Domino Wrap-up: Book Packager Reflects on Fears of Falling

flickr_jasonlangheine_162041457_4bff374e3b_z-resized-600.jpg.pngA book producer’s work requires juggling many complex challenges. We know that, and you’ll hear no arguments from our clients, but too many potential clients decide—or are instructed—to take on the same assignment on top of their own full-time jobs. When they finally come to us for help, it is often too late to salvage the situation in time to meet their original deadline in a cost-efficient way.

So back in mid-August, we embarked upon a seven-part series of blogs loosely referred to as “The Toppling Dominoes.” We thought the best way to convey these various challenges was to describe each step in the book-production process by means of real-life examples of how the potential stumbling blocks we’ve faced along the way actually had impacts on projects and how we handled them. (Something like the grueling “My Problem and How I Solved It” series Good Housekeeping magazine issued in the 1960s—a harbinger of so-called reality TV decades later.)

We have been producing publications for close to twenty years, and still each new project brings its own set of unforeseen—sometimes original—glitches, large and small. Because Vern Associates approaches each book as a brand new entity with its own unique story that determines many specific elements of the processes and skills required, we recognize up front that the challenges inherent to any given project will only reveal themselves over the course of the publishing process.

“Toppling Dominoes” illustrates how the success of the finished product relies on how well each element in the publishing process is acquitted, and just like the movement of a long line of falling dominoes, problems that start out slowly gain momentum exponentially as they threaten to infect each successive stage right up to the culmination of the work.

Looking back, it should have come as no surprise that,in one way or another, each of the sticky situations we addressed in this series arose due to lapses in communication. In addition, it became clear that by dealing directly with the misunderstandings, we managed to resolve each glitch in time and on (or extremely close to) budget. The following recap tracks the dominos from the earliest threat of tipping until the those that presented themselves at the last possible moment.

Concept development and pre-manuscript setup: Manuscript development requires more time than any other single step in the process of creating an anniversary history, and it can take weeks or even months to discover that a writer’s narrative has gone seriously off the track. Making up that time is difficult, if not impossible, so the search for the right author requires detailed scrutiny extending well beyond examining CVs, reading clips, and talking to candidates’ previous editors. To do it effectively, time for such research must be built into the schedule up front, and ideally the search culminates with one or more face-to-face meetings between author candidates and client.

Line editing: If you make the right choice in the foregoing phase, it may be possible to skip this stage entirely. When the writer is on track, providing the kind of manuscript you require in an appropriate tone, on schedule, and in sufficient depth, playing police and checking up on the work is seldom necessary. But if the writer does not have the expertise needed, or has skimped on research time, or has taken the wrong tack overall, it’s crucial to correct such misdirection up front. A good line editor can rescue an errant manuscript from having to be scrapped entirely.

Copy editing: It’s a sad comment on contemporary publishing that many books go straight to type,” which means that somebody runs Spell-Check on the digital file the author provides, then the publisher jumps right to type output, skipping copy editing entirely (and, in some cases, proofreading as well). But what if your mandate is to provide accurate, well-expressed copy that doesn’t distract with its numerous typos and (often hilarious) misstatements? In our view, copy editing is always necessary, but even when done conscientiously, a book can incur ridicule due to mishandling that delicate balance between copyeditor and author, particularly when the latter is deeply in love with his or her own prose.

Book design: The potential for miscommunication during the progression from initial, information-gathering client meetings and the critically important first design presentation is enormous. If the client is not sure about what they want—or worse, if he has a set picture in mind, but cannot aptly convey it in words—very bad things can happen, disrupting the entire forward motion of the project. Get it wrong the first time, and client confidence can erode very quickly.

Prepress: Early on in every project, the series of printing-related procedures that occur prior to going on-press demands careful delineation. If these details are too amorphous and broadly defined, the book’s progress can be tripped up, causing slowdowns that can be ill-afforded in the best situations and work stoppages that scuttle schedules in the worst. Until the project’s specific requirements are fully understood, the risk persists of poorly seated dominos tumbling over and tripping any of several important switches, sometimes in concert.

Printing, binding, and delivery: procedures center on knowing how to deal well with the selected vendors—printer, binder, shipper, customs broker, distributor, etc.—and clear, direct, and timely communication from the project’s outset, so that everybody is aware of and prepared for every particular requirement and especially any atypical circumstances that could receive “business as usual” treatment if sufficient prior notice has not been provided.

Photo: Jason Langheine

Topics: editorial services, illustrated book design, book production, communications, communicating, content, writers, manuscript preparation