A Day in the Life of a …. Production Typesetter

Posted on July 2, 2008 in Uncategorized

Production is perhaps one of the more overlooked areas for people considering a career in Publishing. What exactly does the job involve?

My job as a Production Typesetter involves working closely with the rest of the production team, including Production Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders, as well as freelance Illustrators.
Production typesetting involves the design and page layout of publications. Depending on the nature and complexity of the project, this may also include re-drawing artwork supplied by authors.
On a day-to-day basis there are around 20-25 projects in house, all at different stages in the production process. Again, depending on the nature of the workload, there may be up to 6 or 7 projects to work on in any one day.
What was it that attracted you to a career in Production?
I completed my undergraduate degree in Sculpture at the Glasgow School of Art, and through exchange to the Ontario College of Art & Design, I began working on arts publications. I knew from this point that I wanted to pursue this further, so when returning to Scotland I set about finding ways to break into the publishing industry.
This is where I discovered the Masters course in Publishing Studies at Stirling, and the rest is history! At the moment I currently work mainly in Scientific, Technical and Medical (STM) and Humanities publishing, but plan to move into Arts publishing in the future.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
Deadlines! Believe it or not, I enjoy working to tight deadlines, and the pressure that comes with it. Although only if those deadlines are achievable to begin with, of course (it’s surprising how fast clients expect projects to be ‘turned around’!).
A lot of the publications we produce will include breakthroughs in medicine and technology, and there is a lot of satisfaction to be had from knowing that your team were responsible for making the publications possible.
And your least favourite?
Deadlines! Yes, it’s a love-hate relationship really! It’s often the case that multiple projects equals working with multiple Editors. In other words, conflicting deadlines between different Editors is probably one of the hardest aspects of the job, as well as learning to say NO!
A Production Editor once summed up the job as being ‘very hard work under high pressure and often with little recognition for achieving miracles’. How fair an assessment would you say this is?
I’d say there is a degree of truth in this. In my experience typesetting is one of the least rewarding jobs in the industry, in terms of recognition. Authors often don’t realise the work that goes into the actual production of their publication after the editing stage, and how late changes (however small) can affect pagination greatly. Suddenly a 5 minute job can take 2 hours.
Would you say there is a lot of competition to get into Production?
Unfortunately, there is often a lot of competition for entry-level positions in all areas of Publishing, with editorial roles in particular being very popular. Personally, I’d say a role in production is a great place to start a career in publishing, even if your main interest is in the editorial side.
The production department is at the centre of the industry, and in this position you have the opportunity to work with everyone from the Author and Commissioning Editor, to Indexers, Printers and Distributors.
All in all, you begin to understand everyone else’s role in the industry as you work so closely with them, which in turn makes your own position more flexible, expanding the career opportunities available to you in the future.
How does the pay compare to other areas of Publishing?
Working in Production is reasonably well paid when compared to other areas in the industry. On the whole, most people know that there are other industries out there that pay better in general, but there’s a price to pay for everything. I’d rather be in a job I enjoy, producing interesting work in a fun environment.
Having just completed a Masters in Publishing, how well would you say it prepared you for your first role?
I’d say I was well prepared to work in the industry after completing the Masters at Stirling. I also believe it’s up to the individual to get what they want from a course such as this. The resources and teaching are there, but sometimes you have to push harder for what you want.
As we all know, it’s a competitive industry, and as the saying goes, the timid mouse never gets the cheese! However, on the up side, the industry is pretty flexible and it’s possible to break in at entry-level positions and work your way up the ladder.
How sound a knowledge do you have to have of software such as InDesign and Photoshop to land your first job in Production?
A good base knowledge is essential. However, if you are going for your first job in Production, most employers will know that a lot of this type of knowledge can only come with experience from working in the job. Typesetting is quite a specialist job, and it’s important you have a real interest in what’s involved before committing yourself.
Having done the Stirling course, did you find it difficult to find a job within Scotland?
I was really lucky in finding a job quite quickly after finishing the course, and I had accepted the position with Prepress Projects before the graduation ceremony had taken place. As I work for a publishing services company and not directly for a publisher, I have the opportunity to work with various clients.
There are a lot of opportunities with the main publishing houses in the UK. It’s just knowing where to look for them, that’s the hardest part. Most people forget about the public sector businesses who have their own publishing departments, and only concentrate on applying for jobs in larger cities, such as London or Edinburgh.
Would you say that there is a sense of community within the Scottish publishing industry?
Yes! The industry is quite closely knit in Scotland, with various events taking place throughout the year which allow publishing houses to network. This is a great way to make new contacts, especially if you are interested in setting up your own business or going freelance.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to get into Production?
I’d say keep up to date with the latest software developments, and check out websites and forums regularly. As corny as it sounds, think of the future. I find myself always thinking of the next step, and how my current job will get me there. There’s no point wasting time in a job if it can’t start you on the ladder to a bigger, better position in the future.
Interview with Leah Gourley, Production Assistant at Prepress Projects.