Monday, February 19, 2007

Product Development Specialist (Development Editor)

After four years in computer book publishing, I applied for a promotion into product development. I was hired as a Product Development Specialist with the former Alpha group (of Complete Idiot's Guide fame), which had been merged into Que. This group did the very basic, beginner-level computer books about the Internet and Office programs such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. So it was easier to grasp than the programming books I had been doing. (But wouldn't you know it, one of my first projects was the Complete Idiot's Guide to JavaScript, the first book ever published on the topic. It came in from the author half as long as it needed to be, and I had to help him figure out how to fill up the rest of the book—when JavaScript was new and there wasn't much to say about it.)

My first responsibility was to evaluate the author's original outline. I had to make the structure right and ask for any missing information to be added. Once we had an approved outline, I was a consultant to help the author adhere to the rigidly irreverent style of the series. If the author didn't make his or her deadlines, I had to report him to the acquisitions editor.

Once the book was written, I read the chapters for structure, content, and sense. I was also responsible for making sure the book didn't turn out longer than planned. Going over page count made the cost of the book go up and the profitability go down.

When I was done editing, I turned over chapters to the production editor. They did their edits and sent it to the author. Then I was responsible for ensuring that the author answered all queries to my satisfaction.

I also requested royalty advance checks for authors when they met their deadlines. And I drafted the original cover copy for my books (although it always came back from the marketing department as unrecognizable—often with added features that didn't exist in the book!).

I learned some valuable lessons on the product side of things. But then an opportunity arose that I could not pass up: Frommer's travel guides.

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