Chapter 5: Design, Graphics, and Production


Contents

While you are working directly with an editor to get your book written, two other organizations at ORA are mobilizing their resources to make the book possible. The design group is looking at your chapter drafts and conferring with the editor to come up with ideas for the book's physical appearance--everything from the details of the text format to the size of the book to the design of the cover. As part of this effort, a graphic artist is busy preparing final versions of the figures you have submitted.

Meanwhile, the production group is also at work, preparing for the book's printing. This work includes copy editing and proofing; assistance putting the index into final form; merging the graphics and text into a form that the printer can deal with efficiently; preparing the book's front and back matter (copyright page, author information, title page, order information, and so on); and coordinating the actual press run with the printer. We do not have our own presses, but farm out the printing to independent printers.

The editor is your primary link to these activities.

What Will My Book Look Like?

It may be that your book falls into a well defined category--one for which we already have a closely specified format. But the format is made for the book, not the book for the format, and you will never need to feel constrained by historical requirements. Every format should be adjusted to the particular needs of an individual book; the latter are determinative.

If you have ideas for format, graphical assists, the use of color, or anything else bearing on the appearance of your book, by all means communicate them to your editor as soon as possible. She'll be grateful to receive them. So will the design group, for it's not easy to look at a new book from the outside and immediately recognize what the design needs are. As author, you are closest to the "primal task": figuring out how to convey your stock of information most effectively to the reader.

At the same time, if you indicate an interest, we'll be glad to share with you the progress we're making in coming up with a book design.

Illustrations

In Chapter 4, we talked about the tools you can use to prepare illustrations. We also said that your illustrations would almost certainly be re-done by one of our graphic artists. These people are heavily experienced in computer graphics tools, and can lend a finished, unified, and professional appearance to the graphics. You'll probably be surprised at how much better your drawings will appear, even if their basic content and form remains unchanged. However, not to fear: you will have ample opportunity to review all such material, correcting and modifying as necessary.

It is highly advantageous for you to draft your drawings as you write your chapters. This puts both you and the editor in a better position to assess a chapter's quality, and also enables the design group to get a head start on the graphics, avoiding a last-minute crunch. It also means that review drafts can go out with at least workable figures--essential for obtaining adequate reviews.

Screen Dumps

Any screen dumps among your illustrations (created under the X Window System with the xwd command) will not need to be re-generated by our design people. But someone in the production group will have to take the dumps and run them through special software translators enabling us to print them in the book. We can do this for review drafts as well as for final production. The rule for screen dumps is the same as for other illustrations: try to create them as you write, rather than saving them until the end.

It may happen due to equipment limitations that you cannot generate appropriate screen dumps. You should notify your editor of this, and she will work with the production group to see how we can fill in for you.

Cover Design

The purpose of a book cover is to get a potential reader to pick up the book, and to persuade a bookstore to display it.

We're confident that we have the most striking and effective covers in technical publishing. Despite our relatively small size, it's not unusual to see window displays of our books at technical bookstores.

Our covers are all designed by Edie Freedman. She is open to suggestions, but has the final say on all cover designs. Here's what Edie has to say about how she designs the animal covers for Nutshell Handbooks:

I ask the authors to supply me with a description of the topic of the book. What I am looking for is adjectives that really give me an idea of the "personality" of the topic. Authors are free to make suggestions about animals, but I prefer to deal with adjectives. Once I have the information from the author, I spend some time thinking about it, and then I choose an animal. Sometimes it is based on no more than what the title sounds like. (COFF, for example, sounded like a walrus noise to me.) Sometimes it is very much linked to the name of the book or software. (For example, vi, the "Visual Editor," suggested some beast with huge eyes). And it is always subject to what sort of artwork I can find.

It seems to work best this way. We've tried doing animals that the authors want, and have found that it works better if I do the selection, and then submit it for approval. I don't think anyone has been too disappointed with the final choices we've made.

I'll add that if you do want a particular animal, Edie is more inclined to respond to "right brain" reasons than to obvious mental associations. For example, several people on the net suggested the obvious clam for the Perl handbook, but Edie responded instead to Larry Wall's obscure argument for the camel: ugly but serviceable, able to go long distances without a lot of nourishment.

In any event, you'll have a chance to see and comment on Edie's cover design before we commit it to print. If you really hate it, and can't be persuaded to feel otherwise, she'll probably try again (but no promises!).

Getting the Book Ready for Press

The production group's activity tends to be concentrated fairly late in the game, just before the press date. It is the production group that takes your source files, graphics from the design group, screen dumps, and all other materials for the book and creates a finished product ready for the camera and the press. As a rule of thumb, this final phase lasts 10 to 12 weeks.

Copy Editing

What many people think of as "editing" is what we call "copy editing": reviewing your book for correct usage, succinctness, and adherence to various ORA conventions ranging from font specifications to style of cross referencing, to punctuation and hyphenation. Your editor may avoid such editing, leaving it to our production people, or may take pains to provide this service himself right along with his earliest editorial guidance. If he takes a hands-off approach, then your manuscript will probably see one or two fairly thorough reviews by a copy editor. The extent of the work here depends on your skills as a writer, the degree to which your editor has coached you all along on the details of your writing, and the attention you have paid to our Style Guide. The most likely times for a copy edit to occur are immediately before technical review, and during the production phase, before the book goes to press. You will have an opportunity to review all such edits.

What constitutes fair copy editing? It all depends. Here's what one editor gave as advice to a copy editor:

In general, if an author's expression is fully satisfactory, I do not try to change it--even if my own alternative seems a mild improvement. The presumption is "innocent until proven guilty." However, if an author is just plainly unable to write, so that I as editor find myself having to re-write his stuff, then I feel free to change anything and everything. (Needless to say, the author and I will have to reach an understanding on this, or we're in trouble.)

There is no absolutely right style; there are many ways to be a good writer. I may be in the habit of changing a particular usage that is usually abused or cumbersome, and yet in the hands of a good writer that expression may occur without posing any particular problem--in which case I bite my lip and leave it. The more competent the writer, the more leeway I can afford to give him to do things his way, even if his way is different from mine.

Even regarding the low-level conventions of writing, I think it is important to realize that there are many ways to be OK. By this I mean a couple of different things:

  • Two different books from the same publishing house can exemplify two different style sheets, and both be perfectly satisfactory. Nor is the variety a blemish on the publisher. (In making this point, I am not advocating wild abandon in the establishment of multiple conventions.)

  • Even within a single book, it is usually not good to let the rules become too wooden. Anyone who has tried to define rules for the punctuation and capitalization of list items knows that as soon as you think you've written the perfect set of rules, along comes a case that won't fit the straitjacket.

Manuscript Transfers

In virtually all cases, our authors work with electronic word processing equipment--and nearly always with UNIX-compatible equipment. This makes it easy to transfer the manuscript via the Internet or direct modem connection to a computer at O'Reilly Media. You will presumably have made such transfers earlier, when turning over source files (or perhaps PostScript output) to your editor for review. The editor will be happy to assist you in working out the practical details of transfer.

Copy editing and final proofing is usually done electronically, directly on your source files. It may be necessary during these final stages to ship the files back and forth between ORA and author more than once. You will also have an opportunity to review the final draft before it goes to press.

Formatting Issues

In many cases, we will provide you with troff macros or a Word template to work with in developing your manuscript. (These macros and templates are documented in the Style Guide that we'll send you after you've signed the contract.)

However, the troff macros or Word template you are using is a generic version, generating a printed format that may be somewhat different from the final format of the book. One of the things the production group must do is make the conversion over to the final format. To the extent the book mimics pre-existing formats, this may be as simple as substituting one macro package or template for another. If there are distinctive design features to your book, however, then production must implement them.

In general, the production task will be easier the less you have made "custom" changes to the format by defining macro or template features of your own. But this is not wholly true; if you and the editor (working with the design and production groups) have agreed on certain format features, then it may actually save time to have you go ahead and incorporate those features into your drafts. To be safe, you should coordinate closely with the editor on this; it is all too easy for an author to redefine macros in a way that is incompatible with the macros we use for final production.

Index

The index is perhaps the single most important part of your book. Our Style Guide discusses the tools and principles of good index preparation. We hope that you, the editor, and your technical reviewers will have looked the index over and helped you to strengthen it. During the final production phase we have one last chance to catch problems, modify entries related to last-minute changes in the text, verify the correctness of page numbers given in the index, and make sure the index prints out in correct form.

The production group has accumulated a good deal of expertise with indexes. Don't hesitate to ask for help if you are having problems creating your book's index.

Reprints and Revisions

The initial press run for our books ranges from 3000 to 20,000. Before the stock is exhausted, we plan for the reprint. This can be a relatively simple matter--if the book does not require revision.

On the other hand, changes in the products your book describes--or the discovery of errors in the text--may dictate a revision. As our standard contract indicates (see Chapter 3), you will be given an opportunity to carry out the revision. If you choose not to do so, we will make other arrangements. Depending on the amount of work another author puts into the book, that author normally receives a portion of the royalties for all the revised books sold.

You will work on the revision in much the same fashion as you worked on the book initially. Normally you are assigned the same editor as before. The main difference may be a certain, greater informality, born of the ease with which you and the editor are now working together, and the mutual trust that has grown up between you. In addition, most phases of book preparation are abbreviated in the case of all but the most extreme revisions. There may, for example, be few or no illustrations requiring to be re-done. And reviewing may be simplified by the fact that only a small portion of the text has actually changed significantly.


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