Not Just Kids Stuff
Not Just Kids' Stuff
Q&A Linda Palladino
by Rose Blessing
Now vice president of production, juvenile books, William Morrow & Company, Linda Palladino has been working in her field for 22 years and still finds it exciting. "The day you think you know everything in book production, you might as well retire," she says.
What keeps life interesting for Linda Palladino? Many things, she explains: the fast pace of technological change, the many wonderful people she has had a chance to meet, including the authors, editors and illustrators of the books she works on as well as members of book production industry organizations and the unending challenges intrinsic to the task of producing children's books.
Palladino acquired her production knowledge through 10 years at Scholastic, where she entered the book production industry as a production assistant in the elementary/high-school division and ended up running the book club/trade division's production department; three years at Warner Books, where she set up the juvenile production department; and time spent at William Morrow & Company, which she joined in May of 1991. William Morrow is comprised of a juvenile division and an adult trade division.
The day after attending the May Bookbinders' Guild of New York meeting on literacy, which was also two weeks before her upcoming wedding and while she was planning press schedules for the spring 2000 books, Palladino generously found a few minutes for us, too, to share observations about her career and the industry in general.
NOTE: In mid-June, just as this issue of BookTech the Magazine went to press, news broke that the News Corporation's HarperCollins had agreed to buy The Hearst Book Group from The Hearst Corporation. The Hearst Book Group includes William Morrow & Company and Avon Books. The closing of the sale was expected at the end of June.
Q&A Linda Palladino
Q: What is special about producing children's books?
A: Any book is a collaboration, but especially a children's book. Four-color children's books are expensive to produce. We have very high quality standards. My art directors are very demanding, and the editors are, too -- which is their job. My job is to give them what they want and need but also to keep an eye on the bottom line. So many times they will come to me in advance with specifications for a new project or samples of art that they feel could be difficult to reproduce. We then brainstorm over how to produce it economically.
In children's books you have to develop an eye for the aesthetics. Design is very important. Allowing designers the opportunity to try new and different effects is very important; to allow artists to paint on different media is very important.
I have a book coming up involving quilts. We will do testing to see how best to reproduce the actual quilt. We are concerned about preserving the texture of the quilt itself and its myriad colors. We may scan the quilt itself (wrap it right around the scanner) or photograph it and have a transparency made.
There are always different concerns. Every day is a new challenge; you can never learn it all. That's what makes it interesting --that you'll never know what new technology you will have to take advantage of.
Q: Have you looked at high-fidelity color, which uses six or seven inks to produce a wider color gamut?
A: We've looked at that but not in a big way. Cost is a factor. Also some of the parameters are a factor. In printing overseas you often use 40' presses, so there are fewer in-line compromises, where in the U.S. to be economical you are often on 55' and 60' presses.
Also, with the suppliers that we work with, the quality of traditional printing is so high that this has not become something that matters to us at this point. This is not to say that we would not explore it and use it for other books as they come up.
Q: In general, how do you view the importance of technology related to your job and what you do?
A: Our biggest challenge is always to find a more economical way to produce the book, without compromising quality. It's easy to save money by lessening the grade of paper or changing the binding or changing a sewn book to a perfect-bound book.
That doesn't take a lot of thought--it's not a challenge. The challenge is to try to find other ways that can help us save money, yet not compromise the quality.
For example, I do a lot of work overseas. My biggest problem in working overseas is that it is three days there and three days back for a package. I was very interested in Wam!Net; now there's Vio, which we are also looking at.
So if I could get something like that, which could move files back and forth quickly, that would be fabulous. I could send off my artwork, they could send me my low-res files. Time is money, and schedules get shorter and shorter all the time.
Q: How do you approach the job of keeping up with technology?
A: Reading about it through the various trade magazines, like yours and Publisher's Weekly, for example.
Talking to other colleagues in the industry is very important. Production people are great in that they share knowledge and communicate with one another. If one of us runs into a situation we can call another one up and have a really good discussion and we arrive at good solutions.
Suppliers are very important, too, because they keep us abreast of new technology. Many of my suppliers are beta test sites for technology before it becomes available. And also keeping involved in groups like Bookbinders and Women in Production where they have seminars or dinner meetings. It's a lot of networking.
Q: You're active in industry organizations, including serving as President of the Bookbinders' Guild of New York last year. Why have you chosen to be involved?
A: As we all know, the work days have gotten longer. We have less time to chat during the day, so it's at evening events that you get to meet other people in our industry. As a result of corporate downsizing and consolidation in our business, the pace at most corporations is too fast to take time out of the day to sit down and teach someone the way that I was taught. Commuters don't maybe have the time to go to a class after work. And I think that it's up to all of us to keep new industry members educated. So I think that organizations like Bookbinders' are there to fill the gap.
For my part, I think that when one has had several good mentors, one needs to give something back to the industry. The bonus is that you get to meet many new people through the organization New relationships and new friendships develop from this interaction.
Q: What would you call the biggest change in book production overall?
A: We are in a totally electronic environment now -- working with Macs and PCs in general has helped cut down the time that's required for certain steps.
Even e-mail is a significant technology. We can shoot off e-mail to overseas suppliers, which is wonderful, because with the 12-hour time change, when we leave at night, we come back in the morning and have a response. We used to have to depend upon faxes, and now it's so much easier.
E-mail allows you to communicate with many suppliers, editors, artists, etc. in a faster format. You can have a written record if you want, because you can print it out. It's more immediate.
The down side is if you are out of the office, you need to have the system sending messages back saying, "I'm not in so don't expect me to pick it up." But lately even when I travel in Asia I bring a small laptop and can pick up my e-mail messages.
Q: Have you reached the point that everyone is using e-mail?
A: There are some companies in the U.S., even in New York, that still do not have a company e-mail, which I find amazing. I'd say the bigger companies usually have e-mail, but there are still some on the printing/binding side that don't. Some of the smaller ones are hesitant or they may not have individual mailboxes. I think the overseas suppliers jumped in quickly because it's a great way to communicate with the time difference.
Q: What do you do day to day?
A: I have a staff of five. I have three production managers, one production coordinator and a production associate. We're responsible for doing production on approximately 300 new books a year, plus all the children's reprints, which can range from 400 to 800, depending on the number of bestsellers you have that year. It's a pretty significant workload with a very small number of people.
Q: How have you organized your department?
A: At one point one person was assigned per imprint or per printer, and when I arrived I decided that everybody would work across the imprints and everybody would work with all printers. My thought was that if someone were to leave, it's much easier if everyone knows how something operates than to have it be one sole person's knowledge, which would mean that if that person leaves it can cripple your department.
My own basic role is administrative but I also do handle day-to-day production. Usually we divide the list up among five of us, and the sixth person strictly runs our package room for us.
The basic thing is that all of us work as a team. No matter how crazy we get, we know that if someone gets overwhelmed, we can go to one another and have a backup. I don't want anyone to feel as if they are so overwhelmed they cannot do their job.
Q: What do you expect of people that work for you?
A: I like to give my staff a lot of freedom to do what they need to do to get the job done, but they also know that if they have any questions or are not sure how to pursue a certain course of action I am available for discussion.
I want to encourage them to think independently; I want to encourage them to be problem solvers, to think of more than one avenue. I want them to realize that we are a service department. We service the editors, the art directors, the sales and marketing people -- even the warehouse people. We are a central area for information on where a book is, whether it's a first print or a reprint, and industry changes or advances in technology.
While editorial is seen as a profit center, production is seen as a deficit center. We're spending the company's money but we should treat it as our own money. If we can save a quarter of a cent on a book's cost, and that is multiplied by the number of books, that adds up to some significant dollars.
I tell them: Just think you have a job in the U.N. Our job is to make peace and keep everybody happy in the most efficient and economical fashion.
I have a great staff. They are very dedicated. They take their jobs seriously and they keep me well informed, which is all a manager can ever ask. It's a wonderful work environment.
Hearst Book Group Transformed by Computers
In 1991, when Linda Palladino joined William Morrow, there was scarcely a computer to be found. Today, there is a computer on nearly every desktop of the 480-plus employee group of the Hearst Book Group, of which William Morrow is a part, says Vice President of Production and Technology Tom Oborski, who joined the company five years ago. One of Oborski's roles is to find ways to make the most of those computers to improve productivity. He told us about the latest developments
* Electronic business data exchange. For the past three years, Oborski has been exploring use of EDI (electronic data interchange) to exchange business information with vendors.
In January, the company and a cooperating supplier began testing the programming developed to date. Testing involves the Hearst Book Group sending out a purchase order in EDI format to the supplier, who sends back an invoice, also in EDI format. That goes to the Hearst accounts payable department in North Carolina, which zaps payment to the supplier's bank account.
Thanks to his own experience with EDI at previous places of employment, and thanks to the efforts of an in-house programmer who was formerly involved in book production, says Oborski, the implementation has gone fairly smoothly.
* Automated estimating. Oborski has worked to drastically simplify the process of gathering of estimates and evaluating bids. When he first arrived at the company, he began to reduce the Hearst Book Group's supplier count, ultimately chopping it by 80 percent. He then launched development of a relational database program that would store standard pricing from the 20 percent remaining; standardizing trim sizes and other book elements helped make such an endeavor feasible. As an added benefit, the fact that the remaining suppliers would be printing higher volumes for Hearst meant that they could provide better pricing as well.
As a result, says Oborski, "All the decisions traditional production managers have had to make in deciding where production work should go have been taken away. There is no more cold calling by salespeople. Instead, we capture (the pricing data) once, and it is put into a relational database that can be sorted and dumped in any configuration that we need."
Now, when a production staff member enters book specs into the database, the program spits out three estimates on a single sheet of paper. It also prints out purchase orders for the various components of the book work, including paper, printing, prepress and binding. All that's required to finish the process is an authorized signature.
Not every book can be estimated this way, says Oborski, but nearly 90 percent are. In the juvenile division, in particular, some books are often exceptions, because of the variety of production needs. However, even there, trim size options have been reduced from 114 to 14, Oborski notes.
Besides saving time, the ability to get rapid estimates has also meant that less paper must be carried in inventory, because the company can work closer to deadline. "Linda used to have $1,200,000 worth of paper tied up in inventory," Oborski notes. "Now there's $1 million less carried every day."
* Looking ahead. Other items Oborski is simply keeping his eye on for now include computer-to-plate technology and electronic book technologies. The company is on a holding pattern for both. In general, says Oborski. "I think CTP will happen, when the plates become cheaper or at the same price as surface plates. When CTP gets to a point where it is priced in a competitive way -- right now it's not -- when I can see a savings in cost and time, one or both, that is when we would jump in that direction," says Oborski.
Oborski has also evaluated the trendy new e-book reading devices and found them far more sophisticated than the "clunky" devices that came out 10 years ago. The company is still resolving business issues before plunging in. However, in the meantime, Oborski is talking with typesetters and exploring technologies that might allow him to archive his books in ways that can later be converted without cost to new formats.