Finalizing the cover

16 February 2010

Ask any young woman and she will tell you it’s not her brain that counts with ‘real’ men but her body. So says the cliche, but there is an uncomfortably big grain of truth in this observation.


Content matters

Although content ultimately matters – you are unlikely to buy those cornflakes again if they taste lousy – initially, all too often the wrapping counts a lot.

So it is with book covers, as we have discussed earlier. Surface appearances, fripperies.

It is perhaps fitting, then, that this long thread of posts on the design and typesetting process ends on a(n almost) frivolous note. Most posts in this section have dealt with the layout of your text and illustrations – the contents, the serious stuff that your readers are waiting for. And yet, when it comes to the production of your book, chances are that you – like most authors – will show little interest in the page layout but keen interest in every aspect of the cover design.

Time, then, to finalize this surface matter. Unfortunately, all too often, the issues raised are not frivolous ones.

A simple matter

In the best of times, the process of producing a cover is straightforward enough for the cover designer (or typesetter) to finalize. S/he has the cover design and, within this framework, it should be a simple matter to arrange the various cover elements – title, author name(s), illustration, blurb, publisher logo, bar code, etc.

Long time coming

Straightforward enough, indeed. The problem is that covers are not always produced in the best of times. Or, rather, that they are produced in all times. This is a job started early in the production process – if not right at the beginning, right when the book is first announced – and yet it is one of the last things to be finalized before printing.

In between, there is ample scope for things to go wrong. Here are a few of the issues that can arise:

  • The cover illustration is unusable. This can easily happen if only a thumbnail cover image was produced at the design stage and the low-resolution illustration supplied by the author was good enough for that but not for the real cover. The catalogue, for instance, may only need a cover image that is about 33 x 50 mm whereas more likely the final cover will be 152 x 228 mm (6″ x 9″) in size.
  • There is a disconnect between cover and contents. A schism between the cover and page design is not really acceptable (e.g., elaborate, ornate script on the outside with severe, clinical type inside) but it happens, and it need not matter. More problematic is if (say) the author’s name is written one way on the cover, another way inside. Or (heaven forbid) misspelt. Likewise, if one of the editors drops out and the cover designer isn’t informed.
  • The spine width is wrong. Another disconnect. The final extent of the book determines the spine width. If the total number of pages change, then the spine width needs adjusting (no problem – just needs to be communicated).
  • The cover illustration isn’t credited. Another disconnect. A cover photo credit perhaps should always go on the cover but this isn’t always possible or appropriate. But if the credit then fails to appear inside (in the list of illustrations) then there may be an unhappy copyright holder to deal with long after the book has been printed.
  • The back-cover text is too long or too short. The blurb written for the catalogue will probably be shorter than that on the back cover. Indeed, new text should really be written but it can easily happen that the catalogue text is recycled. Also, there may be an endorsement to be added (but which hasn’t yet been received from the fine folk in Editorial).
  • The author hates the cover. The cover image used in the catalogue wasn’t to the author’s taste but s/he was pacified with the assurance “Don’t worry, we’ll do something better later”. Later has now arrived and the author is still unhappy.

No, not simple matters at all, and hardly frivolous.


Once upon a time, covers were designed and created on huge pasteboards. No more. Everything is digital, everything delivered as a PDF file – in other words, in the same way as the inside pages of the book. Among other advantages, this allows authors to participate in the cover proofing process (if allowed by their publisher). But more about that later.

And that is the design and typesetting section finished. Next post, I move on to the proofing stage.

(Post #22 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Typesetting phases and outputs

12 February 2010

For the last two weeks, I have been blithely discussing what typesetting is and the issues relating to it but without actually describing what is produced. Time for a short overview before we move on a new thread of posts, on the proofing process.

A duet

Typesetting is not a single event in the production of the book pages; rather, it is a multi-phased process and one interwoven with that for the proofing of the book. In a sense, one could look at typesetting and proofing as a duet sung by a tenor and soprano.

Their ‘performance’ looks somewhat like this (but note that approaches do vary between presses):

  • Initial typesetting
  • Output of first proofs
  • First proofing
  • Completion of typesetting
  • Output of second (often the ‘final’) proofs
  • Second (or ‘final’) proofing and indexing
  • Output of print-ready copy
  • Final-copy check
  • Delivery of print files to the printer

Let’s look at the initial typesetting, its completion and briefly at how the proofs are output. More detailed descriptions of each of the proofing phases shall follow in my next thread of posts on proofing.

In addition, also required (and not mentioned above) is typesetting of the cover/jacket (more about that in my next post).

Initial typesetting

Practices differ between typesetters and another major factor is which typesetting software is used. However, likely steps are as follows:

  1. Finalization of the page design (as discussed here).
  2. Creation of typesetting documents meeting the design specification.
  3. Conversion of those input files not conforming to the page design/software requirements (e.g. image files changed from colour to monochrome and from JPEG to TIFF format).
  4. Marking up of text files with consistent paragraph styles that match those defined in the destination typesetting documents.
  5. Import and placing of text files in the typesetting documents.
  6. Assignment of paragraph and character styles to the text and any tables (or, if already done at step #4, then fine-tuning of styles).
  7. Import and placing of any image files in the typesetting documents (often this step is left until completion of typesetting).
  8. Generation of first proofs.

Proofing output

Not too many years ago, when typesetting was done on specialist machines, the initial proofs were output in galley form, i.e. as continuous text without any page breaks marked and printed out on what looked like giant-sized toilet paper. As the layout was finalized, the book would be paginated, subsequent proofs clearly showing the page breaks. These proofs, too, could be printed on long galleys or guillotined into their individual pages.

The output of today’s PC-based desktop publishing systems is utterly different, being based on the industry-standard PDF format (though other output formats are possible). Galleys are gone; everything is either printed on ordinary (A4 or US Letter) paper or output as PDFs. Moreover, there is little difference in the appearance of (say) the initial set of proofs and the final print files sent to the printer (not least, all proofs are paginated).

The shift to PDFs has been a revolutionary development for authors. This, however, is something I shall take up next week in a new section of posts detailing the proofing and indexing process. Proofing outputs are discussed in greater detail here.

Completion of typesetting

Just what is needed to be done to complete the typesetting process depends of course on if step 7 above was done during the initial typesetting or has been left until now. If the latter is true, then likely steps are as follows:

  1. Keying of any text changes from the first proofing.
  2. Import and placing of any image files in the typesetting documents.
  3. Re-evaluation of the likely extent of the book including space for the index (not yet prepared, of course).
  4. Possible adjustment of the page design (especially of the font size and line spacing) to meet the final extent set by the production editor.
  5. Pagination of the book (including subtle adjustments to line spacing, to the placement and size of tables and illustrations, etc. to save on – or add – a few lines here and there so that the target page count is indeed reached); the ideal is that each double-page spread has even page bottoms, its composition is evenly balanced and the overall effect is aesthetically pleasing.
  6. Finalization of any page-specific cross-references.
  7. Generation of second (often ‘final’) proofs.

After the return of any changes resulting from the final proofing and delivery of the index, typesetting concludes as follows:

  1. Keying of any text changes from the final proofing.
  2. Typesetting of the index.
  3. Generation of print-ready copy for checking/approval by press staff.
  4. Delivery of print files to the printer.

Time then (almost) to move on to the proofing and indexing of your book but first let’s return to your cover and its finalization.

(Post #21 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Letting go

11 February 2010

Letting go is not easy, whether you are a parent or an author (or both). This is quite understandable. While it is human to hold tight to (and be protective of) your children, the critical (and often treacherous) nature of the academic world teaches us to be equally guarded with our research results. Fear turns many a scholar into a serial polisher of his text, forever hesitating to expose it to possible ridicule or theft.

Ultimately, however, you have to let go. No child can grow and thrive if still clamped in their parent’s embrace, nor a scholarly work shine if hidden in a dark, lonely drawer.

Separation may be a lengthy business. And the angst begins early, already during the writing process. For many authors, the hardest stage here is to

  • actually finish the manuscript
  • place the last full stop
  • recognize that this is as good as it is going to get and that any more fiddling about with the text will add only time without contributing quality
  • let go and send your final words out into the world to stand or fall on their own merits.

That can be very difficult indeed.

The ripping feeling intensifies during editing. This, you are told, is your last chance to make sure that the text is just as you want it. From this point onwards, any changes to your text will be met with the greatest reluctance by your editor. Slowly but irrevocably, the book – your baby – is slipping beyond your grasp.

It is at typesetting, however, that the separation becomes irrevocable. As noted earlier, it is at this stage that your material is converted to other formats. Text and image files are placed in the typesetting ‘container’; essentially, there is no longer any live link between these files and the text and images found in the typeset book. As such, any changes to (say) your original Word files and JPEG images are pointless. All changes to the book’s text or illustrations can only be made by the typesetter.

And, as we shall see in a forthcoming post on proofing, chances are that the typesetter will be reluctant to make ‘unnecessary’ changes without an extra (penalty) payment.

Time to let go, indeed.

(Post #20 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Copyright problems

6 February 2010

Remember the picture of Michelle Obama we talked about earlier? I hope that it is your photo, or you have otherwise received permission to use it. Otherwise, you and your production editor (who has not been doing his job properly) could be in deep doggies.


Because by the time that your text and image files have been delivered to the typesetter, any questions about copyright and permissions should have been resolved long ago. Certainly, your typesetter will not be asking any questions about your right to this image (or, for that matter, your right to quote 15 pages word for word from Dreams of My Father).

No, and the first anyone may realise there is a problem is when a big fat lawsuit lands thud in your publisher’s letterbox. By then it will be too late – and by then you may get to learn that certain clauses in your contract are not just words:

4.1    The Author warrants to the Publisher that the Work is original and previously unpublished; that the Author has the sole right to publish it; and that in no way whatever does it violate any existing copyright.
4.2    If any material is to be reproduced in the Work to which the Author does not have copyright, the Author is responsible for obtaining the permission of the copyright holder for the reproduction of this material. Any expenses incurred in this connection must be borne by the Author.

§ 5 Other Legal Obligations
5.1    The Author warrants to the Publisher that the Author has the full power to enter into this Agreement, that the Work contains nothing that exposes the Publisher to legal action, and that all the statements contained therein purporting to be facts are true to the best of the Author’s knowledge. […]
5.2    If the Author breaches the warranties made in §4.1 and §5.1, the Author shall indemnify the Publisher against any consequential loss, injury or damage occasioned to the Publisher or the Publisher’s business partners, including any legal costs or expenses and any compensation costs and disbursements paid by the Publisher on the advice of their legal counsel to compromise or settle any claim.

These clauses are from the standard NIAS Press contract. By no means are they unusual. And essentially they mean that, if you have dropped your publisher in the legal doggies, you can be pretty certain that you’ll be hung out to dry. Bankrupted. Fired. Humiliated.

The long and short of it is that, even if it is your production editor’s job to check that you have cleared any permissions required for the use of copyright material, ultimately it is your responsibility that this has been done. Likewise, if you are to get round the copyright issue by getting (say) a map redrawn, that too should have been done by now.

Better get moving, right now.

(The ins and outs of copyright and permissions will follow in a later post. This is just a wee reminder, warning you not to leave this matter any later.)

(Post #18 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Image problems

2 February 2010

Perhaps I embarrassed you in my earlier post about unhelpful formatting. Sorry, I was actually trying to be (er) helpful.

But it is not only your text that must be delivered in a suitable format; so, too, must any illustrations. I briefly touched on this issue earlier with the cover design but essentially your image files must be usable – both readable and, for bit-mapped (rasterized) images, of a sufficient resolution (at least 300 dpi in its final dimensions).

If you are delivering any vector-based images, these of course can be scaled without problem (resolution is not the issue here). However, to avoid any readability problems for the typesetter, make sure that these images are in EPS format rather than the proprietary format for the software you use (most likely Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw), especially since these programs can save files in EPS format.

Image readability/suitability is something that most likely your production editor will check as a matter of routine but you will not want to make a last-minute confession to her about the key illustration in your book being unusable (it is so grainy, it looks as if it were made with Lego blocks).

Such horror pictures cannot be fixed (well, not satisfactorily). Neither your editor nor the typesetter is a magician; they cannot fix everything. More to the point, they have better things to do with their time.

As such, if you have images in need of a bit of time, love and care (and you cannot provide this yourself), then I suggest you find yourself a technically savvy friend to optimize your images to the highest quality before you deliver them to your publisher.

(Post #14 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

File conversion errors

1 February 2010

A key point with typesetting is that (as mentioned earlier) all of the text and image files are imported into a ‘container’ and then manipulated there. Little may be done to an imported illustration apart from resizing or cropping (all the other enhancement work has already been done in an image editing program like Photoshop; indeed, this will usually be where any further editing is done, the typesetting file simply updated with the revised image file).

In contrast, the imported text is converted at import and in most cases any dynamic link to the original text file is lost.

Errors often occur with these file conversions. Use of special text (as discussed in my previous post) is often a cause of later grief but it isn’t the sole cause, however (indeed, we are sometimes totally mystified why this or that text corruption occurs). Here are a few examples:

  • Your fancy Arabic script, keyed in Word from right to left, may turn into left–right nonsense (though to anyone other than an Arabic specialist it still looks fine – it looks Arabic).
  • Macrons (like those above the ‘o’ here in Tōkyō) are relatively simple to key in Windows but can turn to junk on the Mac.
  • Italicized text becomes roman.
  • Superscript characters (e.g. note markers in the text) become normally aligned.
  • There may be a software bug in the typesetting program that arbitrarily changes certain character combinations to something else (a recent bug in InDesign – since corrected – changed certain characters to a full stop; this was tricky to pick up).

Obviously, conversion errors can also happen with image files but this is far less common.

The typesetter keeps an eye open for such conversion errors but ultimately it will be your responsibility at the proofing stage to pick up any such problems. I’ll return to this in a later post.

(Post #13 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Typesetting issues

28 January 2010

Even if the nature of typesetting (discussed in my previous post) is of little concern to you and other authors, chances are that you will be affected by the typesetting process. Indeed, now may be the time for nasty surprises, for the thunder of giga-tonne chickens coming home to roost.


Up to this point, at the moment of typesetting, it is not unknown for a press to have no clue at all about the state of the text and image files to be used in a book it will publish. A common reason for such ignorance is that the press has relied on the author to key all the editorial changes to the text (or, as happens with some presses, the deal is that the author delivers ‘clean’ text files ready for typesetting). And, to compound the problem, the production editor hasn’t thought to carry out a preliminary check on these files.

I hope that this is not your situation.

Why? Because it is often at this point – when all of the files are delivered for typesetting – that various ‘issues’ raise their ugly heads. In the following posts, I shall explore a few of these issues, namely:

And, to round off this section on design and typesetting, I shall discuss the issues of:

After which we shall proceed to the proofing stage.

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