Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Whee! The countdown to the holiday break has begun and, in the offices of publishing houses and agents all over town, normal routine is slowly sliding by the wayside. These final weeks of the working year bring with them a feeling of excitement and anticipation that, despite its annual recurrence, never ceases to take me pleasantly by surprise.

Some of the first signs of the season appear overnight in our office lobby: two giant wreaths, two menorahs, a gaggle of poinsettias, and four life-size Nutcracker soldiers. Some might say it's childish to admit that their presence gives my step a little extra spring in the morning, but that's the truth. And I think that I'm not alone--the front desk folks and the elevator attendants seem to smile more brightly, and it feels natural to exchange a grin with a coworker as we wait for the elevators below a garland shimmering with gold.

Sadly, our floor doesn't go in much for collective holiday decoration. With my string of lights and single card, I'm probably the most outlandish celebrant here. But as I walk down the halls, I can detect the sound of Wham! singing "Last Christmas" through more than one person's headphones. I rock out to holiday music all day on Pandora, too--it's much more fun to do all the end-of-the-year catch-up work while internally crooning along to Bing Crosby.

Even though we lack tinsel and giant baubles, you can still tell what season it is by the number of gift packages and bags that start arriving. Most of them collect along the publicity corridor, which for this month becomes a regular diversion on my route around the office. You would not believe what they collect: chocolates, cookie plates, cakes, cheeses, and all kinds of fancy candy. Right now there's even a box of gift bags containing half-bottles of Moet et Chandon, which I unfortunately don't think is for the collective taking. Production gets a fair amount of love too from all the printing companies and photo agencies, but I have slightly less of a pretext to be wandering around their hallway, so I haven't had a chance to assess their haul this year. Disappointingly, Editorial tends to be the most barren of all unless a good-natured author happens to see the light and send something along; usually, a few cards from agencies constitute our seasonal gifts.

I think the personalities of different literary agencies emerge most clearly around the holidays. Just as it's revealing to see what cards your friends and acquaintances choose to send, so it is to examine how each agency chooses to acknowledge (or not acknowledge) the holidays. Some don't send anything, whereas others mail elaborate cards, signed by the entire office, that turn into calendars. A lot of agencies choose to throw parties around this time, too, which is even more interesting from an anthropological perspective. Some of the bigger boutique operations hold formal bashes for the big editors: they send official invitations, hire a bartender, and have the food catered. Others pride themselves on their informal get-togethers, where assistants are welcome and everyone pours their own wine and helps themselves to a Trader Joe's cookie assortment.

The other ubiquitous gathering of the season is the hosted party. Young editors or agents who work together will often pool their resources and industry contact lists to jointly host a shindig in the reserved back room of a reasonably trendy bar. These are a bit less nerve-wracking than agency parties, as there's less of a professional agenda; the crowd is usually comprised of people climbing through the various ranks of assistanthood, and although you are there to "network" the guise of the holidays and the neutral location make things feel more socially genuine. With the prospect of the break ahead, everyone is usually feeling quite jolly and ready to have a drink (or three), and an authentic sense of fraternity often sets in as you begin comparing stories of servitude with other party goers.

These numerous side events notwithstanding, the November/December party carousel is always centered around some kind of official bash. It seems that the improved fiscal outlook of 2010 has spurred publishing houses to be more extravagant than last year; there are reports of one company-wide blow-out at Gotham Hall, a house that decorated each floor of their building with a different theme to host a grown-up version of "Around the World," and more than one dinner-drinks event at a rented restaurant. Individual imprints and groups also celebrate informally with happy hours and lunches. And, despite the essence of forced festivity that always lingers at the fringes of these mandated office celebrations, I think I might enjoy them most of all. And here's why.

It takes a village to make a book--editors, production managers and editors, designers, publicists, marketers, and salespeople. During the stress and chaos of the year's span cycle, it's all to easy to lose track of the big picture, of the real scope of achievement. However, there's something about December that brings everything back into focus. Our slowed schedule, the release of cumulative "best of" lists, and a collective holiday spirit unite all the separate departments together in a community celebration of accomplishment. Looking back at what I, my imprint, and the house I work for have done this year makes my little heart swell with pride. Sure, there has been sweat (try hauling boxes of books and manuscripts around), blood (oh, the paper cuts), and more than a few tears, but at this time of year--particularly when slightly inebriated on the company dollar and surrounded by my closest co-workers, many of whom have become friends--it all seems more than worth it.

As you may have discerned by now, I'm kind of an emotional lush at Christmas. It gets to me, all this baby Jesus-ing and "Joy to the World" caroling. If I go on, I'll just get worse. So let me just say, "God bless ye merry publishing people," and more importantly, "God bless ye merry readers." Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good and safe break.

XO, Hannah

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