(Don't) Get Me Rewrite! or, The Book Producer's Dominos
Some publishing people dread a book's final pre-press phase—especially those book packagers who produce illustrated publications. While every book follows its own organic process step by step, it's this last phase where the carefully arranged dominos seem just to tremble in anticipation of tumbling into each other. A glance at the book development process helps understand why this phase can become frantic, and when late-stage rewriting enters the picture, all bets are off.
When we embark on a new project, the first step is the careful preparation of a timeline that entails each step of the process. Everything we can predict, we do—holidays, blocks of author downtime, the printer's availability, and lead time for ordering paper are just a few elements we consider. Because nearly every project begins with a fixed endpoint, we work backward to find the start date. With any luck, it is pretty close to when the author plans to complete the first-pass manuscript (MS).
A production schedule diagram resembles a funnel: The wider top develops because more time is needed up front (writing, MS development, editing, and creating the design concept). Once the editorial phase is complete, however, everything starts to speed up, and here's where compression usually occurs (i.e., the funnel tapers sharply). The ultimate deadline hasn't changed, but if the book is now two months behind where it needs to be, something's gotta give.
Typically, a book develops from idea to manuscript to layout before being transmitted to the printer. The writer's gestation and research period can last years. Once she begins writing, a minimum of several months and usually a year or more of intense work lay ahead of her. Next, the newborn first-draft receives editorial attention for anywhere from one or two months to half a year or longer.
Chances are the design concept is in progress during the editorial phase so the edited MS, once reviewed by its author, can quickly move along to typesetting. By this point, what began as a deceptively "leisurely" process has gained its own pace and inexorable momentum.
Production events occur fast and furious: The MS is typeset, then conveyed to the layout artist, who prepares each page, incorporating images in synch with design specs and complying with the panoply of standard publication requirements. The author and others review the layout while the proofreader reads it. Everyone's eagle eyes search for different problems and issues—typos, style points, factual and/or grammatical errors, accuracy of running heads and page numbers, consecutive page numbering, etc.
Then the author returns her marked-up layouts, and lo and behold they've sprouted all kinds of emendations: "move two ¶s from page 49 to page 37"; "insert these 3 new ¶s here"; "wrong picture, new one in mail"; "couldn't find reference, so cut entire passage." And on and on.
An editor sets about compiling all the participants' changes into a single set of proofs, making certain that no change skews the content or goes against style. The layout person uses the editor's compilation to make type changes, and the (now 40-percent new) layout goes off to the indexer, who has a ridiculously short time to whip together what must become the "authority" for locating names and subjects in the final book.
Gasp! Pant, pant.... Whew!
So, it should be quite evident why rewriting at laid-out-page stage is a bad idea. Not only does it mean more work for all involved, this is a crucial domino in the array, and its tipping causes a nasty chain reaction. Moving two paragraphs here or inserting a new picture there result in repagination for the balance of the chapter, if not the rest of the book. Cross references directing the reader elsewhere must be located and their page numbers corrected. A variant spelling requires global searches of each electronic layout file. A "simple" style-point revision can lead to changes in numerous passages throughout the book, not all of which are evident or easily located. It is particularly important to remember that each substantive change—the dreaded "aa," or author's alteration—racks up an additional charge for the client (as opposed to the author). This is never a "good thing."
Don't get me wrong! This by no means is a recommendation to do away with layout review, which is crucial for catching typos and errors and generally cleaning up unforeseen troubles. Scrutinizing the layout allows reconsideration of facts and figures; problems missed earlier during the MS work can be remedied. And I am the first to acknowledge that seeing laid-out type for the first time can completely change a person's perception of the text. But every contributor should understand that the time and place for reconsidering the book's broader strokes fell away a while ago, during the writing, editing, and reviewing phases.
(Photo of dominos © 2010 Sean Gwizdak. All rights reserved.)