HarperCollins Trade Books Production Department: Let’s Dish

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big picture stuff

The following blog post will probably bore the stuffing out of most people, but I wanted to vent.

According to an item in today’s New York Times, the publication of Andrew Sullivan’s new book has been delayed.

The entire print run of “The Conservative Soul,” a new book by Andrew Sullivan, the blogger and political commentator, is being discarded after Mr. Sullivan spotted a significant production error in the text: half of the fifth chapter had been inserted into the middle of the sixth chapter. Writing on his blog (time.blogs.com/daily_dish), Mr. Sullivan called the mistake “every writer’s nightmare, especially as I discovered the error myself while rereading the book late one night last week and couldn’t believe my eyes.” The finished books were already en route to retailers, so HarperCollins recalled the print run of 26,500, ordered a reprinting and delayed the publication date by one week, to Oct. 10 from Oct. 3. Kate Pruss, a spokeswoman for HarperCollins, said the printer would cover the additional costs. (The total cost of the error has not been determined.) No editorial content will be changed in the reprinted edition, Ms. Pruss said. JULIE BOSMAN

Prediction: Sometime today some rightie bloggers will claim the book was sabotaged by liberals. But I’m going to guess it was sabotaged either by outsourcing or downsizing, or both.

Without looking at the books I can’t say for sure, but it sounds as if the books were trimmed and bound with a signature out of order. This is an error that would have been made by the printer/binder, which I’m sure is an outside vendor. It’s been generations since publishers printed and bound their own books.

In brief, the process works this way: several pages (usually anywhere from 8 to 32) are printed on one big sheet of paper, and then that piece of paper is folded and the folded paper trimmed to separate the pages. Pages printed together this way make a signature. The signatures are gathered together (hopefully in order) and bound into the book. These days this process is all done by big printer-binder machines.

Back in the day it was standard procedure for the printer/binder to pull some gathered signatures (called F and Gs, for “folded and gathered”) off the printer-binder machine before binding and send them to the publisher, so that the publisher could make sure the signatures were in order. If in fact someone at HarperCollins saw F&Gs and the signatures of the F&Gs were out of order, but HarperCollins staff signed off on them, then the fault is HarperCollins’s and not the printer/binder’s. (It is possible, but extremely unlikely, that the F&Gs were OK even though the books were mis-bound.)

Back in the days when books were set by photo-offset process there was another step before F&Gs, called “blues.” Blues are blueprints of the photographic plates. The publisher received sets of blues that had been folded and gathered as the printed pages would be. The publishing production staff could check page and signature order (and other stuff) at that stage, before the actual printing. But now that photo-offset is being phased out in favor of an all-digital process, blues are going the way of raised metal type.

Over the years book publishers have been cutting more and more corners to save time and cost, and it is entirely possible that all of the checkpoints were eliminated for Andy’s book. If so, no one at HarperCollins cast eyes upon the product from the time production transmitted PDF files of the pages to the printer/binder and the time a box of the first printed and bound copies showed up in the publisher’s offices, by which time the rest of the 26,500 print run was bound and boxed and being loaded onto trucks.

On the other hand, if someone at HarperCollins did sign off on the F&Gs, likely it was a junior staffer who was swamped with a workload that would have been handled by two or three people 20 years ago.

The first books I was responsible for producing, back in the early 1970s, were printed by linotype, meaning raised metal type. When F&Gs hit my desk I had a couple of days to check them before I called the printer and gave an OK to go ahead and bind. I was expected to be painstaking and go through the book front to back several times looking for the several things that can go wrong at that stage before signing off. Today, if a staffer sees F&Gs at all, he or she is usually under a gun to give the approval that same day, or possibly within two or three hours. If the same staffer is already swamped with other books on critical deadline — well, mistakes are made.

When I got my first publishing job, ca. 1973, all of the manuscript development, editing, copyediting, and proofreading typically were done in house. By the time a book was published, several people on the publisher’s staff had examined every page, at several points in the manuscript-to-bound-books process, looking for errors. New staffers were trained in editing, copyediting, and proofreading procedures by senior staffers. Over the years more and more of the editorial functions have been outsourced or subcontracted, however. Today most copyediting and proofreader are freelanced, and good luck finding competent people who have received real training. Increasingly even manuscript development and substantive editing are freelanced, or subcontracted to a book packager. It is not unusual for a book to be published without anyone on the publisher’s regular payroll actually reading it.

Changes in technology introduce new ways for books to be screwed up. The old linotype guys who did the typesetting and created the metal plates for printing were artisans who caught many errors themselves; also, proofs would be read independently by both printers’ and publishers’ staffs. Then we switched to offset process. The linotype operators, who were Union workers, were laid off, and compositors/printers hired nonunion people (mostly young women fresh out of high school) with typing skills to keyboard the manuscript. The keyboarders rarely caught old errors but were champs at introducing new ones. But at least we could still see as many passes of proofs as we needed to ensure the books were thoroughly checked.

Once photo-offset became the standard procedure, page composition and printing/binding were done by two separate vendors.
Vendor #1, the compositor, would keyboard the manuscript and output galley proof. After proofreading and correcting, the vendor output clean “repro” proof, which would be shipped to the publisher. Usually someone at the publisher’s staff would paste the repro proof on boards to make up pages. The boards were shipped to vendor #2, the printer, to be photographed, and the images on the film were transferred to the printer plates or rollers by a chemical process. Again, the publisher re-checked the book at every step.

Desktop publishing changed procedures again, because pasteup was eliminated. It became standard to require authors to submit word processing files, so keyboarding was also eliminated. Some publishers had in-house desktop departments; others continued to use vendors. Most of the time clean, corrected pages were sent to the printer/binder by whoever did the composition, and the printer/binder photographed the pages, but in the case of complicated four-color books sometimes the compositors output film.

Now it’s all digital. The author submits Microsoft Word files of his book, which are edited, and the edited files are given to somebody (often a freelancer) who uses desktop publishing software to compose the pages. These pages are proofread once, maybe by another freelancer. With luck, somebody at the publisher gets a look at a second set of proof to make sure corrections were made, but that individual won’t have time to do a second proofreading. Instead, the staffer only skims the old “foul” proof looking for proofreader marks, and then checks new proof to be sure the error was corrected. Then the desktop compositor outputs PDF files, which are sent to a printer, and the printer imposes the files into signatures (some magazine publishers are using software that creates imposed PDF files; I’m not sure if book publishers are doing that yet) and transfers the digital impositions onto printing plates.

Sometimes in the case of mass market books two books are printed at the same time from the same plates, so that if the signatures get out of order chunks of Bodice Ripper #1 might end up in Bodice Ripper #2. It’s also possible this happens a lot and no one notices. But if you ever read a paperback romance novel in which the heroine’s name inexplicably changes from Mary to Jane, blame the printer.

It’s a wonder to me that more oopsies don’t happen. Yet the urge to downsize and outsource continue. We production editors used to joke that at least the Suits couldn’t ship our jobs overseas. We were wrong. We’re approaching the stage at which no one with hands-on responsibility for producing books for American readers speaks English. I’m serious.

So, Andy, I’m sorry about your book. At least the problem was caught before the copies were put on display at Barnes and Noble.

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37 Comments

34 Comments

  1. Jonathan Versen(Hugo Zoom)  •  Sep 22, 2006 @11:00 am

    I guess it’s too late for James Frey to claim this is what happened to him.

    In all seriousness, though, this is an excellent piece and I didn’t know any of this stuff, though in retrospect the progression to the present state of affairs is pretty unsurprising.

    You really should publish an article about these developments, especially given your past vantage point as an insider– say in Salon, or Slate or Vanity Fair or someplace like that. I would copy n’ paste your entire article and put it in HZ for greater dissemination if not for

    a. your likely annoyance, even with attribution, and
    b. the likelihood that this would only increase dissemination of said post by about 0.00000000001 per cent

  2. PurpleGirl  •  Sep 22, 2006 @11:37 am

    Excellent post. Given the changes in the industry, it is amazing that there aren’t more errors of this sort (or any sort actually). I’m not surprised anymore when I see typos in books.

    (I worked in publishing late 1970s through mid 1980s. It brought back memories of what I did as a copyeditor, proofreader and production editor. At one job, they sent a group of new production editors on a tour of the printing/binding company we used for our books so we would understand what happened after we sent off the materials to them.)

  3. maha  •  Sep 22, 2006 @11:47 am

    I would copy n’ paste your entire article and put it in HZ for greater dissemination

    You do know that, strictly speaking, that’s illegal? It’s a violation of copyright. You’re supposed to ask permission, and the copyright holder has the right to deny permission or require that a fee be paid for one-time use. It’s less egregious if you aren’t publishing the piece in a for-profit publication, but if you are selling ad space at all you could be in big trouble.

    Thanks for the encouragement, though.

  4. Ray Dobson  •  Sep 22, 2006 @11:50 am

    Thanks, that was fascinating. I heard a story once, which is probably an urban legend, about a bodice ripper that was being published, and the editor decided that the hero’s name should be “Jeff” instead of “David”. So they did a global search and replace, and the book was published and distributed. Some readers were puzzled about a chapter in who two characters discuss the merits of Michaelangelo’s Jeff.

  5. Tom Sumner  •  Sep 22, 2006 @12:09 pm

    For what it’s worth, I think HarperCollins saw the pages in order. That’s the very first thing I do for a proof from the printer–check that all pages are there and in the correct order.

    Moving from bluelines to printed lasers to (increasingly) on-screen PDFs that always look very low-res, the process has become less and less reliable, I agree. With real bluelines you used to see the F+Gs and resolution exactly as the press and binery would; now you see some fuzzy PDF–are the pages REALLY in order? Will these images REALLY print OK? More and more it’s just blind faith.

    And for outsourcing everything–yes, you’re right about that. Composition is often done in India, though, where they DO speak English.

    Somehow I’ve managed to stay put and never outsource a single line of composition work, but egregious mistakes still do happen at my hand, though I claim to be a native speaker:

    http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003252.html

  6. Ivan Raikov  •  Sep 22, 2006 @12:10 pm

    What can you expect from a publisher named HarperCollins, without a dash between the two names? I do agree with your points about technology and streamlining, although I think in some cases computer technology might help the author generate PDF images that are ready for the printing press. Case in point is Stanford professor of Computer Science Donald Knuth, who got so frustrated with the low quality of math book typesetting, that he spent 10 years developing a mathematical typesetting system, TeX, which is now the standard in scientific publishing.

  7. maha  •  Sep 22, 2006 @12:25 pm

    on-screen PDFs

    The vendors’ reps at the book publishing conferences were threatening us with those when I bailed out three years ago, but I never had to deal with them.

    Another problem with digital is that it’s harder to check color if you’re doing four-color printing. Film process can produce proofs that are color accurate (although other factors, like paper, can still make the color off), but with digital proofs the color in the proofs may bear little resemblance to what actually shows up on the printed pages. And checking color on monitors is a joke.

    Of course, in the old days us production people used to camp out at the printers to check the first four-color sigs coming off the presses, which could be fun unless you pulled the overnight shift, but I understand that step is getting cut out, too.

  8. maha  •  Sep 22, 2006 @12:28 pm

    Some readers were puzzled about a chapter in who two characters discuss the merits of Michaelangelo’s Jeff.

    It wouldn’t surprise me at all if that story is true.

  9. Tom Sumner  •  Sep 22, 2006 @12:40 pm

    camp out at the printers to check the first four-color sigs coming off the presses

    The press check for four-color work would likely take place in Hong Kong these days. We still do 1-color interior with CMYK cover printing in the U.S., but looking at printing expense vs. jacket prices and considering discounts and distribution costs in the mix, it would be easy to see that most sizable publishers are printing overseas–even if they weren’t compelled to say so on the copyright page.

  10. merciless  •  Sep 22, 2006 @1:02 pm

    Everything you say is true, maha. I’m a production editor for a compositor, and that’s how it’s done.

    F&Gs don’t exist any more, and neither do blues. Final printer proofs are low-res loose pages. If a sig is out of order, that’s the printer’s fault, and they’re going to pay through the nose to fix it.

  11. fshk  •  Sep 22, 2006 @2:59 pm

    My company is starting to look increasingly old fashioned. I’ve got a stack of F&Gs in my office right now. Like, for a (c) 2007 book.

    But I’ve heard from talking to other people at other publishers that a lot of what you say is true. I’m guessing they wanted to get Andrew Sullivan’s book out quickly, too, which would necessitate not lingering over the proofs very long.

    It’s all part of a trend where the bottom line matters more than the quality of the book. Decisions are made by sales and marketing people, the rest of us just sit behind the scenes and crank out as good a book as we can under the circumstances.

  12. maha  •  Sep 22, 2006 @3:13 pm

    Final printer proofs are low-res loose pages.

    That must be really new. Terrifying.

    If a sig is out of order, that’s the printer’s fault, and they’re going to pay through the nose to fix it.

    That’s my guess, too.

  13. justme  •  Sep 22, 2006 @3:35 pm

    Hey this topic is really cool! My other half runs a printing ink company.I have spent a lot of time press side with our customers (printers) and have seen the process you described a million times.

    Most of the larger companies we serve thought they could cut expenses by hiring “temp” workers to handle the binding and most of the other jobs that follow the actual printing.Immigrant workers make up a large part of that pool and the problem they were finding is that errors were not caught because many times the workers cannot read english(I say they should have been caught before they ever got to that point)..in some cases books were bound in the wrong order( a major cost oops for a printer) after being printed correctly …In defense of the printing industry ,many large print shops I find myself in are sometimes running 2 or 3 different jobs at the same time on the same press and there can be scores of different jobs ,at different stages on the floor at any given time..Sometimes I look around at it all and wonder how errors don’t occur more often then they do.. the volume is staggering. Anyhow, thanks for the behind the scenes peak at “As the printer turns” I don’t think a lot of people outside the industry realize what a complex task it can be.

  14. justme  •  Sep 22, 2006 @4:14 pm

    one more thing,On a majority of jobs the customer of the printer is at press side to review the signature and MUST sing off on them before printing can continue.Sometimes this causes the pressmen to have”down time” and time is money so it can cause a real problem for printers if the customer is not there to sign off.I wonder what the policy of the print shop in question is about sign off’s…each one we work with varies somewhat.

  15. maha  •  Sep 22, 2006 @4:30 pm

    On a majority of jobs the customer of the printer is at press side to review the signature and MUST sing off on them before printing can continue.

    That’s not much done with books any more. In the old photo-offset days for one-color books the publisher had to sign off on blues before printing, and sign off on F&Gs before binding, and most of the time you were working through the mail. I’m not sure how the printers handled that; it seems awkward. But that’s what we did. For four-color definitely there would be someone from the publisher at the printer to sign off on the sigs. But since going digital some publishers are skipping that, I understand, because they don’t need to check registration and I guess they’d rather live with other flubs than spend the money to fly production staff wherever.

    If you want to see total chaos, try throwing together a four-color K-8 textbook series with pupil-teacher editions and other ancillaries. It’s assumed there will be so many screwups in first printings that they won’t go into classrooms. First printings are just for the sales reps to show off at book shows.

  16. maha  •  Sep 22, 2006 @4:43 pm

    I do agree with your points about technology and streamlining, although I think in some cases computer technology might help the author generate PDF images that are ready for the printing press.

    Authors screw up, too. Trust me on this.

    Case in point is Stanford professor of Computer Science Donald Knuth, who got so frustrated with the low quality of math book typesetting, that he spent 10 years developing a mathematical typesetting system, TeX, which is now the standard in scientific publishing.

    I’ll take your word on that. Does TeX create equations as PDF files that can be dropped into desktop publishing software? So that compositors don’t have to set equations? That would be handy, although authors screw up, too.

  17. Howard  •  Sep 22, 2006 @5:09 pm

    Well a lot of what’s discussed here in terms of the print production process does have to do with cost containment, but it has also made the process of concept to production dramatically faster and more efficient.

    If you know what to look for, almost all printed material is imperfect, while crossovers (A photo or other image that extends across the gutter onto both pages of the spread) might look good in one spot in another they are off. Text will shift slightly up and down from page to page, color variation throughout the print run. If you were to pick up the same issue of a national magazine in different area’s and matched the color page by page I bet a pro would see variation, but to a consumer it all mostly looks just fine.

    I’m guessing this is a perfect bound book verses a saddle stitched edition but the basics are pretty much the same. A person take the sigs, puts them in a hopper and they are gathered cut, glued and cover applied. Seeing as this is a pretty short run, 26.5M it didn’t spend a lot of time on the equipment and it’s expected that the machine operator did make sure the initial setup was correct and you can be sure someone signed off on it before it ran.

    If the publisher or their rep signed off on a book that was paginated incorrectly I’m sure the printer will help them out cost wise but the printers not going to eat it entirely despite it’s being wrong. Everyone in the business knows that once you sign off it’s a done deal.

    It is possible that it was a few handfuls of the signatures were placed in the wrong hopper during the run which is a lot more likely than the entire print run being wrong. I’m sure that whoever did quality control over the customer copies got a good talking to though and right now there are a bunch of bindery people sitting around inspecting books looking for oopsies. It happens every day in this business, that’s not saying it’s acceptable but errors as a percentage of output are a reality.

  18. Teresa Nielsen Hayden  •  Sep 22, 2006 @5:25 pm

    What do you mean, boring? A story about a misplaced signature (or some other imposition error) in Andrew Sullivan’s new book, discovered when the copies are on their way to the stores, is delicious.

    I don’t think the mistake can have been HarperCollins’s fault. You don’t get the printer paying for the additional costs (which may include shipping the returns and re-shipping the corrected copies, as well as shooting the new film and printing and binding the new copies) if they weren’t at fault. Determining who screwed up is part of a printer’s core competence.

    By the way, all that stuff about the author submitting electronic files, which are edited on computer and passed on to the text freelancers in electronic form? Speak for yourself. We use the hardcopy manuscript as our version of record. We very much prefer that the manuscript be accompanied by its e-text version, but not all authors use computers, and you absolutely can’t count on freelancers using standardized software or matching your procedures. Given a choice between a mediocre copyeditor who’s up to the minute on Word, and an excellent copyeditor who still uses CPM, I’ll take the CPM-user every time.

    I can’t imagine running a publishing house that doesn’t have someone checking the blues. Maybe some exist. To me, that feels like running a trucking line without any insurance. You have to assume that sooner or later, no matter how careful you are, bad things are going to happen.

  19. maha  •  Sep 22, 2006 @5:59 pm

    Oh, Teresa, you don’t know how scarey it’s getting in some companies. No blues, no F&Gs, just finger crossing. And this is at major publishers, mind you. So many corners cut that disasters are inevitable, and production gets blamed. That’s one reason I don’t want to do publishing production any more.

    Small publishers can be worse. I have worked for two different small publishers in which the boss insisted on skipping copyediting entirely (and then wondered why there were so many E.A.s in proof). One of those two managed this by refusing to pay for E.A.s until the vendors took her to court. She was a fun boss, I can tell you.

    I agree with you about hard copies. I cannot edit on screen. My eyes just go whacko after a while.

  20. Teresa Nielsen Hayden  •  Sep 22, 2006 @6:02 pm

    My ghod, that’s awful. I had no idea.

  21. maha  •  Sep 22, 2006 @6:15 pm

    Howard — I don’t consider 26K to be a small print run. I’ve worked for a lot of book publishers who rarely did a print run bigger than 5,000. 26K is above average for the industry, I suspect, if you leave out textbook publishers.

    Also, the article says plainly that the entire print run was screwed, not just some copies. And the books had already been crated and shipped. The entire print run had to be recalled. That’s a pretty big oopsie.

    Believe me, after more than 30 years of squinting at proofs, I realize most printed material is imperfect. The question I always asked if we caught something wrong late in the process was “will most readers notice this?” If the answer was no, probably not, then the first printing continued without correction. Making judgments about what stuff really had to be fixed and what stuff could slide was part of the job.

    I doubt the pagination was wrong, Howard. That would not have been the printer’s fault if it was. Printers don’t do pagination. Printers do imposition. Usually. That’s way different.

    As far as who eats the cost — I explained that. If the publisher signed off on F&Gs and the F&Gs were wrong, then it’s the publisher’s fault. But, as I said (read stuff next time) it’s entirely possible the publisher didn’t see anything that would have indicated signature placement until the advance copies showed up. It might be that there’s some agreement between the printer and publisher about who pays for what in situations like this, but in my experience in that circumstance the printer would be the one to eat the cost, not the publisher.

  22. Gentlewoman  •  Sep 22, 2006 @10:08 pm

    Which Robert Ludlum book was supposed to have shipped its entire (huge) first printing with the final signature missing? This may be an apocryphal story, but I seem to remember the publisher being worried and prepared for massive returns and complaints, neither of which occurred. The supposition was that people didn’t actually finish any of those great clunky Ludlum books, bestsellers though they were.. Lord knows, I never did. Tried to read one once, it was deadly dull. And stupid.

    Anyway, thank you for this post. I found it very interesting. I spent many years in bookselling, I enjoyed getting a peek behind the publishing curtain!.

  23. Howard  •  Sep 22, 2006 @10:47 pm

    maha you are correct in repeating what was said in the article, I went a little deeper, to the the writers blog, and it confirmed my initial thought.

    “Many of the books were ok, but so many – thousands of them – weren’t that we had no option but to start over, or risk the integrity of the text.”

    So yes, they’ve all been pulled back and I’m sure the printer is eating all those shipping costs.

    The fact of the matter is a good book is a good book and despite what is asserted or claimed about “all” of them being dumped, if it’s a good book upon inspection it’s going to just as good as one that’s re-printed correctly.

    While I understand you are seeing it from a publishing standpoint I can see it from the perspective of someone actually involved in print production for over 25 years. A good book is a good book.

    Thanks for the correction about pagination, or page numbering, but my reference wasn’t about pre-press or composition (which almost EVERY printer in America can in fact do, as well as imposition) but instead to bindery operations where it’s expected that all operators will check the “page numbers” or pagination/imposition of folded signatures and bound books.

  24. maha  •  Sep 23, 2006 @8:00 am

    Howard: please note that I’m not dumping on the printer/binder here. Everybody screws up sometimes. That’s why there is proof and other checkpoints, such as F&Gs, and that’s why (back in the old days) multiple pairs of eyes would check the book for flaws at every stage. Now we’re at a point at which WHEN there is some kind of proof to check only one person checks it, and at many stages checking is eliminated entirely. This isn’t fair for either the printer or the publishing production staff. We’re not being allowed to check the book properly but we catch hell when there’s a mistake. Blame the bean counters and the Suits in the executive suites for this mess, I say.

    While I understand you are seeing it from a publishing standpoint I can see it from the perspective of someone actually involved in print production for over 25 years. A good book is a good book.

    And I was in the publishing end of print production for over 30 years. How d’you do?

    Howard, signatures missing or out of order is a collossal flaw. It’s something I’ve only seen twice in my whole career. This is not something that can be shrugged off. The books can’t be sold; they are ruined.

    The article said the entire print run was recalled. I’ve been in situations in which a portion of a print run was ruined. It’s not real common, but it happens. If it was a small part of the print run — say, 1,000 out of the 26k — and books have already shipped, standard procedure is to promise retailers that if they get books from the bad batch they’ll be replaced. You’d only recall the whole run after shipping if you were pretty certain most of them were ruined.

    Re every printer in America doing prepress or composition — that may be true for job printers, but printer/binder operations dedicated to printing and binding books for the book publishing business don’t do composition any more, and they are getting further and further away from prepress. Some of them have affiliate companies that do composition, but the composition operation has been entirely separate from printing/binding for decades now. And more and more prepress functions have been pushed forward to the publisher’s production staff.

    In your earlier comment you said “If the publisher or their rep signed off on a book that was paginated incorrectly I’m sure the printer will help them out cost wise but the printers not going to eat it entirely despite it’s being wrong.” With perfect bound books that are mostly text, publishers don’t check the imposition itself. They provide correctly folio’d, composed pages as camera ready art or PDF files, and imposing the pages correctly is entirely the printer’s responsibility. The publishing staff used to check blues and F&Gs to catch pages out of order, but there are no blues without film, and film is being phased out in favor of all-digital process. And as I explained, the bean counters are cutting out F&Gs also. So it is entirely possible no one at HarperCollins got a chance to check signature order until they got bound advance copies.

    When I worked for elementary textbook publishers we got big eight-up proofs of the imposed plates from printers and we signed off on imposition, but I think that’s going out of practice now. And for a time I produced a magazine that was sometimes saddle-stitched and sometimes perfect bound, depending on page count, and I used software called Impoze to lay out the magazine and arrange text columns and advertisements. Impoze would figure out how the pages would impose, and imposed files were transmitted to the printer.That’s not being done in book publishing yet, though.

  25. prostratedragon  •  Sep 23, 2006 @8:52 am

    Hello, maha.

    TeX/LaTeX will give you either a “device-independent” file that can convert to ps or pdf, or pdf directly. If you wanted to extract the equations I guess you could, but a lot of academic book and journal publishers –Elsevier, Springer, Princeton, the American Mathematical Society, etc.– prefer the LaTeX-formatted pdf, providing their own style files for authors to use in self-typesetting. When 70 percent of the ink on a page is math, that’s a pretty good way to go.

    Knuth’s book Concrete Mathematics and Varian’s Microeconomic Analysis are nicely-set books using LaTeX, but without embedded illustrations. There’s a very nice spread from a book I’m not familiar with, done in LaTeX by its author, that does have images as well as equations, at the heading“spread from Air and Water by Denny” on Tufte’s comments site.

  26. maha  •  Sep 23, 2006 @12:24 pm

    prostratedragon — once upon a time BC (before computers) there were typesetting companies that specialized in arcane, high-level mathematics, but I don’t know if such companies exist any more. I have enough experience with scholarly scientific journals to understand the problems involved with having desktop people try to interpret an author’s scribbles and set complex equations. So even though the thought of having authors typeset their own books makes me twitchy, in the case of high-level math it’s no doubt the most cost-effective way to go.

    However, it doesn’t innoculate you from errors, since authors make ’em. Authors can be their own worst enemies sometime. For example, there are some who simply cannot stop revising and making changes and won’t let go of the damn book so it can be published.

    Also, it wouldn’t prevent Andy Sullivan’s situation of finding signatures missing or out of order. That’s a whole ‘nother problem unrelated to how the pages were composed.

  27. Teresa Nielsen Hayden  •  Sep 23, 2006 @2:07 pm

    Aha! Some finished copies were good. That nails it down. If some non-defective copies came off the line, the F&Gs must have been okay, because you can’t make a good book from a bad set of signatures. Therefore, the problem must have been that the signatures were collated and bound in the wrong order. That’s an error that can only have happened at the plant. No wonder their printer agreed to eat the additional costs.

    Given the nature of the error, we can’t tell whether or not someone at HarperCollins checked the integrity of the F&Gs before signing off on the repro. For all we know, they did. It still wouldn’t have forestalled the problem, because the best-checked set of F&Gs in the world won’t yield non-defective copies if the signatures are being miscollated at the bindery.

    Maha, if you’ve only run into missing or miscollated signatures a couple of times, you’ve been lucky in your printers. It used to be a rarity. The incidence of signature miscollation problems started climbing when the big print-and-bind operations replaced the pressmen who’d overseen the production line with automated monitoring devices. They’re cheaper than human beings, but they make more mistakes; and when they make big mistakes, they do it with enthusiasm and vigor.

    (I haven’t been hearing about defective copies as often as I did a few years ago. Maybe the printers have been gradually debugging their hardware. It would be nice to think so.)

    Usually it’s only a fraction of the print run that’s defective. The standard procedure, if you find you’ve bought a bad copy, is to take it to your nearest bookstore and exchange it. Most bookstores will do that even if you bought it elsewhere, because they know the publisher will give them full credit for the return.

    For real excitement, try getting signatures from another book by another publisher mistakenly bound into one of your books. As Murphy would have it, the first time that happened to one of my titles, it was a signature from a steamy husband-and-wife book about how to have great married sex, and it was bound into the middle of a YA fantasy novel.

    There’s not much use in complaining. The big print-and-bind outfits have been buying up and shutting down their competitors. Threatening to go to another supplier just doesn’t have the credibility it used to.

    I continue to be appalled at the idea that major publishing houses might be signing off on repro without physically checking the F&Gs. It’s a small step that keeps you from making extremely expensive errors. Sooner or later, bad stuff is bound to happen. And there’s another consideration: many production procedures are still based on the assumption, inherited from the old hot-type days, that if you’ve checked something and found it had no errors, and you haven’t touched it since, it will continue to have no errors. You can’t be certain of that when everything’s digital.

    The only way I can imagine not checking them yourself is if you have a contract with the plant that says that in exchange for the convenience of not having to send you sets of physical F&Gs, they’ll undertake to check them for you, and take the rap if something goes wrong.

    (Since we’re all swapping resumes: I’m the former Managing Editor of Tom Doherty Associates, Inc., a.k.a. Tor/Forge/Orb. I started out as a typesetter thirty years ago.)

  28. Teresa Nielsen Hayden  •  Sep 23, 2006 @2:23 pm

    Equations: I belong to the last cohort of editors who were taught to type-spec equations. It was awful. You had to individually specify all the horizontal and vertical spacings, italicizations, font sizes, font changes, line weights and lengths, and overall alignments. Equals signs had to be explicitly flagged as equals signs, because in normal typescript markup they’re hyphens. Et bloody cetera. I’ve never heard anyone wax nostalgic about the disappearance of that particular technical specialty.

    Since by then most books were being printed on offset presses, I always wondered why publishers didn’t just hire some nice freelance calligrapher to render the equations as art. It would have been much easier than getting them set in type.

  29. maha  •  Sep 23, 2006 @2:35 pm

    many production procedures are still based on the assumption, inherited from the old hot-type days, that if you’ve checked something and found it had no errors, and you haven’t touched it since, it will continue to have no errors. You can’t be certain of that when everything’s digital.

    Yes. The whole job has changed.

  30. Steve M.  •  Sep 23, 2006 @3:34 pm

    F&Gs: We still get them — as a rule, a day before the books show up at the office. We just don’t look at them. Someday we may have a problem like this. We do check blues, but they’re only true blues if there’s a lot of art or photography in the book — otherwise, we get PDFs.

    By the way, all that stuff about the author submitting electronic files, which are edited on computer and passed on to the text freelancers in electronic form? Speak for yourself. We use the hardcopy manuscript as our version of record. We very much prefer that the manuscript be accompanied by its e-text version, but not all authors use computers, and you absolutely can’t count on freelancers using standardized software or matching your procedures. Given a choice between a mediocre copyeditor who’s up to the minute on Word, and an excellent copyeditor who still uses CPM, I’ll take the CPM-user every time.

    Ditto.

    I have worked for two different small publishers in which the boss insisted on skipping copyediting entirely (and then wondered why there were so many E.A.s in proof).

    That happens on a few books published by huge companies, too. If they pay the author a huge advance, often they want to recoup it immediately, so they cut the time to produce the book down to nothing. It’s insane — at Simon & Schuster you’d be working for a company that would move a $150 million movie out three months to maximize its box office receipts, but you’d be rushing through a book just so a $750,000 advance could be recouped the same quarter it (or most of it) was paid out.

  31. Steve M.  •  Sep 23, 2006 @3:41 pm

    So they did a global search and replace, and the book was published and distributed. Some readers were puzzled about a chapter in who two characters discuss the merits of Michaelangelo’s Jeff.

    That happened to a book I worked on, though only in one chapter — we asked for the typesetter to change “Me.” to “Maine” and had no idea it would be done as a global fix. Five “Me”s that weren’t references to Maine became “Maine” (as in the Smokey Robinson song “You Really Got a Hold on Maine”). The corrections were corrected, it didn’t seem as if any other lines had changes, and it went out that way. My greatest professional shame.

  32. Swami  •  Sep 23, 2006 @10:26 pm

    I don’t know the first thing about the publishing process, but if I was to proof read Andy’s book, I’d point out the obvious mistake in the title.. namely that conservatives don’t have souls.

  33. Kevin Hayden  •  Sep 24, 2006 @3:26 am

    Thank you, Barbara. And thanks to all from the publishing industry, at this fascinating look at the evolution of publishing. It sure does seem to me that adding back at least one more set of eyes to the process would be, if not perfectly cost-efficient, at least more considerate of authors, readers and booksellers.

    Consideration is that quaint thing that often gets slain when bottomline dwellers make production increases the only aim of an industry.

  34. Joe Clark  •  Sep 26, 2006 @7:59 am

    It didn’t get noticed because Sullivan’s writing is incomprehensible. Chapter 5+6 followed by 6+5 would be indistinguishable from any other sequence of words he writes.

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