6 Action Tips to Speed Up Your Book Production

by | Jan 3, 2011

Publishing has traditionally been a slow process. Sometimes authors are surprised to learn that it may take one and a half to two years before their book is published by a traditional publisher.

You can certainly improve on that pace by self-publishing, and one of the compelling reasons that some people self-publish is to get a book on a timely subject out and on sale more quickly than their competitors.

But even for books without a time-sensitive topic, books can sometimes take a maddeningly long time to get to press. I have projects I’m working on right now that have been in process for a year or more.

Sometimes these long lead times are beneficial to the final book, because they give time to fact check, to thoroughly edit, proofread and correct the manuscript. Or they may allow peer reviewers and other interested third parties time to write testimonials or introductions, prepare long critical reviews or other tie-ins that can have a big effect on the success of a book launch.

One of the principal reasons books can take months to complete is the “domino” effect. You have to finish the manuscript before you can hand it to an editor, who has to edit the whole book before it can go to a designer for layout. Then the entire book has to be incorporated into a page proof before it can be proofread, and all corrections and pagination have to be adjusted before the book can be indexed.

Book Production That’s Up to Speed

There are still some key actions you can take that will help your book move smoothly through the production process and waste as little time as possible getting into print.

Here are 6 ways to get your book completed and in print faster:

  1. Take care of the “go-backs”—Books take a long time to organize and write. Usually there will be places you’ve skipped over with the idea that you’ll “go back” and take care of it later. The specific things we leave until later are usually problems we don’t want to take the time to deal with at the moment. Of course, that means they are going to take some time at the end as well. And if you leave a lot of “go backs” to go back to, you can find yourself with a heap of work that you didn’t remember.
    Action: Carefully review your manuscript for things left undone and take care of them before beginning production.

  2. Get third party contributions early—Often authors have the idea of asking a third party to write an Introduction or a Preface for their book. This is a great idea that can help give your book credibility and a push in the market. But authors may need substantial amount of time to write these pieces, even if they have committed to do so. You’ll be dealing with their schedule as well as your own.
    Action: Get an early version of your manuscript ready well before book production starts. Use this “first draft” to solicit contributions. Waiting for a “perfect” version is likely to cause you some delays down the line.
  3. Take care of permissions—While writing, authors might make a “mental note” of material they may need permission for. Unfortunately these often pop up as unfinished business when the book goes to editing. Getting permissions can be quick, or it can be agonizingly slow, requiring multiple requests or licensing payments before permission is given.
    Action: During your manuscript review keep an eye out for lengthy quotations, graphics copied from other sources, song lyrics (watch out for that one) and other material that may need permissions and get them started early in the process.
  4. Have some parameters—Depending on your aims for your book, you may need to have the book conform to some specific set of parameters. Are there accepted standards within your genre your book should adhere to? Are there restrictions on how long the book should be? If your layout person hands you a proof of your title “A Quick Look at Today’s Movies” and it’s 600 pages long, you may have a problem.
    Action: Get in touch with a book designer or a book shepherd early in the process. They will be able to give you a rough idea, based on the word count of your manuscript, how long your book is likely to be.
  5. Get your graphics in order—If your book will have charts, graphs, diagrams, photographs, drawings or any other elements that won’t be produced typographically, make sure to discuss these with your book designer early in the process. Unfortunately it’s all too common for a book to go into production only to get held up because the graphics were produced by someone who doesn’t know the requirements of print production, or they were output at a low resolution, or the files are too small to create the size you want in the book, or any number of other problems that can cause you to grind to a halt.
    Action: When you have that meeting with your book designer, make sure you show her the actual files you plan to use, or explain the process you’ll use to generate the files and provide a sample. You’ll get invaluable guidance that will help prevent hang-ups later.
  6. Assemble your team as early as possible—Okay, this one is a challenge for most self-publishers. The time to interview book designers, illustrators, cover artists and book marketing and publicity people is well before you go into production. Many of the decisions you’ll be making early in the process affect these areas, and if you wait until you’re ready to go into production you’ll actually be missing out on some of the best advice these professionals can give you.
    Action: Get recommendations and get your team together as early as possible. Publishers have the luxury of having all these people on staff. We don’t, so try to have them in place and up to speed on your project as early as possible. A small investment now will pay dividends as you move toward your publication date.

Smooth the way for the book production part of your project. Take care of these loose ends and you’ll be well on your way to getting up to speed and on your way.

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by sidewalk_flying, https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidewalk_flying/5124506505/

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Stephen Tiano

    I’ve been fortunate, Joel. At least I consider it a good ratio. About half the time I’m able to have it my way. So to speak.

  2. Leslie

    I found this advice from Indesign expert, Ann-Marie Concepción, to be very helpful. She describes a procedure for stripping out unused or inconsistently used styles in Word. I’ve used these techniques countless times. In addition, you can save the final Word rtf file as text only without formatting.
    The link is here. https://www.designgeek.com/degunkifying-word-files

    • Joel Friedlander

      Leslie, thanks very much for the link. I’m a big fan of Ann-Marie (and Dave Blatner, too). I never came across the “maggie” method before but I’m sure I’ll get a chance to try it fairly soon. My usual solution for troublesome files, if they don’t have too many styles, is to dump them to .txt and then reimport, which will wipe everything. You just have to be careful of local formatting you actually want to keep.

      • Leslie

        I will try your technique as well. Thanks for clarifying the difference between paragraph and local formatting. Yes, you want to keep the italics which should be formatted as character styles.

        • Joel Friedlander


          The local formatting, particularly italics, bedeviled me for years until I found the character style in InDesign. Since you can search for ital in both Word and InDesign, there are cases where I’ll flag the Word codes, go to .txt and then replace them with character styles in InDesign. But that’s only for extreme cases.

  3. Stephen Tiano

    Biggest time savers I know of are for text files to have no styling applied and for the author to supply a printout of the manuscript with everything marked on the text–heads, italics, lists, etc.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Stephen, I’ve been trying to get authors to stop doing all that “local formatting” but it’s pretty hard. And I’d love to get a detailed mark up, but I haven’t seen one in a couple of years. Thanks for adding to this conversation.

  4. Pilar Wyman

    When it comes to your team, not only should you include printers in your planning, as well as proofers and designers, but also indexers — especially if your book is nonfiction. All of us need to be involved in the production process from the get-go. Advance notice so we can plan and prepare for you are critical, as well as having as much familiarity with your book as possible.

    Great post.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Good point, Pilar, thanks for that. You really can’t do too much advance planning, it will make your project run that much better.

  5. Patricia Benesh


    Great advice.

    Getting a team together–early–is essential–as well as identifying the printing company to be used. I’ve had clients change printing companies mid-stream which causes huge delays.

    I’d suggest clients have a realistic schedule of work for the “must-haves”–such as professional proofing, cover design, and interior design.

    Also, I’d add an “other” category. Identifying anything different or unusual about the book that could cause delays or difficulties.

    Much food for thought.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Trish,

      Some more great ideas to add to the “list.” Deciding on a printing plan early in the game will certainly save headaches and delays later. Thanks!

  6. Leslie

    This is great advice!

    I would like to add that some self publishers don’t realize that books are printed in signatures of 16 pages. (or sometimes sigs. of 32 pages for image driven books) It’s best to decide on a page count early on that is divisible by 8 so you don’t waste paper and have a bunch of blanks at the end.



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