A Dictionary Gets a Makeover | Behind the Book

Francesca Sterlacci (l.) and Joanne Arbuckle (r.) are coauthors of Historical Dictionary of the Fashion Industry (Rowman & ­Littlefield). The first edition of the dictionary was published in 2007 and the second this past July. Sterlacci (formerly chair, fashion design, Fashion Inst. of Technology [FIT]; Leather Fashion Design; Leather Apparel Design; with Arbuckle, The A to Z of the Fashion Industry) here describes the process of creating a subject dictionary and what is involved in updating material for a second edition.

While I was chair of the fashion design department at FIT, I was approached by publisher Rowman & ­Littlefield, who, at the time, were looking for someone to write a book on the fashion industry for their historical dictionaries series [“Historical Dictionaries of Professions and Industries.”] Because I was taking a leave of absence and moving to California, I tried giving the series to one of my FIT colleagues, but no one was interested.

After some research, I discovered that there was really nothing in the marketplace that covered the fashion industry the way that Rowman was suggesting. I convinced my assistant chair (and best friend) Joanne Arbuckle to coauthor the book with me. (There still isn’t a competitor; Valerie Steele’s Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion, which I contributed to, was the closest, but it’s now out of print.) We assumed it would take us a year, which was foolish thinking!

It took us more than two years to write the book. Fashion, as an industry, is multilayered, with such a rich history of people, places, cultures, and facts. Rowman didn’t want just an A–Z dictionary of who’s who, but rather an encyclopedia, an in-depth chronology of fashion—when did it start, who were the players, what were the inventions? The more we got into it, the more complicated we made it, but it was fun, because we learned so much more about the industry than we knew [before], even though we had both been working in it for more than 20 years. There were so many jobs that we never knew existed, and for each one, we needed to find out their function. It really became a monumental task.

We divided up the work alphabetically, with Joanne taking entries beginning with A–L and me M–Z. After we turned in the first entries, our editor came back with the comment that the material was good, but [we needed] “more beef in A–L.” A cowritten book must appear as though it was written by one author, and therefore the entries needed to be of a similar length and style.

After that initial feedback, we got to work on the rest of the entries and, more or less, we were on our own until the deadline for the first draft of the entire book. When we turned that in, we received comments after about a month. We still had to fix inconsistencies between the two sections, but they were mostly factual ones—I might have said that an event was in a certain year and Joanne would have said it was another, so we had to do some further research and provide feedback on which one was correct. There were a few more months where the editing process went back and forth and then the book was ready for sale.

Six years later, it was time for the revision. The first book had 700-ish entries, and today there are 1,400. When we were asked to do the second edition, which I found out is an honor because not every book has one, Rowman said that we had to make it one-third larger. That amount of new material might have been enough if every designer from the first edition hadn’t done anything new or passed away, or new brands formed, old companies expanded or gone out of business, but that wasn’t the case.

We had to [update] every single entry. We also deleted some that were no longer relevant. Then we made a list of up-and-coming designers and the impact that the Internet, technology, and sustainability have had on the industry since the first edition. Rowman had asked for a chronology, by era, one that would walk readers through the history of fashion. This also needed to be updated and added to for the second edition. Before we knew it, the material was way longer and we had doubled the number of entries. While editing the second edition was faster than for the first, because of the number of new entries (almost double), the process took twice as long.

For the first edition, our publisher had total control over the cover. In fact, we weren’t even consulted. However, for the second edition, we made sure that we added language to the contract [that allowed us to choose] the cover images. Another thing we had to check on for the second edition was how the ebook looked on Amazon. We discovered that none of the “see” or “see also” links worked. Thankfully, our publisher was able to fix the problem, but we had to confirm that people who had already purchased the book would get an update.

Making sure that your book is promoted to the outlets that you think are best and that any reviews are correct is also crucial. I would advise any of your readers who are thinking of publishing a book to be on top of everything, A–Z!

Henrietta Verma is Senior Editorial Communications Specialist at NISO, the National Information Standards Organization, Baltimore

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