Friday, December 3, 2010

Quick & Easy Book Production: Do You Know the Secret?

By Joel Friedlander

It never fails to surprise me. I realize that I should know better. Believe me, I’ve been down this road too many times, yet I still get caught flat-footed, my dream of a quick and easy book production vanishing into thin air.

You see, when I’m planning out a book, I’m looking for the best way to put it together. Since every book is different, this involves adjustments to a standard workflow for book production.

Look at the steps we have to go through:

Examine the manuscript

It’s vital to know what’s in the book. While this is true for all books it’s particularly important for nonfiction books which are likely to involve more complex structures with parts, sections, chapters, notes and other elements like sidebars, graphics, tables, illustrations and other non-text material.

Analyze the formats used

How many different unique formats will be required? Each has to be accounted for in the design scheme for the book, and it’s important to understand the way the author is presenting her information.

Verify a consistent hierarchy of information

This is particularly important if you suspect the book was not edited by a professional book editor, who is trained to pay attention to subheads, section titles, and the need for consistency throughout the manuscript.

Look at the word processing files

Some book files have been worked on for years, and by different people reviewing, marking up, revising and commenting on the files. Some of the material may have come from other publications and be patched together. All of these files contain varying amounts of “junk” codes that have to be eliminated.

Determine the optimal way to import the files

Different books call for different strategies. Books heavy with complex drawings or lots of photographs may be split into individual chapter files to keep the file size down. Special characters, symbols or formats might be coded with search and replace functions in Word before being imported.

Prepare the files

Once all of the preparation is complete, the routines are put into action to clean, and prep the files for import.

And About That Secret

This all seems very orderly and precise. And these initial steps have a lot to do with how smoothly your project will get to completion.

There’s only one problem: It never happens this way.

There’s a bomb waiting to go off, and it goes off almost every time. And you know what the bomb is?

The file you’ve been slaving over isn’t the final file.

Oh, you thought it was final. The author or publisher told you it was final. You believed them. But halfway through the book layout you find a chapter missing. Or this chapter has no subheads, while all the other chapters are full of them. Or every chapter has an epigraph, but Chapter 9 has a cartoon.

Or the author discovers the book is too long and decides to remove 30% of the copy. Or half the illustrations are still 72 dpi and can’t be used for print production. Or the author discovers the missing file with the rest of the endnotes. Or that last peer reviewer just got back from vacation and can’t we fit his essay in, too?

It doesn’t matter. What matters is that your project has gone off the rails, and you’re looking at re-doing all your lovely schedules.

The Secret to Quick and Easy Book Production

This is the single most important thing you can do to make sure your book production runs smoothly. It’s the difference between staying on schedule and on budget, and the books that end up months late and costing more than they really should have.

So here’s my message: The biggest secret to quick and easy book production is this:

Make sure the final manuscript file you release for production is actually the final, finished, fully corrected, consistent, edited, and ready-to-go-just-the-way-it-is file.

That’s it. Now you know the secret too, and I’m sure all the books we publish will go without a hitch. Won’t they?

Joel Friedlander is a self-published author, a book designer and blogs about book design, self-publishing and the indie publishing life at He's also the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, where he helps publishers and authors who decide to publish get to market on time and on budget with books that are both properly constructed and beautiful to read.

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