On Organization: Packing, Permissions, and Persistence

by Jessica Mifsud

Published at 2012-12-20

Two big events are happening for me this month. The first is that I’m a dozen items and a handful of loose ends away from completing the gigantic permissions project I’ve been chipping away at since I started my time at TEC. The second is that I’m moving house and having, after years of spontaneous accumulation and haphazard stacking, to not only impose order on my personal library, but also pack it into tiny boxes.
These two things relate together surprisingly well. Permissions editing, like packing, requires a sound mind, a good head for organization, a keen eye for what is important, and the ability to concoct creative strategies when your first plan ends in a sea of tears.
In an earlier blog post, my predecessor at the permissions desk, Nadine, described permissions editing as “a quest,” and the last few months have proven that to be very true. In pursuing the elusive copyright holder, sometimes you find treasure where you least expect it, and sometimes you run around the same island in circles because some dunderhead has spilled ink on the map and you have no idea where you’re going. But even if your map is full of holes, it’s still important to keep (and maintain!) an accurate one, because you never know when you’ll be called on to retrace your steps.
For permissions, this means knowing the status of all your pending items at any given time, and writing down as many details as possible. I need to know exactly what this image is and where it’s coming from, because when the editor announces at the last minute that we need a high-res version for Chapter 59, I really need to know who I can talk to in order to acquire one.
Likewise, simply shoving books into boxes willy-nilly will only end in sadness. It’s important to know what is where and why, because if I get to my new digs and can’t find my copy of Scott Pilgrim versus the World, I’m going to be mightily displeased. But if I write notes on all the boxes like “Jessica – Softcovers – Read – Flux! – Monkey,” I’ll know not only where to find my book, but also where my tiny green flying monkey is hiding.
When all you have to go on is a single name to hunt down a copyright holder (for example), the search may sometimes seem impossible, especially when you hit dead-end after dead-end on the way there. But a little bit of dedication goes a long way. Searching for one contributor’s name with every job description that might have related her to the book eventually provided me with the contact information for a nurse in Alberta who, thankfully, was more than happy to grant me permission to use her photo.
So too does fortitude relate to moving. Sure, I could decide that I don’t really need ALL these books, and leave them on the curb just to avoid packing and hauling more boxes. But this is my library, damn it. I’ve spent countless hours selecting, hunting down, and reading each of those books. And, as any bibliophile would agree, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if I leave them behind just because they’re heavy and inconvenient to carry.
A sound mind, and a star to sail her by
The final (and possibly most important) trait one can have when dealing with a permissions project or a house full of boxes is a good head on your shoulders. You can organize until the monkeys return to roost, and be as emotionally invested as you like, but if you don’t have the ability to make a great action plan, all your work will be for naught.
For permissions, this means knowing that when a copyright holder hasn’t responded to your e-mail in four weeks, he probably hasn’t seen it and you should try calling him. It means knowing that when he doesn’t answer the phone, try calling reception and asking for someone else in marketing. And it means explaining to him, patiently, that when he signs your form he isn’t entering into a contract meant to bind his soul, just to reprint his photo.

A great action plan is also entirely relevant to moving, and one that I am in a hurry to conceive. Because if I can’t find a way to convince my boyfriend that we NEED all these books in the house, then what am I wasting time packing them for?