Getting ready to print

8 June 2010

At NIAS Press, we call it ‘flicking through’. I’m sure there is a proper name for the process – final-final proof? – but essentially this is a last-minute checking of the cover(s) and body pages to ensure there are no silly mistakes.

This task is usually carried out by press staff (often including the production editor). The author is almost never involved.

A few of the classic errors picked up at this late stage are:

  • Details on the cover (e.g. subtitle) do not match those inside the book.
  • The wrong publication date is stated on the copyright page (normally because publication of the book is delayed).
  • Chapter titles in the table of contents do not match those in the text and/or in the running heads (names may be different or it could simply be that the capitalization differs).
  • Page numbers stated in the table of contents and in the lists of tables, maps, figures, etc. do not match the actual pagination in the text.
  • Caption text in the lists of tables, maps, figures, etc. do not match those in the text (as with chapter titles above) but note that this may be deliberate (e.g. because only abbreviated details are stated in the prelims whereas on the actual page the full details are given, including source and acknowledgement of permission to reproduce the material).
  • A chapter title, heading name or caption that should be listed in the prelims is missing there.
  • Chapter titles in the running heads are out of sync with the chapter pagination (e.g. the last two pages for Chapter 2 use Chapter 3’s running heads).

No matter how hard the production editor tries, some blemishes can slip through. This can be embarrassing but it is rare that the error is serious. (That said, it can be; I remember one publisher having to withdraw and reprint an annotated edition of the Koran due to a single spelling mistake being found a few days after publication.) However, once this last-minute check is done and any mistakes corrected, the book files will be uploaded to the printer.

Finally, your book is (almost) out of your publisher’s hands. All that remains is to create the final print files and send them off to the printer, something done very quickly and simply these days via the internet (often via the medium of a FTP server).

Now our attention can shift to the printer. The question is, which printer?

(Post #3 of the Printing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

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Final proofs

5 March 2010

Once the text is completely stable, and any illustrations have been sized and inserted, the typesetter paginates the book and produces a second (and hopefully final) set of proofs for checking. In urgent circumstances, it is not unknown for authors to receive only a single set of paginated proof pages, but two proof stages are more common. At the same time, you should get a proof of the finalized cover.

Page-proof checklist

However, the second (paginated) proofs are not yet another opportunity to check your text; by now, as we have seen, your production editor will be pretty intolerant of ‘unnecessary’ changes. While you should keep an eye open for any errors in the text not previously spotted, at this stage the things that you should be focusing on are quite different. Now, you should check that:

  • All corrections marked on the first proofs have been correctly implemented.
  • All figures, illustrations, captions, tables, etc. are placed where they belong (or in close proximity to this).
  • Any illustrations look as they should (in terms of quality, size, colour, orientation, etc.).
  • All footnotes (if used) are placed on the correct page.
  • Chapter titles in the table of contents match those in the text, not only in wording but also in upper or lower case. (The same applies for figure captions, etc.)
  • Chapter titles in the running heads match (or are reasonable short forms of) the real chapter titles.
  • Page numbers stated in the table of contents, list of figures, etc. are correct.
  • Any ‘hard’ cross-references (like ‘see overleaf’, ‘see page 43’, etc.) are correct.
  • Pagination of the book is consecutive (with numbering of the preliminary pages as a separate series using roman numbering).

Of course, any corrections and other changes to these proofs should be marked up as discussed in my earlier post.

Proofing the cover

I have already discussed finalization of the cover in quite some detail elsewhere. Suffice to say here that what you should be seeing now is not some cover concept or even a well-developed draft but the final version. As such, you will need to be proofing not only for errors but also omissions (a promised photo credit in tiny type on the back cover, for instance).

Given the central importance of the cover, it is wise to take special care on the cover proof.

Avoiding the errata slip

Publishers hate having to insert an errata slip in a book, not least because it is time-consuming, expensive and unnecessary (and because it is an open admission that the proofing of that book was inadequate – not a good look).

As such, because this is likely to be your last chance to check the entire book (see below), be rigorous with your proofing. This means, too, that you should look at the whole book – both inside pages and cover – making sure that everything is right. (This is especially relevant because the cover and inside pages are usually produced by different people.) Otherwise you may end up disappointed when holding your wonderful new book in your hands and discovering a silly mistake.

This is what happened to one of our authors a few years back. The title page she delivered for editing had an old subtitle. There was nothing wrong with this (hence it survived the editing and typesetting unscathed); it was simply the wrong subtitle. The new subtitle appeared on the cover of her book and in all sorts of marketing material. It was also the one that was registered in various bibliographic databases.

Unfortunately, neither the author nor anyone at the press noticed the minor discrepancy in subtitle wording until after the book was published. She requested an errata slip. Fair enough, but I was not amused.

Making a ‘right-brain’ assessment

In addition, at this stage it would be a good idea to flip through the book looking at each double-page spread (easiest done in Acrobat or Adobe Reader) and analysing the layout in a more ‘right-brain’ fashion. Are the pages balanced and aesthetically pleasing? Do the page bottoms line up? Do you like what you see?

Of course, it may be dumb me suggesting that you do this ‘right-brain’ assessment now as there is no way that either the typesetter or your production editor will contemplate major design changes at such a late stage. The time for such feedback should have been at the time of the first proofs or even earlier in the design phase (if you were consulted, that is. The whole issue of what you can and cannot expect to change at the proofing stage is discussed in detail here.)

That said, it is your book, your child. If you don’t care about how it is dressed, who else will? And what will your readers think if, when they encounter your book, they are distracted by its appearance and maybe even fail to take it seriously?

A wee bit of assertiveness with your publisher doesn’t harm once in a while.

Finalizing the proofing process

As with the first proofs, your job is to indicate any changes required either on the proofs or in a separate document, returning these (or a message that there are no changes) to your production editor. Usually, there is great pressure for this to be done quite quickly. As before, make sure that you retain a copy of these proofs.

At this stage, however, and before you return the proofs to your publisher, you may have an extra task to complete: preparing an index. If there are minimal changes to these second proofs, then it is normal that they are used for the indexing (that is, if it is the author doing the indexing); this saves time. More about this in my next post, which starts a new section of the production process looking at indexing.

And, as far as you are concerned, that is (almost) the end of the proofing process. (‘Almost’ because you should get a chance to see the typeset index and maybe even the whole book again after any second-proof changes have been implemented.) From now on, you will take a back seat as far as the production process is concerned. More proofing will be done but this will be by (or at the behest of) your production editor; as noted earlier, it is unlikely you will be involved.

Time then (after the indexing) to move on with your life. Indeed, already by now, you may need to start refocusing your attention on the promotion of your book. But that is another story.

(Post #9 of the Proofing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)


First proofs

1 March 2010

Normally, initial typesetting of your book will not take too long, especially if no attempt is made to finalize the pagination of the book (for instance, no illustrations yet placed in the document).

As we have seen earlier, the result of the initial typesetting is a set of first proofs delivered to the production editor. These proofs will be quickly checked then your production editor will send you a copy for proof-reading. At the same time, chances are that someone at the press or an outside professional proof-reader will check this first proof as well.

About the first proof

The proof received will almost certainly be typeset text output on ordinary pages (described and illustrated here) rather than the galleys of yesteryear. In all probability, these page proofs will not have been finally paginated (essentially because the illustrations are missing and some changes to the text are expected). In addition, as pointed out in Leena’s mail above, much else about the proof indicates that it is a preliminary version of your book. For example:

  • The running heads are incorrect or non-existent.
  • The text will likely be loose in places (any hyphenation or massaging of the character spacing yet to be done).
  • Text may not completely fill the page so that page bottoms in a two-page spread are not lined up.
  • Tables may straddle two pages.
  • Figures and illustrations may be missing (though, as illustrated in my previous post, space may have been reserved for these).
  • Any ‘hard’ cross-references (like ‘see overleaf’, ‘see page 43’, etc.) should be flagged as provisional.

On the other hand, you should expect something more than a picture of the typesetting in its raw, newly converted state. In particular:

  • The book/page design should be apparent in the page layout (e.g. trimmed page size and fonts are correct).
  • Paragraph (and character) styles should have been implemented in the text.

Your primary task

What your production editor will be expecting you to do in quite a short time is carefully to go through the proofs, marking up any changes required. (My next post describes marking up in greater detail while the subsequent post lists the common proofing marks used in printing and publishing.)

Mainly, you should look for problems in the text, examples being:

  • Typos.
  • Corruptions in the text (perhaps caused by the text conversion problems described a month ago and again more recently).
  • Missing text.
  • Incorrectly formatted text (e.g. missing italics).
  • Paragraph appearance is inappropriate (possibly due to incorrect assignment of paragraph style).

Of course, you may wish to request other changes that have nothing to do with errors in the text. This is a problematic issue that I shall discuss in a separate post later this week.

Proofing with the other side of the brain

In addition – although the lack of illustrations, final formatting, etc. may force you to stretch your imagination somewhat – now is probably the last moment when you can comment on the page design and request changes. (Unfortunately, for most authors it is also the first time that they have seen how the publisher intends to layout their book – so this is a last-gasp thing I am foisting upon you. Indeed, it is probably too late for you to make a similar ‘right-brain’ assessment with the final proofs that I suggest in an upcoming post.)

While it is unlikely that you can get your publisher to completely change the page design presented to you, there is a chance that you can convince your production editor to make some changes. For instance, if you can demonstrate that the fonts used evoke a mood/approach at odds with (your treatment of) the subject, then it need not be too late for such a systematic change to be implemented.

Be smart, however, in what you request. You’ll have a greater chance of agreement to global changes that can be implemented relatively easily rather than to custom changes that must be made on a case-by-case basis.

And finally

There are different ways of noting your proofing changes/corrections; these I describe in my next post. If you choose to mark up the proofs received from your publisher, then make sure that you save a copy of what you send back. This will be your reference at the final-proof stage, ensuring it is quick to check that the changes you requested have been implemented.

(Post #5 of the Proofing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)


Placement of non-text elements

4 February 2010

Imagine this. A key passage in your book surveys the tourist icons of Paris. As your readers learn about the gargoyles of Notre Dame, on the opposite page they see the iron lacework of the Eiffel Tower. Turn the page and the story of the tower is told – illustrated with a picture of buses and tourists outside the Louvre.

These things happen. They shouldn’t.

Double vision

A key difference between modern typesetting programs and a word processor like Word is that the typesetter works with double-page spreads, the same view that readers have when moving through a physical book. (The single-page perspective of e-books is one of their major disadvantages, by the way, but this is rarely mentioned.) This double-page ‘workbench’ makes it easier for the typesetter to place tables, illustrations and other figures to their best advantage.

(Easier but not always easy. The layout of page after page of straight text is quite easy. But having to juggle the placement of text, footnotes, tables and illustrations all within a few pages – and ensure that the result is both aesthetically pleasing and meaningful – is decidedly not simple. This is one of the reasons why some publishers insist on endnotes – but more about that later this week.)

Insertion points need to be clear

Unfortunately, typesetters aren’t mind-readers. While some diligently read the text so they can lay it out in the best possible way (for this reason, often it is the typesetter who notices errors and omissions not discovered at editing), others do not have the time for such a hands-on approach. What you should count on, then, is that your typesetter won’t have the time to decipher from your text where precisely this table should go or where that illustration.

For this reason, you would be smart to indicate in the text where every non-text element should go. Something like ‘INSERT FIGURE 3.2 ABOUT HERE’ may not be pretty but it is necessary. (Indeed, your failure to specify an approximate insertion point may cause the typesetter to completely overlook that illustration and fail to place it.)

Colour sections

Placement of colour illustrations (as discussed in my previous post) is slightly more tricky. There is no problem if the book is completely in colour (simply indicate an insertion point as above). But if your colour illustrations are to be gathered into a colour section, then there is an issue. The point is that this colour section is a section; here, we are not talking about a scattering of colour illustrations placed wherever they are referred to. No, a colour section is a 16-page, full-colour signature that must be inserted between two monochrome signatures. Precisely where this will be inserted cannot easily be predicted in advance. All that may be possible is to indicate an insertion point as close as possible to this or that passage of text.

Certainly, however, you should not leave placement of any colour section to the whims of your typesetter. Be proactive, discuss things with your production editor and ensure that placement of this colour section is specified in the page design brief (discussed in greater detail here, while my argument for author activism is here).

One last thought

What is discussed in this post is placement of non-text elements, not if they are actually necessary. Pictures may say more than a thousand words but they also interrupt the narrative, as do tables, charts and graphs. In each case, ask yourself whether this interruption to the flow of text is necessary, appropriate and desirable.

(Post #16 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)


How many charts and tables in a book?

28 September 2009

An author asks:

About the tables and charts in the book, do you have any rough rule of thumb on how many tables and charts would be sufficient or too much? In the dissertation, I had 8 charts and 14 tables and I am looking to cut those numbers considerably. Also, do you have any general advice on what kind of tables and charts to keep and what to discard?

Many years ago, we published a study of entrepreneurship in Vietnam that included over 200 tables. This was quite a nightmare to typeset and not exactly easy reading. I’d never do this again and doubt that many other publishers would be game to take on such a mammoth task, either.

Mind you, ultimately, it all depends on the field and subject. This was an intense economic analysis, a type of study in which masses of charts and tables are almost expected. In contrast, one would expect a political or historical study to have far fewer charts and tables. As such, ‘merely’ 8 charts and 14 tables may be OK for such a study. The question is, however, is that number OK? Accordingly, ask yourself

  • What is the purpose of this table or that chart?
  • Can its meaning be worked easily enough into the text instead?
  • Is a table really the most effective way of presenting your information, or is a chart/graph a better communication tool?

In line with my ongoing obsession with readability, I would argue that you only include those charts and tables that illuminate the text. In addition, avoid like the plague any charts or tables that are oversized and/or have excessive detail, also those that are only meaningful if reproduced in colour (more about these points in later posts).