May 6, 2007

The Process: Part IV—Interior Design and Layout

While you work away on the copyedited manuscript I have returned to you, I am simultaneously moving forward with the projected interior look of your book. A specific designer (chosen by the production manager in much the same way I have chosen the copy editor: based on design strengths, the particular book's needs, subject matter, etc.) will have been lined up for the project. Often the acquisitions editor will have some input as to how the book should feel to the reader. Does it need icons to separate sections? Should the typeface be soft and traditional? Or should it be striking and confrontational? Script or boldface? Usually there are general recommendations made that the designer can incorporate into their samples.

I prepare an interior design memo that accounts for all possible elements in the book that the designer needs to consider: number of headings and levels, running text, bullets/lists, sidebars, charts, icons/illustrations, footnotes, and of course the page count, number of words, page size, and other specifics. (A note for another post: there is a very calculated way that word/page counts are determined, and it is rare that they change much after a manuscript has been accepted. Sometimes we have to employ a little sleight of hand to turn out the book as originally figured.)

Once the designer is equipped with this information (I also submit a hefty chunk of text for him/her to work with, making sure to incorporate all unique elements discussed in the memo in that sample), they have between one and three weeks to provide us with two to five rough interior sample layouts. These are usually about ten to twenty pages long and should look just like the final book so we can get a good idea whether or not it will work.

Obviously this process wouldn't be terribly challenging or all that time consuming for a novel (nor is it for a nonfiction narrative, usually) because all you have is running text and maybe the chapter name/number to worry about. For some nonfiction works, however, it can be a stressful and fine art to get a design right in the first round (which is extremely rare). This is especially true of cookbooks, guidebooks, and instruction books. Everything has to be just right if you want the target audience to purchase it.

The designer's samples are passed around the office for several key opinions: the publisher (always has the final say), the sales/marketing manager (very important input, but not as crucial as the cover), the acquisitions editor (one of just a few people who has actually read the book and understands it fully), the production manager/art director (the in-house design specialist and technical guru), and the managing editor/production editor (again, one of few who has read the book and sees both the editorial and production sides). Many times it comes down to a vote for the favorite (sometimes incorporating an appealing piece from one of the overall less liked samples), and detailed notes about any modifications needed are made. This comprehensive feedback is sent to the designer for a second round.

Hopefully the designer will have made all requested alterations to the layout and look, and when they return the second design sample everything is perfect. Usually it isn't so easy, but most of the time the second attempt is very close to what becomes the final design. Several back-and-forths are sent and eventually a design is approved.

By the time you return your revised manuscript file to me, we should have the interior layout ready to go. Occasionally the author is included in this process (or at least given a complimentary look at what we have decided on), but unless you have some very strong feelings about a particular page style/font being used, we move forward with what we have.

It is really exciting to get to this part in the process because it means we are very close to seeing your manuscript in book form. It is one of the highlights of being a project editor (the greatest being holding the finished, printed book in my hand).

And next: Cleaning up and tagging the manuscript

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