Quick & Easy Book Production: Do You Know the Secret?

by | Nov 9, 2010

It never fails to surprise me. I realize that I should know better. Believe me, I’ve been down this road too many times, yet I still get caught flat-footed, my dream of a quick & easy book production vanishing into thin air.

You see, when I’m planning out a book, I’m looking for the best way to put it together. Since every book is different, this involves adjustments to a standard workflow for book production.

Look at the steps we have to go through:

  • Examine the manuscript
    It’s vital to know what’s in the book. While this is true for all books it’s particularly important for nonfiction books which are likely to involve more complex structures with parts, sections, chapters, notes and other elements like sidebars, graphics, tables, illustrations and other non-text material.
  • Analyze the formats used
    How many different unique formats will be required? Each has to be accounted for in the design scheme for the book, and it’s important to understand the way the author is presenting her information.
  • Verify a consistent hierarchy of information
    This is particularly important if you suspect the book was not edited by a professional book editor, who is trained to pay attention to subheads, section titles, and the need for consistency throughout the manuscript.
  • Look at the word processing files
    Some book files have been worked on for years, and by different people reviewing, marking up, revising and commenting on the files. Some of the material may have come from other publications and be patched together. All of these files contain varying amounts of “junk” codes that have to be eliminated.
  • Determine the optimal way to import the files
    Different books call for different strategies. Books heavy with complex drawings or lots of photographs may be split into individual chapter files to keep the file size down. Special characters, symbols or formats might be coded with search and replace functions in Word before being imported.
  • Prepare the files
    Once all of the preparation is complete, the routines are put into action to clean, and prep the files for import.

And About That Secret

This all seems very orderly and precise. And these initial steps have a lot to do with how smoothly your project will get to completion.

There’s only one problem: It never happens this way.

There’s a bomb waiting to go off, and it goes off almost every time. And you know what the bomb is?

The file you’ve been slaving over isn’t the final file.

Oh, you thought it was final. The author or publisher told you it was final. You believed them. But halfway through the book layout you find a chapter missing. Or this chapter has no subheads, while all the other chapters are full of them. Or every chapter has an epigraph, but Chapter 9 has a cartoon.

Or the author discovers the book is too long and decides to remove 30% of the copy. Or half the illustrations are still 72 dpi and can’t be used for print production. Or the author discovers the missing file with the rest of the endnotes. Or that last peer reviewer just got back from vacation and can’t we fit his essay in, too?

It doesn’t matter. What matters is that your project has gone off the rails, and you’re looking at re-doing all your lovely schedules.

The Secret to Quick & Easy Book Production

This is the single most important thing you can do to make sure your book production runs smoothly. It’s the difference between staying on schedule and on budget, and the books that end up months late and costing more than they really should have.

So here’s my message: The biggest secret to quick & easy book production is this:

Make sure the final manuscript file you release for production is actually the final, finished, fully corrected, consistent, edited, and ready-to-go-just-the-way-it-is file.

That’s it. Now you know the secret too, and I’m sure all the books we publish will go without a hitch. Won’t they?

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by hans van rijnberk, https://www.flickr.com/photos/hansvanrijnberk/

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Michael N. Marcus

    The first book that I wrote and showed to my father took 50 years from conception to publication. It has 308 pages. Pop said he really liked page 304.

    That was the last time I showed him a book. After he died I dedicated a book to him.

    • Greg

      Michael and all,
      Thanks – trouble is he’s a serial entrepreneur with a degree in journalism.

  2. Greg

    Do you know what it’s like showing your father (Michael I’m just short of you by 3 years) your new edition, the one that took six months, countless revisions, finding a printer (good one in Charlotte), set up the marketing, get the first hundred (send them out) and HE opens the book and says “here on page three did you mean to write ‘en’ or ‘an’ . . . . urghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh##.
    Thanks Joel, love your work

  3. Maggie

    “Okay, Maggie, I guess you can bill me for that new keyboard.”

    Ohh, this means I get a new laptop! I’m calling MacConnection right away.

    • MacConnection

      Great article, Joel! Excellent insight and funny, too! We are in a continual production cycle with all of our catalogs and publications, so we definitely understand *process*. We’re going to tweet a link to your article @MacConnection. And Maggie—thanks for the shout out so we could read along. Let us know if we can help you find that new laptop!

  4. Maggie

    Joel, I’m going through your list, drinking my morning tea and nodding in agreement at all that needs to be done to a client’s file … then I get to the big SECRET … and now I’m cleaning tea off my keyboard.

    Thanks for the truth and for the laugh. Great way to begin the day.

    I’ve cleared the decks of work$work and am ready to tackle the revisions to my novel that my agent is waiting for, except my muse is still laughing over the *secret*.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Okay, Maggie, I guess you can bill me for that new keyboard.

      Great to hear you’ve got another novel on the way, congrats on getting this far in the process. I hope you’ll let us know when it comes out.

  5. Michael N. Marcus

    I really don’t think “Quick & Easy Book Production” exists. My own production is taking longer and becoming more complex.

    My father used to have a sign on his office wall that said something like, “If you think you understand what’s going on, you have not grasped the complexity of the situation.”

    Since I format and edit simultaneously and continuously, I can’t order my “client” to provide a final file, as you can.

    I originally planned to self-pub exactly one book for friends and family. But now that I’ve done a dozen and have about six in the pipeline for the future, I have to deal with such “adult” concepts as production schedules and workflow.

    I can no longer rely on my memory and Post-it notes to keep track of cover versions, who’s editing what, which books need new illustrations, which pBooks need eBooks, etc.

    I’m scheduled to become 65 next spring and thought I’d be retiring — not running a new business.

    OTOH my father’s father sold his business to another company when he was 80. He was forced to retire at age 85, and within a few months he was in a nursing home, and then dead.

    He told us he had no reason to get up in the morning.

    Last year my father announced that there was nothing left on his to-do list, and he was ready to die, and he did (at 86).

    It’s important to have a reason to get out of bed — and I think writing and publishing are great reasons. I get out of bed to start at 3:30 a.m. — but that’s probably not right for normal people.

    Michael N. Marcus
    –Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: https://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html
    –“Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),” https://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750

    • Joel Friedlander


      Yes, “normal” people don’t write, edit and layout books simultaneously, that’s a very special category. But I admire the fact you’ve found a way of producing books that works for you. So I guess 65 is the new 45?

      • Michael N. Marcus

        >>So I guess 65 is the new 45?<<

        Yup. I'm part of the first cohort of the Baby Boom, along with Billy Clinton, Donny Trump, Dolly Parton, Georgie Bush and Candy Bergen. Under the new rules, we'll remain middle-aged until dirt is shoveled on top of us.

        Old farts like Mick Jagger, Tina Turner and Sophia Loren seem to be doing just fine.

        As for my multitasking… In 1964 (coincidentally the last year of the Baby Boom and the year when I graduated from high school) Marshall McLuhan proclaimed that "the medium is the message."

        I can't separate the two.



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