June 25, 2021
Friesens, Our History in Print
By David Friesen
I spent my working career manufacturing books for authors and publishers. Never did I imagine that I would become an author myself. However, after I retired, Chad approached me about writing an updated corporate history of Friesens, and include some of my own thoughts and remembrances on the years I spent at the company.
During my working life I wrote many letters, articles and marketing pieces for our Yearbook and Book Divisions. I started writing a Quarterly Publishers’ Newsletter in 1982 and continued doing that until 2020. While I did all of this writing, I never had the benefit of an editor, or early on even a spellchecker ….and it showed. That said, the material did get out and for the most part served its purpose. During the early years, we were hesitant at Friesens to spend money on outside resources, firstly because we couldn’t afford it and later because we felt that we had to spend way too much time bringing the writer up to speed with what we were doing before they could do any work for us. Around 2010, we started to do more in-house proofreading so that we could catch at least the glaring mistakes. It was only in recent years that the company began to use outside resources for editing and occasionally writing.
Over the years, we had done many corporate history books for companies such as Canadian Tire, Barrick Gold, Busch Beans, Eddie Bauer, and others. We saw what they had done and we knew that the Friesens book should be comparable to theirs …..at least in terms of writing, design and size. We wanted the best.
Knowing that we hadn’t done as well as we should have in the past, Chad and I agreed that we would use outside professional staff for the publishing of this new history book. We knew that some of our publishing customers were doing this kind of work, so we contracted with Greystone Books to handle the project. Of course, the first thing they did was meet with us to determine just exactly what we wanted. Would it be a definitive history or a popular one? We wanted the latter. Would it be text only or text with a picture section? Neither; we wanted a coffee-table book that would showcase the type of work we do at Friesens. Once that was determined, they introduced us to one of their authors who had previously done corporate books. My adventure was about to begin.
Patricia FInn knew nothing about Friesens, but she had been born in Winnipeg and had a good feeling for the prairies and the people who had settled and live there. In no time she was at the plant, interviewing staff and getting a feel for who we were. She was sent boxes and boxes of previously done books, brochures, manuals. goals and objectives, company newsletters, and the entire library of Publishers Newsletters (38 years x 4 = 152 issues). In addition, I began writing background material for her so that she didn’t have to manually transcribe our conversations.
It was at this point that I began to understand the enormity of such a project. What should go into the book…..how should it be structured, how could we make it reader-friendly, and more. After a few months, she was able to develop an outline of how we could do this. She and I began writing and talking. For the first several months we met at Starbucks, but once Covid took over our lives we had to meet by phone. For several months we did this almost daily. Soon she was writing chapters and I was doing my pieces. I was learning how difficult and time-consuming the writing process is …..and it only got more interesting. Once we had a manuscript we were happy with, it had to go to the copy editor, the proofreader, and the fact-checker. What I used to do all myself now became a group of specialists, and the decisions required were endless. Would it be Board or board, full titles or abbreviations, $10 million or $10,000,000, would we have endnotes or footnotes?
And what about finding and selecting the photos? Since the pandemic was raging, I could not travel to Altona. There were many historical Friesens photos, but they were located in many different places and none had been catalogued. With the help of staff at the plant, I was able to put together a catalogue of old and new photos. Everything had to be done remotely and I had to learn how to use Dropbox, something I was not familiar with. It was while doing this photo research/selection that I was struck by how photography had changed over the years. Early photos were well staged. People dressed for their photos, jackets were closed, their hair was done, and great care was taken by the photographer …. after all, each shot cost money. Once digital photography predominated, there were ten times as many photos, but only one-tenth as many that could be used, and often the ones I wanted to use had files that were too small.
We worked through all of that, and had the manuscript checked and read by Chad to make sure it was what he wanted. More writing and more edits, and then it went to design. Once again we had decisions to make. What size should the book be, what typestyle would look best, where would the pictures go, would there be an index? We worked through all these issues, then sent what we had to the designer, someone who knew little about Friesens. However, Covid had backed up her schedule and it would be a month before she could begin working on her book. Finally we were number one, and several Zoom calls later she was ready to show us potential layouts. After even more calls, one was selected and the design was underway.
A month later the first proof was in our hands. It looked amazing, but it was more than three hundred pages. I had never contemplated that the material we had sent would make a book of that size. It was more than I had anticipated or wanted., and I asked the designer to bring it down to 256 pages. (Eight sheets of paper for Friesens’ large format printing presses.) She was able to do that, and after several more rounds, we finally had a book! What then would we like for the jacket, the designer asked. Another round of ideas, writing, editing, proofing, and finally we had a jacket. The book was now an electronic book and Greystone sent it to the plant in Altona. That was in December 2020. Friesens and I were in no hurry to have it finished., as we have a long-standing policy that our own work would never take precedence over a customers’ work. I thought the plant would be quiet and it would be nice filler work for January. Well, you all know that wasn’t the case. Friesens was very busy during the first quarter of the year, but finally in April it was finished, and in May we had the virtual launch.
The amount of work required to bring the book to the ready-to-print stage was enormous as compared to the amount of time it took to print and bind it. It gave me a greater appreciation for all the work publishers do before their book ever reaches Friesens to be printed. I wish everyone at Friesens could go through this process to help them understand how much you go through before you ever see one of your books in print!