Have you ever wondered how the story you’ve drafted becomes a finished, bound book? Spoiler alert: it is a long process that starts about a year ahead of the on-sale date. While some specific steps can vary from imprint to imprint, this workflow is a well-oiled machine. Read on to learn about the full process, from the time your editor has completed their full review of your manuscript to the delivery of finished copies to the PRH warehouse.
The bookmaking process starts with managing editorial. They act as “air traffic control,” overseeing titles, liaising between editors and other groups, and ensuring that everyone stays on schedule as a book goes from one stage to the next. A managing editor starts by checking a schedule of title release dates, then creating a smaller list of titles that will be releasing a year later and sending it along to a production manager.
Production managers schedule titles with the printer and PRH’s paper department. It may seem premature to reach out to them a year ahead, but production managers are very conscientious about timing. Since PRH supplies the paper, stock needs to be reserved for the whole season for the entire company. The pandemic and supply chain issues have also put a lot of stress on this process, so having a little foresight goes a long way. The production manager then begins to estimate the projected costs of printing the book, based on the steps it will take to prepare it—including copyediting, cover art, proofreading, and typesetting—and to manufacture it.
Once the managing editor receives the manuscript and a transmittal form—a document in which an editor notes all the elements to be included in the finished book—they pass these along to a production editor, who takes care of quality control of the text as the manuscript evolves into its final form. Production editors also supervise any extra materials that may need to be included in the book, such as pictures, graphs, or even permissions for song lyrics. They will go through the manuscript labeling features such as chapter titles and bulleted lists or addressing any small style changes, before sending the manuscript to a text designer.
The text designer handles the aesthetics of the interior, making sure that your book looks pleasing. First, they make basic decisions like the size of page margins and spacing. Then they can make choices about design elements and fonts for body text, headings, and chapter titles. They must be very aware of certain parameters as they make these decisions. For example, they want to ensure that the designs they choose don’t heavily affect the content, page range, price point, or potential future editions of the book at different trim sizes. The text designer will circulate their sample design for approval, making sure that they address any concerns from the editor, marketing, publicity, and of course the author.
Meanwhile, the production editor is getting the manuscript into copyediting. In this part of the process, copyediting is typically done by freelancers. They go through a vetting process before being hired for PRH projects, to ensure that they have a keen eye but can still maintain the author’s voice and honor their vision as they edit. In addition to the edited manuscript, copy editors provide a style sheet, which details the style rules that have been used for this book. The production editor will password-protect the manuscript showing the tracked changes, so that all future edits can be easily identified, and send it to the author and their editor to view and edit. This will get sent back to the production editor, and this process may go back and forth until final edits are completed, at which point the production editor will review all changes and create a final setting manuscript.
The text designer will take another look at this stage to make sure that the copyediting changes do not affect the design. Then the production manager will send the manuscript to a compositor. Compositors typeset the manuscript and produce a pdf that shows what the fully designed book will look like once printed, along with a watermarked digital copy for marketing and publicity use. This version of the book is known as the “first pass” or “galleys.” It will be reviewed by several people to check for surface-level changes and inconsistencies that could have been introduced while the manuscript traveled through so many hands. A freelance proofreader will read it looking for errors. Authors will view the first pass to make sure everything looks right and make any final changes. The text designer checks for any aesthetic errors and incorporates any notes. The production editor will collate all these changes into a master with all the corrections marked. That file is sent back to the compositor to input all those changes and produce the newest version, referred to as the second pass.
The second and any subsequent passes are proofread and checked by the designer until they reach the final pass, which is called blues—a reference to former printing technology where printers used to provide “blueprints” (which were actually printed in blue type) for the text of the book. During these various iterations, the managing editor is keeping track of the timeline, making sure that the book stays on schedule for the dates set with the printers.
While all of this is happening with the text, the managing editor also supervises the cover art, organizing cover concept meetings with the jacket designers and publishers to finalize the design. The summary, author blurbs, and any other copy meant to go on the jacket (for a hardcover) or cover (for a paperback) also go through copyediting. Then the managing editor shares the final copy with the jacket designers, who add it to the jacket art layout displaying the front cover, back cover, and spine. This file, called a “mechanical,” will be circulated for approval to the editor, production editor, managing editor, and anyone else that the imprint may call for approvals. Requested changes are sent back to the jacket designer, implemented, and circulated again for approval until the mechanical is finalized. For a hardcover book, the text designer simultaneously works on the design for the cover that binds the book itself, called the “case.” This includes things like the font and foil color used on the spine, and the colors of the case, which should mesh with the look of the book jacket.
All of this is sent to the production manager to begin a stage called “pre-flighting,” when all these files and specifications are checked to ensure that everything is prepared correctly for the printer. This stage involves approvals from several departments, enabling a final check for small details and any possibly missed errors. Once everything is approved, the production manager will send purchase orders to the vendors who print the cover and the text. The cover printer will send the cover to the text printer, who will bind the text and cover and ship finished books to the warehouse six weeks before the title’s release date. The production manager will receive a sample copy from the printer to make sure everything looks good. Finally, the digital files of the text and cover are archived for the other teams that might need them for uses such as producing the ebook and audio editions.
This article is certainly not exhaustive. Every book is different and may require additional steps to produce the perfect print copy. Genre, imprint, and other factors influence the process, and the managers, editors, and designers involved adapt their roles and activities to meet the needs of each book. If you would like to know more about the bookmaking process, your publishing team or editor can assist.
Jacky Bethea is the Associate, Author Development at Penguin Random House.