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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

A Shout Out to John W. Glenn — and Book Packagers Everywhere

Any of you who have read my recent middle grade books may have noticed an odd credit line in them — to Aronson & Glenn. And if you were really keeping score at home, you might have noticed that John W. Glenn and I co-wrote The World Made New for National Geographic some years ago. John is a neighbor — we met when his half-Indian wife noticed my half-Indian wife and our boys at a playground and said that if she had girls they might look like our boys — and my partner in book-making. I mention this in part because John and I will be presenting together at an IRA preconference in Chicago on April 29 — a session on nonfiction in the world of ebooks and apps — and if you come, you might want to know a bit about him (more on why we are speaking together in a moment). But there is a second reason for this blog and it more expansive title: this weekend.

What does a book packager do? When I was an in-house editor I had a vague distaste for packagers — I always felt that they wanted too much for too little, they seemed a bit like what we still had when I was a child: Fuller Brush Men — door to door salesmen. When John and I began working together I learned otherwise. We had huge arguments over how to work with a designer. My experience, at major book publishers, was that you handed text to the art department and waited for their ideas, layouts, suggested artist (if applicable). John said, no, we have to do all of that, the designer executes the vision we articulate. I came to realize that what a packager does is, well, everything: you are the publisher, the editor, the art director, the production manager all rolled into one, and if any of those working for you — the author, designer, copy-editor, proof-reader slips in any way, it is on you to have the skills to notice it and fix it yourself. You are a one-man-band.

This weekend was ultra crunch time for the Skull in the Rock, the new book I co-wrote with Professor Lee Berger for National Geographic. While Lee was literally in flight from Oregon to Canada to Belgium to India, John was working with our designer in California, our copy-editor in Chicago, with me, and with the text, to fix every line, image, credit, comma, kerned letter and pixel of white space. A heroic performance I have to say. And all of that stole time not merely from his family, but from his main current interest: epublishing. It is his expertise there that leads to our talk in Chicago. So come if you can, shake his hand, shout out admiration to any book packagers you know, and see the labor that goes into getting a book right.