Patti Grasso (photo below) is one of those people who has come full circle, both personally and professionally. As the IBPA executive assistant explains, “When I stand on the sidewalk outside IBPA’s office, I can see the house I lived in as an infant.”
And, she goes on, communicating information has been a lifelong passion of hers. “As a child I had a fascination with ephemera, in particular with newspapers,” she recalls. “My first oral report in the sixth grade was about the evolution of print. I also had a strong interest in the arts. If you put those two pieces together, the logical major for me was graphic design.”
Grasso got her start in print while still a student at California State University, Fullerton, serving first as an intern in the Orange County Register’s art department, and then as a part-time employee there. “They didn’t cut me any slack,” she remembers. “I started doing production on ads for events that we were sponsoring, and then moved up to design/illustration for billboards, T-shirts, hats, posters, and other promotional products for the Anaheim Ducks hockey team, concerts at the Anaheim Arena, and high school sports teams.”
After graduation, Grasso moved the 30-some miles back to Manhattan Beach, where she spent 15 years in trade and business magazine publishing, eventually working as an art director, and taking on freelance projects as a graphic designer and production artist. Among the highlights of those years: creating sell sheets and ads for Variety and the Hollywood Reporter as part of the Academy Awards campaign for the 1998 Oscar-winning movie Gods and Monsters.
In 2009 she came to IBPA as an executive assistant, a job that lets her integrate her print media experience with new media. “My goal has always been the same,” Grasso says: “Dissemination of information.” This can be information about business or publishing in general, about IBPA programs, or about a member’s specific issue. For Grasso, “The job is most fulfilling when I feel as if I’ve helped a member resolve a problem.”
Besides doing tasks as challenging as dealing with self-publishers who ask, “I’ve written a book; now what do I do?” and “How can IBPA make my book a bestseller?” and tasks as basic as creating badges for Book Expo and Publishing University, Grasso explains IBPA educational and marketing programs, manages the member database, creates the title pages for NetGalley and helps resolve technical problems with it, processes entries for the Benjamin Franklin Awards program, and assists other IBPA staffers with Photoshop. She also handles artwork for the trade show catalogs and graphic design projects not outsourced. And that’s in addition to handling such usual administrative responsibilities as phone calls, member and vendor payments, and membership information.
Among her greatest concerns: people who don’t recognize that publishing is a business. “I can’t emphasize how important it is to know what you’re getting into before spending any money,” Grasso says. “From time to time I hear members say that they wish they hadn’t jumped in with both feet, without looking at the costs involved. Some say it cost them a small fortune to figure publishing out as they went along.”
For novice and prospective publishers, Grasso has this advice:
- Educate yourself about publishing and business in general. “Reach out to other publishers through your area’s IBPA affiliate and/or local writers’ groups. Find schools that offer courses on starting a small business.”
- Find professionals to edit and copyedit your manuscript.
- Before you hire anyone, ask for references and check those references.
- Recognize that book design is a specialty within graphic design. “Unless your niece or nephew or other relative or friend is a professional book designer, hire somebody who is. Aesthetics can make or break a book, no matter how brilliant its content.”
- Overcome your fear of technology. “This will make you better able to communicate with people within the book trade. If you need to learn the basics, take some courses at your local college.”
- And perhaps most important: “Keep your expectations realistic,” says Grasso.