A Life in a Day: The Producer’s Tale

Will Skinner, former ARU MA Publishing student and now Producer at Penguin Books, gives Blurbify an insight into a typical day at work.

Up from the catacombs I rise, out from Temple station, along Victoria Embankment. Sun surrounds me. Waterloo Bridge forms a perfect concave frame of The London Eye and Big Ben. The portland stone of Shell Mex House, refracting hard white light, beckons in the near distance; an Art Deco leviathan standing sentinel upon the Thames. The Savoy nestles in close beside. Seven floors up to Penguin Towers.


I arrive at my desk, skinny hazelnut latte in hand, and check a surfeit of emails, mainly from printers in the Far East. Desks gradually fill until the office is awash with activity. But I don’t notice, I’m lost in the maelstrom whirling on my screen. There’s been an issue with a special sales project. The barcode files supplied have failed preflight checks – the font is not embedded in the PDF. A quick email to the designer, to ask for a resupplied digital file, then an email to appease the printer whilst they await the corrected file; crisis averted.

Someone wants to know the transit time from HK to Australia. “14 days”, I call, not looking up or knowing who I’m responding to, “and allow an additional 2 – 5 days for delivery to the warehouse.”

Marian Keyes is in later – for cupcakes and teas – don’t want to miss that.


I have an Editorial start-up meeting for a special gift edition of a much-loved Children’s classic. The editor, copy editor and designer are all here. They tell me their ideas, I suggest materials and a production schedule to make the Pub Date. It needs to co-incide with the release of the summer movie and be in line with the 70th anniversary of the book’s first publication.

The book has colour illustrations, which must be ‘tipped-in’. The imposition may be an issue – the printer is only able to position insets at fixed intervals in the text which don’t correspond with the narrative. How many Roman prelims are there? This will impact the imposition. There’s no text design required, though the existing edition is upsizing to Royal, so a margin guide will be required.

I suggest 22mm margins and gutter, neatly framing the page and bulking up the extent and 135gsm Colorplan paper for the case and jacket, more expensive but giving a classic look and feel that is becoming of the title. When I get back to my desk I begin to cost a text paper that will complement the Colorplan, deciding on a 70gsm Holmen Book Cream rather than the standard Bulky Braviken 52gsm.


Most take lunch at 1pm, I don’t notice until the time until 1:18pm. I decide to take a stroll though Victoria Embankment Park, even though rain threatens. I walk along corridors, past a gallery of black and white author portraits, never-waning stars in the Penguin firmament, eventually finding my way outside.

In the park, a small artisan market has sprung up. A tiny Hoxton Press stall sells eclectic books about East London, in the shadow of the behemoth that is Penguin Random House. I stop and look at the imprint page – ‘Made and Printed in China’ – not world’s apart after all. The insistent drizzle soothes away the morning’s tumult.


At the Print Meeting, my launch titles and final confirms are approved. Some titles are dropping finishes and reducing the planned runs, but otherwise my costings have been approved. Rachel Khoo is in Penguin E-Den, a tiny matryoshka doll; I get ‘workflowed’ a provisional costing request from Rights for some Arabic co-editions.

This poses its own set of conundrums; text has to be upsized to accommodate Arabic script and the pages have to be reversed. Plotters come in for various titles and Mono Advances arrive on my desk for distribution internally. These are embargoed, so must not be left visible in the office. The first advance I check doesn’t look great. The text files contained some heavy full-page bleeds and this amount of ink appears to have caused drying and set-off issues. Luckily the other advances show no signs of the flaw, so the title is approved to ship.

The Art Director praises the production values when I deliver the advance to her desk and a little swell of warmth rises up within me.

I call the warehouse to make sure the embargoed copies are kept under lock and key until pub date.

I also need to get text for a backlist reprint to the typesetters. Which company shall I use today? Who’s going to give the best product for the best price? Who already has files?


People begin to seep away and by 5:30pm the office returns to a state of grace. Leaving, my footsteps echo through the corridors, a few lost souls still toil at their desks, surrounded by cairns of books. Another day floats away. Weary but unbowed, exhausted and exhilarated in the same moment.

I can’t wait for the morrow.


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Will Skinner is a full-time (2013/14) student on the MA Publishing​. An experienced Operations Manager, Will is now Production Assistant in the Content Solutions Department of the British Standards Institute. He works with colleagues in the ePublishing and IT teams on projects using XML technology in the online delivery of Standards publications.'