The process of making books is an odd one. I think when I started out, I thought of the writing part, but not much about the actual process of turning that writing into something that you can buy and read.
We all think of the writing bit when we think of authors, don't we? We think of a person at their computer, perhaps working into the late hours of the night. We think of people scribbling in journals, and maybe we think of the authors we've seen calmly reading their work in front of an audience at your local bookstore.
But we don't really think of the production process. There's a kind of a magical black box between the author and the finished book in most of our minds, not because we're stupid or because that information isn't available to access, but because we don't think about it all that much. Just like we don't stop to consider the prototyping and manufacturing process for our Ikea furniture or our dishware or our breakfast cereal.
And I didn't either, until I had a finished, edited manuscript on my hands and I had to figure out how to turn it into something you can buy.
For a long time, authors have had publishing companies do all that work for them, or at least had them contract that work out to various designers, printers, and distributors. But for a really long time before that, authors of books owned their own presses, on which they would arrange the type and press copies of their books. Authors that didn't own presses would pay people that did. Before that, copies of books were painstakingly hand-written.
Today, I actually don't have to worry about the reproduction process. I create a file and upload it. People who buy the ebook download a copy of that file, and people who buy the print book receive a printed copy without much interference from me. A print-on-demand company that has a copy of the print file just runs a copy and ships it. It's really incredible if you think about it.
When you take the wide perspective, the work that I have to put in to making books is pretty minimal compared to my predecessors.
I do tend to think of the process of formatting the print book file as "setting type," even though it's less physical and more exact these days. When you buy a Barely Salvageable book, Either Tina or I have decided which elements to put where and have structured the book file accordingly. That includes choosing page size, setting margins, putting in page numbers, formatting the table of contents, making decisions regarding chapter or section headings, all the way down to determining tab stops and choosing fonts.
And I'll tell you right now, it's kind of amazing how many opportunities there are for formatting errors in a two hundred page book with multiple chapters. After enough time spent staring at text on a screen, those errors get harder and harder to see. The eyes get tired and the mind becomes impatient. Every print file I've produced has been picked through at least a dozen times. It's much easier for me to focus on one aspect of formatting for the entire text rather than try to do all of them at once.
The ebook files are a lot easier; a lot of the formatting is handled on the user side, based on settings and defaults on your e-reader. But, because our primary ebook retailer does some assembly of the ebook file, such as adding a table of contents and attaching the ebook cover, we actually produce two different versions of the ebook: one for our retailers and one to give out for free to our superfans as Advance Review Copies.
Note: If you're an avid reader and are interested in receiving our books for free and leaving honest reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, sign up for our mailing list for access to Advance Review Copies.
People in this industry run entire side-hustles charging busy or lazy or poorly informed authors money in order to format their books for them. It takes hours, and thus costs into the hundreds of dollars.
I guess I'm thinking about all this now because I'm in production on our next issue of Hot Mess. I'm pretty excited about getting it out, but there's a dozen little things that need to be taken care of in the meantime. I thought I was finished formatting for print, but when I opened the file this morning to give it one last check, it turned out there was another hour's worth of work to do. Really small, finicky stuff that would've looked painfully amateur in a printed book but that's barely noticeable in a text file.
Maybe when I open it tomorrow it'll be clean.
For now, it's time to move on to the ebook file.
Wish me luck.