say about Mr. Grant is that he is obviously comfortable in front of a podium. Like a master, he spun the story of his decision to go into communications law. We were all riveted, chuckling at his anecdotes and wry observations. The fact that he barely looked at his notes made me all the more impressed, and slightly wistful that I have never possessed this gift of gab.

It’s a heady thing to be new to the biz like I am, and to attend a swanky party on the 53rd floor of the TD Bank Tower, enjoying a spectacular view of the city from nearly dizzying heights. Looking back on my first PQL project—one that I followed from start to finish—I can’t help but feel that the experience was one that I’ll never forget.


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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.