House Tour: Production

Our tour continues today as we walk away from the editorial department (finally!) and into production.

In my incredibly biased opinion, production is the department that will make or break a book. Without a quality production staff, a book is going to struggle to make its way into the hands of a reader. Want proof? Browse your bookshelves and see how many books you first pulled off the shelf just because there was something about the cover or spine that struck you. Next, head to good ol’ social media and read how many memes talk about the joy of pretty books. Finally, take a tour of Amazon or your favorite ebook retailer and see how many times you find yourself clicking on an ugly cover to get more information about a book.

Being a good book sells books. Being a good book that is pretty sells a lot of books.

The production department is very often involved at acquisition, as they will be consulted to calculate a production budget during the process of creating a P&L statement for the title. However, their real work will not begin until later in the process.

Usually at the tippy top of this department is a managing editor. Don’t let the name fool you—they rarely go flipping through manuscripts. Instead, they oversee the production of a book from start to finish, making sure the book stays on schedule and on budget, which is incredibly important for maintaining the company’s overall financial health and publishing list. This job often also entails overseeing any freelancers the company may choose to hire to design, proofread, copyedit, etc.

Beneath, or sometimes adjacent to the managing editor (it depends on the structure of the company beneath an operations executive), is your art director. This person oversees all of the work of the designers within the company, making sure their work does not conflict or create redundancies that will turn off customers or retailers.

Beneath them are the people that will have one of the biggest touches on your book: the designers. Whole articles could be written on the conflicts that often arise between authors and the designers assigned to them—but, spoiler alert, the designer will almost always win. This is because a designer has to not only try to marry any information they have about your book (often provided by the primary book editor) with what the art director and sales team will approve first. It is only then that they will turn the wishes of the author and try and find some potential accommodation.

The designer will put together numerous options for covers as well as some internal spreads, creating options for everything from color to graphic style to font to type size. The changes will be broad at first, slowly but surely narrowing down to perfection.

Hopefully by this time the editor has provided a final manuscript. The book is typeset and whisked away to copyeditors, who comb through the typeset to check for mistakes large and small that involve both the typeset and the content of the book. Then these edits are sent back for more typesetting and then perhaps even more copyediting. Eventually a proofreader is brought into the mix. A proofreader is *NOT* a copyeditor! They are less focused on finding errors in the manuscript itself. Instead, they are looking for errors specifically in the typesetting and the accurate implementation of the copyeditors edits by comparing the drafts marked with the copyeditors edits with the updated typesetting to make sure that nothing was missed, though they do have the opportunity to suggest other corrections should they find them. Some of these corrections, however, will have been suggested too late. Hello, randomly misspelled words in the middle of an otherwise perfect book!

When things are finally looking good—or when the managing editor is screaming bloody murder about a schedule about to be blown—the production department happily sends the little book on its way to a printer. It is essential that the managing editor coordinate this process with the printer, as most printing operations have tight schedules that are not easily rearranged. You miss your printing time, you might just miss your release date.  

Most printing these days takes place overseas in China. However, a few printers still lurk in the United States and other western nations. Though the western companies cannot match what Chinese printers offer in price or quality, they offer much faster shipping speeds. The budget and schedule for the book are often the determining factors when choosing between them.

And from there, well, your book is out in the world! Done.

But don’t let this fool you—we have barely touched the publishing house. While the production team is taking your book from manuscript to tangible, sellable object, there are many other teams at play who will help your book succeed.