The Magic of Making Books

—Ilene Kalish, Executive Editor, NYU Press

When NYU Press agreed to be the first university press to host the brand new site, Ask UP, sponsored by the Association of University Presses (AUPresses), we weren’t sure what to expect. The new site is meant to be a place for aspiring authors to get more information about the world of university press publishing. The site launched in September 2020 and NYU Press began a promotion to get people to “Ask UP”—meaning to ask us their questions about publishing. We had no idea if anyone would. But they did! We got over 40 questions. As someone who has worked in publishing for over 25 years, I have been surprised by how very little seems to be known about the publishing world. It’s like I work in some secret wizard-like training ground where these things called books are magically made out of the socks of owls. Okay, owls don’t actually wear socks, but I think you get my point.  Even though most of the people in the world of academia love books—many might claim that their most important possessions are on their bookshelves—many do not know how they are made, both in the physical sense and in the conceptual sense.

Perhaps it is worth noting that most university presses are divided up into different departments: editorial, marketing, production, and business. Not all presses have these divisions by department, but for the most part these are the key areas. Editorial is the department which has acquisition editors, the very people who first meet with potential authors about their prospective manuscripts. I am an acquisitions editor and I am usually the first person an author meets and often the person who has the most direct contact with the author. I will work with an author on their book proposal, oversee the review process, present their book to our Editorial Board, discuss their contract, then work with that author to develop the manuscript into its final form. I am of course assisted by editorial assistants and assistant editors who also help with many aspects of this process. There are a team of people that work on the next phase, which is mostly overseen by the Production department. There are copyeditors who will copyedit the final manuscript and then work with the production editors to transform manuscript pages into book pages (this is called compositing). The book will be formatted, sized, printed, trimmed, bound, and jacketed and then it will be shipped off to our warehouse. Next our Marketing Department will go to work and begin to get the word out to our social networks and to any and all media outlets that we can think of. We have people that will work on award submissions, website copy, data feeds and all manner of material related to your book. Finally our business department is tracking everything, making sure bills get paid and, eventually, royalties are paid out to our authors.  

I suppose in many ways it is a magical process: to start with an idea and to end with a physical book (or eBook). I have published over 500 books (and counting!) and yet I find a certain thrill when I first hold a new book in my hand—it does feel like magic. I always try to take a moment with a brand new book and just marvel at it. Hold it. Smile as I flip through the pages. Take an additional moment to just appreciate ‘the birth’ of this being. Sometimes remembering back to when the book’s author first approached me with the idea and then remembering all that we’ve gone through to turn that idea into a physical reality. What a marvel a book can be. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that so many of us in publishing do what we do, we are still thrilled by the book. And we know that even if our actions are not always understood or seen, we know that we’ve played our part in making a book ‘come to life.’

I hope that the Ask Up will be able to provide helpful information to you and that the questions that the entire press team worked on to answer will be of real help. Happy Publishing!


Ilene Kalish acquires books in the areas of sociology, criminology, politics, and women’s studies. With over twenty-five years of experience in academic publishing, she publishes books for the general reader as well as for the scholarly and professional reader. Her books have won over 100 book awards and are generally focused on issues of social justice, inequality, and current events.