Archives for posts with tag: Book publishing

I hate getting shrink-wrappped advances.  If I wanted the book shrink-wrapped I would have said so on my order.  I know that manufacturers cannot resist the temptation to select “good” copies to send to the publisher, but I want the advance copy to represent the same object that’s going to be received in the warehouse: not one that was selected as “better” than its neighbors and then shipped to me in kid gloves so that I’d love it.  If the jacket is going to rub in transit, I’d like to know that as soon as possible, not when someone in the warehouse decides to put a hold on the inventory for checking.

It also happens that I hate taking the shrink-wrap off books: I can never figure out what’s the best way to do this.  True it doesn’t take very long to break in, but if you multiply that by the number of advances we typically get, and the extrapolate that over a year, and all the members of your department . . . well call me crazy, but I think that’s a measurable waste of time.

I once told my major supplier that if I received another shrink-wrapped advance, I’d never send them another order.  I never got another.

I do think that advances should be properly checked.  I like to look at every page on at least one copy and flick though all the other copies.  Check the stamping on the spine, and the squares.  Hold the book by its boards and see if it stays snugly in the case when you dangle it parallel to the desk.  If there’s something wrong with the book I want to be the first person to know it.  Nothing, to my mind, makes you look more incompetent, than having someone else point out to you a glaring error, like say a blank page 97, on a book which you have approved.  Check your advances and you may even be able to stop the shipment before it goes, or at least get it turned around before it’s received.

On the face of it it’s really a bit odd to start our books off with a page which adds nothing to the package.  After all, you know the title by the time you reach this page.  And just by turning the page you are able to reach a much fuller version of the same thing.  Why do we persist in adding a half-title?

The origin of the half-title, insofar as we can really know these things, goes back to the earliest days of book manufacturing: printed books would be stored as folded sheets until they were bought by customers, who would then arrange for hand binding on their own account.  If the first page in the stored book block was the title page, there was a risk of its getting dirty or even torn.  So the idea developed of protecting it by an additional leaf.  In order to identify what followed, the practice grew up of writing the title on the outside, and from there it was a small step for some bright spark to come up with a page carrying a typeset ID.  We are all bound by conventions we none of us suspect, so a book without a half-title just looks wrong to us.

The oddness is compounded by the growing habit of including a second half-title at the end of the front matter (which is usually called “prelims” in Britain).  We started doing this in order to beef out a book to fill an even working, but it now seems to have become a standard item in the make up of books from some publishers.  With sheetfed printing of short run books, even workings were more significant, and we developed a number of techniques to avoid blanks.  We used even to resort to the last-minute addition of Part title pages which were not included in the pagination.  But the extra half-title at the end of the front matter was always a nice two pages you could gain without effort.  Publishers for some extraordinary reason seem to regard blanks at the back of a book as an affront.  I’ve never met the reader who said “I’m not buying this book because it has too many blank pages at the back”, but maybe I’ve led a sheltered life.  I was always happy enough with blanks:  in my time I’ve added four blanks at the front and ten at the back of a book without batting an eyelid — well, maybe just batting it once or twice.

Originally the half-title was called the “bastard title”.  This is just the word used in the sense of inferior, or debased origin.

At our boss’s coffee mornings we used to jockey for the manuscripts from those editors known to be more sensible, less trouble.  Editors would also play the same game, doing what they could before the meeting to lobby for this or that production controller for their latest ms.  Being at that time a part-time editor, part-time production controller, I used to be able to secure all the manuscripts of that most cooperative of editors, myself.  I was able to keep a foot in both these camps because of the strange circumstances surrounding the firing of Tony, the best production controller CUP ever had.  This was indicated by his being chosen to work on The Cambridge History of Iran, a project who’s in-house editor was also the head of Production and thus Tony’s boss.  One Friday Tony took the maps for the latest volume of Iran home with him so he could work on them over the weekend.  He stopped at a colleagues’ house on the way as he was having a house warming party.  Convivial Tony left without the maps which were gnawed in the night by mice.  Our passionate boss fired Tony for this irresponsibility before he remembered the hiring freeze that had recently been declared.  The most dispensable editor was clearly me, so I was moved into production while retaining those parts of my editorial duties which nobody else wanted to take on.

Hard at work

Across from Sue was Cheryl, my assistant, and facing her across my table – for I had disdained a desk – I would sit reading my Times.  Here’s a portrait by Jack Bowles, one of our designers, and a fast friend, showing me in action, flowing locks, platform soles, bell bottoms – looking pretty cool.  Behind and across from me sat John and Arthur, my fellow production controllers and another assistant.  My recollection is that we talked and laughed all the livelong day.

The way a book was produced was governed by a book of rules generated by a Work-Flow Committee made up of representatives of all departments and interest groups.  What a copyeditor does to a manuscript is in part determined by what decisions the designer makes, and the decisions the designer makes are to some extent determined by what the copyeditor does.  The Work-Flow Committee solved this dilemma in true committee style by having the manuscript go through the design and copyediting departments twice: so each could regard themselves as getting it first at least once.  Once the manuscript had traipsed its way to our coffee morning, the production controller would send it out for an estimate to the printer indicated by the boss, notionally in discussion with us all.  This you’d do by writing a letter.  “Dear Mr Williamson” – we were still pretty formal in the early seventies.  The manuscript, along with the type specs written out by the designer, and a sheaf of notes from the copyeditor, would be mailed to the printer.  You’d then wait.  After about four weeks you might write another letter asking if they’d received the manuscript, and whether they felt they’d be able to cast-off and estimate anytime soon.  After another couple of weeks you’d probably telephone and be told: “Oh yes, Mr Hollick, don’t you worry. I have the manuscript in my in-box, and hope to get to it very soon”.  When eventually we did get the estimate for typesetting and printing we’d give it to Derek and he’d do a working, showing what the entire job would cost.  This would go to the editor who would use it to get a decision on price and print quantity.  The Production Controller supposedly had some responsibility for the numbers, but because we never did the calculations we never had to confront the answer, so our cost-control activities were notional rather than real.  We just took what we got; and why not – changing the printer would have meant going back to the coffee morning and in effect telling your boss he’d made a mistake first time round.  And it was well known throughout the industry that we’d take whatever we were given, and that you could thus get an extra couple of pounds a page out of us.  Diffusion of control, exemplified by the democratic efforts of the Work-Flow Committee, while admirable in many ways, did unfortunately have the effect of increasing our costs.  The whole system was back to front: you found out what the most audacious supplier dared say it would cost, and based on that, figured out what the price and print quantity of the book would be.  A financially sound system would decide how many copies to print at what retail price, and based on that come up with a budget for the Production Controller to spend.

We all sat in a huge ground-floor room; one where they’d obviously had to give up on the problem of how to fit in partitions.  Derek sat in the far left corner, bounded by Trumpington Street and Mill Lane.  His desk had the aura of being surrounded with stuff, but actually there really wasn’t anything there except a few chairs and some paper.  He sat in front of an enormous adding machine: he did all our calculations.

At the other corner on the Trumpington Street side of the room sat Sue, who did reprints.  A good-looking girl, she seemed to gleam in the sun which poured in the window all morning.  An editor once complained to our boss that he couldn’t concentrate on his work because Sue tended to wear low-cut blouses, and the sight of her tickled his libido so much that the joys of secondary school geography could no longer compete.  Typically of the time Sue was instructed to button up.  These were after all the days, the early seventies, when women were first being allowed to wear trousers to work. Makes the heart swell to have lived through such times of revolutionary social change.

Really revolutionary was the fact that we actually had to employ someone to do reprints.  Prior to the seventies the idea that you might be forced into a reprint was one of those things that would keep an academic publisher awake at night.  When books were printed by letterpress you needed to set the metal type up into pages, and then impose these pages into large, impressively heavy, formes which would be inked, and have a sheet of paper pressed against them.  After printing enough copies, the type would be dissed (distributed) and the metal reused for other jobs.  Nobody could afford to keep all their books standing in type: the cost of the metal and the acres and acres of warehouses that would have been required made that unthinkable.  So if you had to reprint, you had to reset the book, which made the whole operation about as cumbersome as printing the book in the first place.  Now, as at that time we used to feel proud of ourselves if we were able to bring out a new book within a year, clearly reprinting was a serious commitment both of money and time.  Therefore it was rarely done.  (The need to completely reset the book each time it was printed is thus, obviously, what explains that delight of bibliophiles: typographical errors that appear in one “edition” and not in another.)

The University Printing House, where we placed most of our work, was living off a glorious tradition.  Under the guidance of Stanley Morison they had become the country’s premier book printer.  Letterpress printing had risen at the Press to heights rarely dreamed of since Gutenberg, and now three or four decades later, they knew that they knew how to print by letterpress.  And they knew that they knew that offset lithography was an inferior printing technology, which nobody but a jobbing printer would contemplate using.  Offset, in a nice instance of technological determinism, is what made reprinting viable, and led us away from the world where your aim on first printing was to print as many copies as you thought you could ever sell, to the current situation where the first printing can almost become a test marketing shot.  As the UPH’s largest customer, we tended to turn our corporate backs on offset too.  The Printing House did run some tests for us, and were able to prove to everyone’s satisfaction that they were right: offset could be printed horribly.

So we were a letterpress operation, with a few odd exceptions.  I did get to go down to Gloucestershire to see a job on press which was being printed by collotype: not too many people can say that.  Collotype involved eggs and sunshine, believe it or not.  But most of what we did in those days involved the indentation caused by impression of ink onto paper.  Once, or was it twice, a week we’d all meet in our boss’ office, have a cup of coffee, share out the new manuscripts, and report on progress on the books in production.  I remember being asked “Have you ordered the blocks for McElhinney’s colour plates?”  I replied that they were being printed by “litho”.  “That’s not what I asked.  Have you ordered the blocks?”.  In the end I just accepted the rebuke, and promised to make sure blocks were available at the appropriate time.

For those who don’t get the “joke”, blocks, known as cuts in USA, are the plates of metal onto which art, line or halftone, was engraved so that pictures could be printed by letterpress.  One of offset lithography’s advantages is that the art is just photographed and exposed onto the photosensitive plate, along with the text, where it prints by virtue of the antipathy of grease and water.  Offset lithography, normally called offset in USA or occasionally litho (rhymes in America with “pith oh”, sort of) was commonly called litho in England, where it sounds like “Lie so” said with a lisp.

Nothing beats the surge you get from coming on an old book folder that has a sig or two of blues in it.  That ammoniac smell takes you right back.  It is redolent of the successful completion of yet another job.

Blues, commonly called ozalids in UK, (Ozalid is actually a trademark in the USA) were the last proof you used to get before printing a book.  They were a cheap print made from the stripped-up negatives of the book (flats).  The flat was exposed to a sensitized paper, quickly “developed” and sent to the publisher as a proof that all was OK before plates were made from the same flat.  The paper was a creamy color and the type and illustrations appeared blue (the UK ozalid tended to be the opposite, a negative of the flat.  This was because of the right reading/wrong reading negative difference between the two sides of the Atlantic).

I always used to say that nobody with the word editor in their job title should ever be allowed to see a blue.  Editors regard a proof without any marks on it as a reproach — an indication that they were too sloppy to find the errors.  Of course by that stage in a book’s production, any correction would cost a fortune.  Thus it is probably only old production people who get weepy at the scent of a blue.

1.  “This is my book” = I am the author.

2. “This is my book” = I own it, I bought a copy.

3. “This is my book” = I am the publisher — I paid to create it.

4.  “This is my book” = I work for the publisher/printer/typesetter/literary agent responsible for creating this book (perhaps “our” would be more usual than “my” here).

5.  “This is my book” = This e-book is on the Kindle/iPhone/computer/e-reader that I own.

Does this tell us anything about the “book”?

Nos. 1 & 2 point to the difference between book as a container of ideas/culture, and book as a physical manifestation of this culture carrier.  War and Peace may be your favorite book, but the ratty paperback you have at home may be a horrid object. Maybe Tolstoy preferred Anna Karenina.  Maybe the most handsome book you have is that Corpus of Roman Coins, but you have of course absolutely no intention of reading it.

No. 3 focusses on the economics of the business and is likely to mean the book as physical object (one that can be sold) rather than 1, though when it comes to handing out Pulitzers, Bookers etc. the publisher will inevitably want to connect to 1 more than usual.  It goes without saying, but of course I have to say it, that without a solid economic rationale none of these different “books” would exist (I’m willing to argue about No. 1 too).

Nos. 2 & 4 seem to be pointing to the same physical object, but if you were the editor or the agent, you may be thinking of No. 1.

Is No. 5 more like 1 or 2?  It sort of straddles them both.  I suppose we do actually “own” a free download from Project Gutenberg, but it’s not quite the same relationship as those bits of paper and board on the shelf.

Maybe philosophers and linguists have sorted all this out, and at the end of the day, we all know what we mean.  But there are instances, and will be more of them in future, when we need to be clear, at least in our own mind, which of these we really want to mean when we speak about a book.

(Based on a conversation with Mike Rosenhack)

Why do boards and paperback covers warp and curl?  There is a simple answer, true in every case: moisture.  Unfortunately that answer doesn’t really tell us anything: Too much moisture, too little moisture, when, where, and in what?

When board is manufactured certain levels of humidity prevail:  Quite high at the start of the process and becoming progressively less as the board continues its travel along the machine.  There are drying machines involved, and manufacturers seek to extract exactly the right amount of moisture.  The factory may or may not be air-conditioned and humidity controlled, but the warehouse in which the finished product is stored is almost certain not to be.  On humid days board will take up more moisture than it will on dry days.  Even if the warehouse is humidity controlled, the board has to venture out on a truck for a journey to its final destination.  Driving through the Arizona desert will give the board a different life experience than surviving a torrential downpour all the way to Florida.  Of course the skids will have been shrink-wrapped in an attempt to minimize the fluctuation in humidity, but this isn’t totally airtight.  One shipment of board will have had a different humidity experience than another.  And of course this delivery of board will go into a bindery where things are dry, dry, dry, and that delivery will go into a sweltering steam box of a bindery.  Books printed and bound in Asia merely have this problem in more extreme form as they go through many more changes in environment before sitting on the boss’s desk curling away.

One might hope that all the fluctuations would even out, and probably in most cases they do.  But sometimes a batch will have been made humid, stored humid, shipped humid and cut up and bound humid, shipped to a humid warehouse, and bought from a humid bookstore by a sweaty reader.  Or the opposite.  Or a combination.  I’m not aware of research which points to an optimum humidity profile, but I bet someone’s done it.  Even if such a set of conditions were definable, it’s not practically achievable by anything other than random chance: climate variables are just too much for us.

Complaints about warping boards tend to hit New York publishing offices as spring becomes summer, and to be almost non-existent in the winter — though warping can be nicely induced by setting a book overnight on top of a hot radiator, something heedless editors will insist on doing.  If it’s humid in the office and the board is relatively dry, as soon as it’s unpacked the book will start to take up moisture from the air.  A casebound book with a laminated preprinted case has got only one thing to do when its board swells.  The laminated cover prevents moisture penetrating from that side, while the endsheet doesn’t, so the board does what it must to grow.  The side stuck to the laminated casecover will stay the same length while the other side will expand in length: result the cover bows.  At the same time the spine edge of the board is held rigid while the fore edge can grow.  The same thing happens with paperback covers: layflat lamination eases the problem, allowing moisture penetration from the printed side of the cover as well as from the inside, but it can’t get around the fact that the lamination will hold that side of the board tight while the other side can expand a bit.  People have tried laminating the inside of the cover, which just increases the cost, makes the book hard to bind, and doesn’t remove the problem.

Another problem is that it’s almost always the case that warping boards are an issue with the office copies.  You can’t really tell your boss that there’s no problem because all the rest of the books are packed tightly in cartons and are lying in a different humidity environment in the warehouse where they are going to be fine till they are shipped off to the completely different humidity environment that is the bookstore, or indeed the ultimate purchaser’s home.  But that’s the truth, and carries with it the implication that we can’t actually control the situation when the customer takes the book home.  Nevertheless we have to put the bindery though the exercise of explaining why the editor’s copy has warping boards, even if the answer ends up being the single word “moisture”.

There’s a theory out there that this is an acronym, standing for Book Layout And Design but I think that’s just an imaginative post hoc rationalization.  Quite apart from the improbability of coming up with exactly these words to describe the item in question, there was a perfectly decent and appropriate word in existence long before the practice of making blads afflicted the publishing industry.

A blad, described by the Oxford English Dictionary as chiefly Scottish, is 1) a fragment, a portion, or 2) a portfolio, or 3) a pad of paper or blotting paper.  In 1933 Eric Partridge records the word’s usage in something like our sense: “Blad . . . is applied to a sheaf of specimen pages or other illustrative matter liked by the bookseller, especially the bookseller resident abroad”.  The place of residence of this bookseller does seem to confuse things a little: I suppose what he may be implying is that it would be cheaper to send a few pages overseas than the entire book.  By 1960 the word’s meaning was exactly ours: “a sample of a book, made up for the publisher’s traveller to show to the trade.  It usually consists of the first 32 pages, including prelims, bound up in the same cloth as the finished book”.  It was immediately after this that blads enjoyed their heyday. When international co-editions became the way to afford four-color printing, blads became the required way of selling them.


(in days)

Hong Kong FCL Hong Kong LCL UK FCL UK  LCL
Delivery to Dock 7 7 7 7
Port to Port 28 12 19
Port to Port MLB 21 28
Palletizing 2 2
Port to Warehouse 5 5 5 5
Total MLB 35 42
Total MLB Peak 42 49
Total all Water 42 N/A 24 31

FCL = Full Container Load      LCL = Less than Container Load

MLB = Mini land bridge — e.g. ship docks at San Diego and books continue by train to east coast port for clearance.

Port to Port = all water, will be a ship docking in an East coast port.  Palletizing may not be required.

Peak season from China: 15 June – 30 November

FOB = Free on board (named loading port):  The seller pays all costs associated with loading the books on board the vessel nominated by the buyer.  Cost and risk are transferred to the buyer once the books are loaded.  The seller must clear the goods for export.  The buyer makes all decisions on routing and is responsible for clearing the books though U.S. Customs and arranging delivery to the warehouse.

CFR = Cost and Freight (named destination port): The seller pays all costs to ship the books to port of destination, and makes all decisions regarding routing.  Risk is transferred to buyer once the books have been loaded on the vessel.  Buyer clears books through U.S. Customs and coordinates delivery to the warehouse.

CIF = Cost insurance and freight (named destination): Similar to CFR except that the seller is responsible for obtaining a transferrable certificate of insurance on behalf of buyer.  The seller’s responsibility ends when the books are on board the ship.  The buyer remains responsible for clearing through U.S. Customs and delivery to the warehouse.

See International commerce terms (INCOTERMS) in Wikipedia.

The Oxford Companion to the Book, 2 volumes 9780198606536, Edited by Michael F. Suarez, S.J. and H. R. Woudhuysen, 2010

This is an important new publication for anyone interested in the history of the book.

To start from the outside: the 2 volumes come in a slipcase which is paper over boards, printed 1 color (maroon) with a nice overall design of typographical ornaments, picked up from the endpapers of the books themselves.  (I learned from these books that these ornaments are named fleurons.)  On the maroon panel in the center of the back cover of the slipcase, the set describes itself as “A History of the Book throughout the Ages”.  The barcode is a sticker applied to the bottom of the box. The slipcase is a tiny bit too tight for the two books: it’s hard to get them out, but maybe the loss of muscle tone we typically experience as we age will make access to the books progressively easier.

The two volumes, the first 720 pages, the second 688 pages, are bound smythe sewn in 16pp signatures in 3-piece cases (a style which I discovered from this work, is properly referred to as quarter binding) with maroon paper-based sides, and a leather-look material on the spine.  There’s one hit of gold foil on the spine, red & black head and tail bands, and a ribbon marker in each volume.  To my mind a ribbon marker is always just a waste of money:  I never use them, but I guess some must.

The books were printed and bound in China on a coated paper, though it is a one-color (K) job.  There are halftones, some of which bleed, but none seem to me to demand the use of a coated sheet, which for my money ends up having the effect of increasing the weight of the set more than it improves its look.  Having said that, I should say that the books are perfectly nicely printed.  The trim size, which may make more sense in millimeters (though given a Hong Kong origin, may not) is 8” x 10-5/8”.

Editorially the volumes are a hybrid.  The first 80% of Volume 1 consist of a series of essays on more or less general topics.  This is followed for the rest of the work by an A-Z reference section, where quite detailed items may be looked up.  I have read one or two of the essays, and they seemed to be quite interesting.  No doubt like all collaborative works these contributions are of varying quality. General topic include Writing systems; The sacred book; The book as symbol; Missionary printing;  Paper; The technologies of print; The economics of print; Printed ephemera; Children’s books; Bookbinding; The electronic book.  Most of these are determinedly historical in approach: for instance The economics of printing is principally a discussion of the 19th century British book trade, and the change from the book as luxury item to the book as mass market fodder. More than half of the essays fall into a series of The history of the book in . . . : Byzantium; Britain; Ireland; France; Low Countries;  Germany; Switzerland; the Nordic Countries; the Iberian Peninsula; Italy; Modern Greece; Austria; Hungary; Czech Republic & Slovakia; Poland; the Baltic States; Russia, Ukraine & Belarus; the Balkans; Sub-Saharan Africa; the Muslim World; the Indian Subcontinent; China; Korea; Japan; Southeast Asia; Australia;New Zealand; Latin America; Canada; America.

There are about 400 contributors. The main focus is the book as culture container, rather than the book as physical object, although there is more than enough of the second strand to make this a book with a slightly schizophrenic attitude to the world.  It’s really two books in one, or more like one and a half books in one.  At $325 it really has to be a book that is referred to in the library rather than looked for in your Christmas stocking.  Maybe one might persuade one’s employer to invest in a set for the office: the A-Z section does provide information on the origin and background of lots of book manufacturing and design issues.