16 June 2010

There are many types of printer, as we have seen, but your book is being printed for the first time. Chances are, then, that it will be printed by an offset printer, taking form in a rather scary, noisy place where huge lithographic printing presses tirelessly grab, ink and eject thousands of enormous sheets of paper every minute of the working day. Hell’s kitchen is not where the work begins, however, not where the print files for your book arrive from the publisher. No, the first stop is paradise.

Behind the double doors

More than likely, your print files will be delivered to the printer via the internet (though not by e-mail; the files are usually too large). But let’s pretend in your case that everything is on a DVD coming to the printer by courier.

Today, it’s Hasan making the delivery in his brightly painted courier van. He knows where to go, skirting the tumult of the print shop, dodging a fork-lift truck loaded with paper, and arriving at reception. Mrs Khoo is on the phone and, seeing the envelope and its contents description, silently begs that Hasan deliver it directly upstairs to the pre-press department. He doesn’t mind; Mrs Khoo looks just like his auntie.

The din of the printing presses follows Hasan up the stairs but, at the top, there are double doors. Behind them, all is hushed and a shoe rack reminds Hasan to remove his shoes; this is a clean zone sealed off from not just the noise but also the dirt of the outside world.

In front of him is what looks a bit like a gamer’s paradise: a series of rooms in which he glimpses big-screened Macintosh computers and all manner of other strange equipment. Nor are the people here like the solid, chunky guys wearing overalls you see downstairs; no, frankly, they look like office workers. Indeed, some of them could be the kids you see downtown in the video game arcades and internet cafes – nerdy types.

Welcome to the pre-press department.


Hasan has gone now, together with his shoes, but your book files remain and already they are being loaded onto the pre-press server.

Essentially, from this point, the PDF files delivered from the publisher are prepared for printing. A key process here is imposition, whose purpose is to remap the linear sequence of pages onto giant sheets of paper that ultimately will end up as 16-page signatures. This mapping is complicated because the original pages must be scattered, turned and placed on the sheet so that, when it is printed on both sides, folded and trimmed, the 16 pages appear in their correct sequence and orientation. The following diagram probably explains this better.

Just how the whole process is achieved depends a bit on how sophisticated the printing company is. Twenty years ago it was common for the typesetter to output to film, which was then manually imposed (or ‘stripped’) on a light table to create the sheets. (Indeed, camera-ready copy was also common at this time, i.e. laser-printed pages were cropped and stuck together inside a sheet-sized frame and then filmed.) Today, however, digital processes exist that quickly and accurately automate the imposition process.

Once the sheets have been created, the final printing plates can be made. Again, traditionally this was done via an intervening step using film but increasingly the direct computer-to-plate process is used. Whatever, the end result is a metal or paper plate on which a mirror image of each book page is etched and then – by the application or repulsion of ink – reproduced as a positive image on paper during printing.


The above description implies there is only a single plate used to print each side of the signature. But, if pages are coloured (i.e. more than black, white and shades of gray), then additional plates are needed. These days, typically four plates will be used, one for each of the CMYK process colours (cyan, magenta, yellow and black [key]) on which the printed colour spectrum is based. Otherwise or in addition, spot colours (specially mixed to a specific hue) may be used.

Should multiple colour plates be needed, then colour separation of the PDF files received from the publisher will need to be done as one of the first steps. Here is an example of how this might look:

Not so fast!

Once the printing plates are ready, your book is ready to print – yes? Well no, actually, because I’ve rather jumped ahead of things. At the time the signature files are created, specimen proofs are printed off and sent to the publisher for approval. I’ll describe these printer’s proofs in greater detail in my next post.

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

Index length

12 March 2010

Winter this year in Copenhagen has been cold and snowy (and I’m sick and tired of shovelling all that white stuff; the searing heat of Bangkok tomorrow should be a shock). Overcoats are seen here far more than is usual, some looking more comfortable than others. An index is like an overcoat: too small and its squeezes its wearer in a wrestler’s clamp, too big and it lets the cold air seep in underneath.

Knowing beforehand

A year or so ago, we hired someone to index one of our books. He was very good, very thorough, and also flagged up a number of typos and inconsistencies in the text that had been missed. There was a problem, however. The index delivered was 64 pages in length (about 23 typeset pages), the maximum amount of space available 12 pages. Drastic cuts were made.

A key lesson we learnt from this experience was to be (even more) clear about how long we expect an index to be. In your case, your production editor should know how many book pages are available for the index. Make sure that you are informed about this before you start indexing.


Is there any real limit to how long your index should be? Yes. In fact, there are several factors at play here.

  • Perception. Indexes are like books: if too short, they may be treated with disdain (a 2-page index may be seen as pathetic and laughable) but, if too long, they may be regarded as unwieldy and ‘over the top’.
  • What is physically possible. Books tend to be sized in multiples of 16 pages because that is how they are printed (on big sheets of paper holding 8 book pages on each side; more about book length here). If (say) the total extent of your final proofs is 276 pages including prelims, then no more than 12 pages will be available for the index (or 28 pages if an extra 16-page signature is to be used).
  • Flow-on effects. In the above example, no publisher will agree to an index that when typeset fills 13 pages and causes there to be 15 blank pages at the end of the book.
  • What has been announced. A 12-page index is quite reasonable, even generous. In the above example, it would be unlikely that an index longer than this would be permitted if the book has been announced as being 288 pages in length.

Calculating size

Of course, there is a confusion and potential trap for you when I talk about ‘pages’ above. The number of typeset index pages is not the same as the number of ordinary (A4 or US Letter) pages on which you prepare your index in Word or another word processor.

Typeset indexes are generally set quite tight in a smaller font size and laid out in at least two columns whereas more than likely your index will be prepared in 12-point Times Roman with generous line spacing. As such, your typesetter should be able to fit a bit more than two of your word-processed pages onto one typeset page in the book.

As a rule of thumb, then, if told that you have (say) 8 pages available for the index, then you can count on having 17–18 pages in Word for your index (though obviously not single-spaced in a tiny font size).

If the amount of space is too little or (in some ways, worse) too much, then there may be an issue of what (how much) you are indexing, the subject of my next post. If so, re-evaluate your situation and – if not resolved – contact your production editor urgently.

(Post #7 of the Indexing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Mapping your study

10 March 2010

As I’ve said before on several occasions, an index is a mind map, the ‘visualization’ of your study as an alphabetical list. This map is implicit in the index but you can dramatically improve the coherence, balance and completeness of your index and the actual text of your book itself by making this map explicit.

In the act of plotting and drawing this map, often you will discover both repetitions and gaps in your text. Although you cannot at this stage record any page references against an index entry, nonetheless you will quickly see which entries are common (even over-represented) in your text and which are scanty or missing.

If these defects are found at the writing or even editing stages, there is little fuss in correcting the situation. Not so by the time of the final proofs, when it is virtually impossible to make such changes without the typesetter slapping a hefty fine on your publisher (a cost more than likely promptly passed onto you, as we have seen).

How you go about creating this mind map is a variant of the first and second indexing methods described in my next post, i.e. involving that you:

  1. Read through your text, highlighting words/phrases/paragraphs you wish to index and occasionally scribbling notes in the margin.
  2. Collate these colour dabs into an index skeleton (i.e. without any page references).
  3. Analyse this index skeleton in terms of coherence but also content, looking for repetitions and gaps in the entries.
  4. Rework the skeleton until it equates to a satisfying mind map of your book.
  5. Search your text again to see if any of the gaps in your index skeleton are truly missing or simply were overlooked in the initial highlighting of the text. Eventually, you will have reduced the problem to a core of gaps (and repetitions) in the entries.
  6. Analyse and adjust your text to deal with these gaps and repetitions.

Thereafter, depending on which indexing method you use and provided there are not too many resulting changes to your text, you could use this highlighted version of your study or the mind map to speed up the final indexing process (more about this in my next post).

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

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.)

How much can you change at proofing?

4 March 2010

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the mental shift required of authors in the transition from editing their manuscript to typesetting their book, of the need to let go, give their book its freedom. However, sometimes this shift only truly comes at the proofing stage when the author suffers a rude awakening about what changes are actually allowed. Suddenly, there is heard the discordant sound of money being demanded with menaces.

How can this be?

Typesetters must be paid

Today, more likely than not, the typesetter of your book isn’t someone beavering away in a dungeon beneath your editor’s executive suite. Rather, he is a freelancer whose office looks out on cows and crops somewhere out in the countryside or an employee of one of the big Indian outsourcing firms in an industrial park on the outskirts of Chennai. Either way, the typesetter is paid for his work – and often on a per-page basis, not by the hour.

(See here for more about typesetters – and designers – and how they tick.)

In these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that typesetters try to avoid being saddled with extra, unpaid work by threatening publishers with penalty charges. In turn, to protect itself, the press will seek to pass responsibility for any such costs over to the author.

Contractual consequences

Has your contract a clause something like this?

If so, you are in good company. This sort of wording is pretty standard among publishers. Indeed, sometimes it can all get quite mathematical. The terms of a contract may well include a maximum amount of proof corrections that authors can make at the publisher’s expense. Anything over and above that level will be charged back to them. What of course the press is doing here is to protect itself against any extra charges levied by the typesetter for ‘unnecessary’ changes.

While most publishers would accept some changes, please bear in mind that alterations to proofs are time-consuming, costly and can introduce further errors. Many typesetters thus charge publishers for every single correction apart from those that relate to fixing typesetting errors, not least those arising from the file conversion, as we have seen. (Not even typos are exempt; after all, these should have been picked up during copy-editing.) Charges can escalate rapidly, and eventually (as seen above) your own pocket could be at risk.

Proofing on a short leash

Perhaps because she doesn’t feel comfortable with this situation, your production editor is likely to work hard to avoid any possibility of such charges raising their ugly heads. Pre-emptively, she will do this by clamping down hard on what changes you are allowed to make to the proofs.

Arguably, this is quite reasonable. The time for resolving ifs and maybes was in the writing phase. Clarifications, restructuring and polishing your text belonged to editing, likewise any last-minute content changes. Thereafter, it is only reasonable to expect that the text delivered for typesetting is final. Consequently, your job now is only to correct any typesetting errors but otherwise to make no changes.

That’s all very well and good but, out in the real (scholarly) world, something pertinent to your text may well have happened that absolutely must be mentioned in your book, or there could be typos and factual errors that (true) should have been but were not picked up in the editing process. As I said above, most publishers would accept many such changes but expect that the patience of your production editor will rapidly wear thin. Some leeway will be given with the first, unpaginated proofs but almost nothing with the final, paginated proofs.

As for feedback on (and suggested changes to) the page design, something that I raised as a possibility here during the first proofing and that I’ll elaborate on in my next post about the final proofs, expect that here especially you will encounter quite stiff resistance.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still take a step back and look at your book with a critical eye. You can be sure that others after publication will be doing the same. You may not win the argument in every respect but you could still achieve a better look for your finished book.

(Post #8 of the Proofing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Making proof corrections

3 March 2010

Now is the time for you to advise your production editor of any corrections and other changes to the first set of proofs. As we shall see, there are several ways in which this can be done. At this point, the issue of how many changes you can make may raise its ugly head. This delicate matter is discussed in a later post. At the same time, someone else may be proofing your text.

Author corrections

When marking changes to the proofs, follow your publisher’s instructions carefully. Possibly you will be expected to mark the actual printed pages, using proof-reading marks as in this sample. Some publishers even require their authors to mark the text using a special colour (red ink, for instance).

(Common proofing marks are listed in my next post.)

Let’s face it, however, these proofing marks aren’t that easy to remember. Many authors will prefer to annotate the proofs with their own system of marking up. If your production editor is reasonable, this shouldn’t be a problem provided the annotations are clear and consistent.

A common alternative to marking up the printed proofs is to prepare a simple list of changes. This can be written in a text file and sent to the publisher as an e-mail attachment or even written directly in an e-mail, as in this example.

And increasingly authors are using the commenting features now available with Adobe Acrobat and Acrobat Reader (and illustrated here).

Publisher’s proofing

At the same time that you are preparing your author corrections, chances are that someone else hired by your publisher will be proofing the text as well. This could be an in-house editor, the copy-editor (an attractive proposition as s/he is already familiar with the text) or a professional proof-reader.

Again, the results may be advised to your production editor in various ways but the key difference from what you have advised is that the proof-reader doesn’t necessarily know what is correct. Yes, typos and the like can be corrected but often cases of inconsistent spelling/usage can only be flagged up.


Thereafter, your production editor will need to reconcile the two sets of proofs to avoid the typesetter receiving contradictory sets of instructions. Obviously, as part of this reconciliation, any inconsistencies in your text spotted by the proof-reader will be referred to you for clarification.

Thereafter, everything is returned to the typesetter, who will then begin finalizing the layout of your book and returning a second (usually final) set of proofs.

(Post #6 of the Proofing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Who proofs

27 February 2010

I believe that my last post established the need to proof your book. The question is, who should be put to do this tedious work? You. Sorry, but that’s how it is. Your involvement is unavoidable.

The buck stops here

Whether or not your publisher proofs your book (and my guess is that most do, sometimes by employing an outside professional proof-reader), the ultimate responsibility for checking the proofs lies with you. Subsequent book reviewers may sniff at the failure of the publisher to properly edit your book, but you will be blamed for making the original error.

Likewise, the typesetter keeps an eye open for the conversion errors discussed in my last post but ultimately it will be your responsibility at the proofing stage to pick up any such problems.

Why? To be sure, there is the wider issue of whose work is this (an issue I should have addressed under editing and will get back to). But ultimately it is your book that is being published. You own it, you too are responsible for its success. And, as such, in the words of Harry Truman, ‘The buck stops here’.

Avoiding humiliation

A sense of personal ownership and responsibility may not be the only motivation, of course. A powerful – and personal – reason for authors wanting their books properly proofed before printing is to avoid later embarrassment (not to say humiliation).

All of us will have suffered the temporary humiliation of discovering we have spent the whole evening at some public event with our trouser buttons undone, a breadcrumb dangling under our nose, whatever. But longer lasting, even more public humiliations are waiting in ambush, promising ever after to haunt you. The most damaging of these for an academic author can be the book review.

Seriously, would you want a review of your book to conclude on this note?

Correspondingly, editing seems to have played almost no role in the production of this book. Countless grammatical mistakes and other errors mar the text. Important and commonly used words are misspelled, such as ‘dominos’ [sic] (p. 117).  There are also numerous small errors of fact and usage – sometimes the author mistakenly refers to Walter W. Rostow (pp. 5, 8, 129), and at other times, correctly, to Walt W. Rostow (p. 121); in one paragraph (p. 12) the author refers correctly to “the Tengku,” meaning Abdul Rahman, but a few lines later, confusingly, to “the Tungku” (a “tungku” is a trivet or brazier). These errors aside, the author has identified a topic of genuine importance, and his new book will no doubt stimulate much additional scholarship.

Mind you, the above review may not be fair; this may be yet another carping book review for which there is a long tradition in the academies. I have no idea in this case. Fair or not, such a public drubbing is not exactly a great career booster (or a good way to start the week).

(I should add that one review of our own book wasn’t much better. Again, the chief complaint was that the proofing wasn’t up to scratch.)

Not your business

One set of proofs you need not concern yourself – the printer’s proofs. These are output during the printing stage and are not something that authors tend to be involved in. (That said, there are some types of book – art books, for instance – where it might be appropriate for authors to be consulted.) More about these proofs later.

But otherwise

However, what I am discussing now is your involvement in the typesetting or author’s proofs, the so-called first and final proofs. These are another matter.

Here, at this stage, not to proof your book would be a criminally stupid waste of all the hours you have put into its creation. More to the point – as you will find out the longer you are involved in publishing your research – publishers know their stuff but it is always you, the author, who knows your stuff. Look after it.

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