Introducing AMACOM… Jim

Next in the “Introducing AMACOM” series is Associate Editor Jim Bessent. He started in the spring of 2000 at first as kind of like a permanent freelancer. But after a few weeks he switched positions with another person who wanted to reduce hours. He works in the production department and sees finished manuscripts through the various stages of production: copyediting, proofing, indexing, all correction cycles, etc.

What were you doing before you joined AMACOM?

Besides editorial free-lancing, I had a small collectibles business in which I would buy and sell old household items, mostly from the thirties to about the early sixties. Old stuff fascinates me, and you’d be surprised at the number and kinds of oddball inventions intended to make life easier—cheese humidifier, electric flour sifter, e.g.

What are some of your responsibilities as an Associate Editor?

I help the group find and assign people to add value to our books by checking and correcting manuscripts sent in by authors, repeating this process through page proofs, revised page proofs, repro, and blues until we have them clean and clear. Associate editors also arrange for indexing of all our book projects, proof some of the promotional material, and copyedit and check the covers. We also tend to become custodians of the author relationship during the production phase.

What are the big challenges you face in your job?

Keeping things on schedule is the most challenging part. Most of the people in the group are busy doing their part of the process, so getting them to focus on things that are priority number one for me but not for them can tax my motivational skills. Another challenge is keeping projects in line with the original specifications, like page count. Making a book look good while hitting the length specs is not an exact “science,” and can become quite a balancing act sometimes. And then there are certain software conundrums that leave me bewildered and consterned.

What AMACOM book are you really excited about right now?

Coolfarming. This simple title says it all. Coolfarming and its predecessor, Coolhunting, both look into how businesses can determine what ideas, products, and practices might be deemed “cool” by thought and style innovators. These innovators aren’t readily identifiable, so a good part of the process is finding such people. It’s a very different approach from what you would expect from your typical R&D efforts. Of course, “farming” implies cultivating the next new thing. I’m just getting into the project, so I’m still getting up to speed on the differences between the two approaches.

What book are you reading at the moment?

Ah, this is your best question. I was impressed by what my distinguished predecessors, Nick Kinni and Barry Richardson had to say about their reading outside of work. I’m currently reading a book by Jonathan Safran Foer called Eating Animals. It’s kind of reminiscent of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, but the hundred years between the two make it resonate differently. Foer is basically making the twenty-first century case for vegetarianism, and in the process exposes many of the most questionable, often unbelievable practices of the meat production industry, what he calls “factory farms.”

Before Eating Animals, I read West with the Night, an autobiographical story about pioneering female aviator Beryl Markham, her life in Kenya–including training racehorses, how she got into flying, and the people she met and got to know along the way. It’s well written and totally captivating.

What book do you want everyone to discover?

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. This book became my best friend for about six months. It’s 700+ fine-print pages. I would read a few pages every night getting to sleep, and frequently found myself laughing out loud. It’s not a big adventure thriller, more of a handbook of misadventure. The fun is getting to experience the English language pushed to its limits.

What would you be doing if you weren’t an associate editor?

Farming probably. I have some property down in Tennessee where we cultivate cotton, soybeans, and sometimes wheat or corn. I like being part of something that’s outdoorsy and still tied to the seasons. Most of my effort down there goes toward cultivating blackberries and trying to preserve them and harvesting pecans from a half-dozen or so trees on the lot. I would like to move all of this activity in a more ecologically friendly direction.

Final words?

“Amen”? “Good-bye”? “Sic, simper, tyrannus”? “Till death us do part”? “Until we meet again”. “I’ll be back”. “So long”. “Hasta luego”. Is that what you mean? For my tombstone, I once toyed with the idea, encouraged by my sister’s cynical children, of: “I think I got it down to only two or three vices.” I’m still mulling that one over.

Thank you Jim!

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14 responses to “Introducing AMACOM… Jim

  1. Rosemary Carlough

    Hi Jim – I think I read that Beryl Markham book, the cover looks very familiar. I sometimes forget what I have read and pick it up again – this is OK when it is free at the library but less useful if I actually buy a book twice! Since you like the mysteries of old gadgets you would like the “what’s this for?” column (exact title might be a bit different) in Cooks Illustrated. They identify a mystery gadget in each issue.

  2. Jim, thanks for reminding me about ‘Eating Animals’. My kinda book

  3. Erika Spelman

    Hey Jim,
    You’re a cool farmer! As the beneficiary of some of those pecans I’m glad to work closely with you (that’s not the only reason–there’s always the chocolate).
    Erika

  4. Barry Richardson

    Jim neglects to mention he is a performer (actor, singer, dancer) in addition to editing and farming!

    The Pickwick Papers, eh? I heard from an old friend the other day that he had just read Little Dorrit as his annual Dickens reread. And my son pretty much read all of Dickens over the last few years (with the possible exception of Bleak House). I guess it’s time I reacquainted myself with Mr. Dickens, an old favorite.

    I was torn about adding a comment since I don’t want you to catch my record total. (It’s all I have left of the glory days.)

  5. What are the three vices?

  6. Jim – While “Eating Animals” sounds like my kind of book too–I’m a little afraid to read it. After I read “The Jungle” there was a food I liked but wouldn’t let my mom serve me for two years…. (Remember the kid who ended up in the meat grinding machine? Was it little Stanislova, or something like that?)

    And isn’t it tough enough to find something reasonably healthy to eat at Hurley’s without eliminating everything but vegetables?

    BTW – Another fun thing about “Cooks Illustrated” is that before they give you a recipe they provide you with every painstaking detail of trial and error (and the culinary horrors that ensued when inferior options were tried) that led them to the optimal version of the recipe. Reminds me a little of news articles about stages of the Tour de France. But I digress….

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