Six Months Out Until Pub Date – Everybody Gets to Play
Six Months Out Until The Pub Date—Everybody Gets to Play
Galley pages are printed up and given to the editor. The editor and the author go over them. The pages with changes on them are returned to the production department. It’s the last time the editor and author will see the work until it shows up as a real book. At this point, if bound galleys are going to be printed and distributed to reviewers and accounts, these pages will be used to create them. A proofreader gets a copy of the copy-edited manuscript, a copy of the marked up galley pages, and a clean copy of the galley pages, and makes sure that all the necessary changes have been made and that no additional changes need to be made. This process is called slugging.
Finally the catalogues and all the cover flats and other sales material from a given month or season are printed in quantity, put together in folders, packaged and mailed to all accounts and other necessary people, along with any galleys and giveaway items. Where it’s appropriate, and sometime where it’s inappropriate, publishers make party-favor-like items to draw special attention to a given book. I’ve seen everything from T-shirts to lovely picnic baskets stocked with goodies to teeny little action figures to notepads to shoelaces to an immense pair of white cotton panties (trust me, those got a lot of attention). It’s a crowded market, and publishers want buyers to see and remember their books.
The accounts get kits from every publisher, and sort the covers and catalogues into a single pile for each buying season. Then the buyers research the titles, looking up previous books by each author, or similar titles where that isn’t applicable. They figure out roughly what they’re going to buy, add everything up, and see if the budget they’ve got to buy with will cover their estimated purchases. If the total they come up with is higher than the amount they’d planned to spend, they revise their estimated orders downward. Budgets have a life of their own completely independent of the needs and wants of publishers and the book-buying public. If, for example, a company is publicly traded and they want their inventory to be lean for a given quarterly report to help manipulate the stock price upward, budgets might be miniscule, even if multiple blockbuster books are coming out in that month. Or if everybody’s had a couple of bad sales months due to miserable weather during a hard winter, money might be tight across most of the country to buy new summer books with. Any time money is tight, buyers will make sure they take care of the titles they expect to be blockbusters first. That will mean a large number of interesting but not essential books won’t be ordered until money’s a little freer. If one of those interesting books is yours, it can be heartbreaking.
The information on the books is added to the company’s computer system—title, author, ISBN, price. Most companies get this computerized information from a central source, like Bowker or Ingrams, rather than typing it all into their computers themselves. This explains why a typo in the information will show up all over the country, rather than just at a single store or a single chain.
Typos in bookselling can be extremely problematic—and not just because you can’t find a book when you try to look it up because they spelled an author’s name or title wrong. Separate ISBNs are issued, for example, for a given title and for each kind of multi-copy prepack of a given title, and they are right next to each other in catalogues and on order forms. So if you want to buy 10 copies of a Star Wars hardcover, for example, there might be a nifty 10 copy prepack available with a counter display and a cardboard header. So you’d order one copy of the 10 copy prepack using the prepack ISBN. But if you use the prepack ISBN when you actually mean to order single copies, you’ve just ordered ten times as many books as you intended to. And if Bowker accidentally put the prepack ISBN into their database instead of the single copy ISBN, every buyer in the country might make that mistake. This actually happened once to a big prepack of a title. I saw those books at dollar stores and on remainder tables for a decade.
Sales reps from the various publishers will either call, visit, or email their accounts and get estimated orders for the various books the accounts plan to stock. The rep will present the list and indicate what sort of orders they’d like to get from this account. The account’s buyer will agree or disagree with the suggested order, and then give an estimated order to the rep. Sometimes the account will increase an order well beyond the publisher’s expectations. This is often more frightening to the publisher than the standard problem of ordering less than the publisher wants. That’s because almost all books are sold fully returnable. The publisher might very well get every copy of a book they ship back at some unanticipated future date, and they’ll have to credit the accounts what they paid for every copy, less shipping. So mistakes from exuberance can be extremely costly to publishers. On the other hand, mistakes of caution are equally nasty if the books run out, because it takes more time to get them back into the stores than it takes for typical consumers to forget why they wanted the book. As a consequence, vendors lose a ton of sales they’d have made if the book was available.
The estimated orders from the largest national accounts (Barnes & Noble, Waldenbooks, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Amazon, Chas. Levy, etc.) are accumulated about four months prior to the book’s publication date and are used to generate the actual print run of all the books on each publisher’s list. The publisher, editor-in-chief, and the sales and marketing people have a meeting. They take this initial batch of orders, extrapolate from it what the total order will probably be, and thus generate the final print order to send to the printer. Sometimes, if the orders are too far off from the estimated or announced print run for a specific title, the sales people go out and try to coerce the buyers into buying more copies. Other times, print runs and marketing plans for a given title can be expanded if the orders are higher than expected, or, if orders are too low, a title can be postponed for repackaging or cancelled completely. The publisher also decides, based on the orders, which of the custom prepacks it advertised in the catalogue will actually be produced, and which have too few orders to justify their existence. If orders are too low, prepacks will still be made, but they’ll have generic packaging and headers rather than custom-designed ones. (So they’ll say, for example, “Berkley Books” rather than “Bestseller by Bestselling Author” and the art will be the publisher’s logo, rather than the cover art from the book.) This can have a real impact on sales because it makes it harder for casual shoppers to see the book and decide to buy it.
Another decision can be made at this meeting—the publisher might decide to print covers in excess of the needs of the print run for any book that has a shot at requiring reprints fairly quickly. Since it takes about a week to produce a book, and about three weeks to produce a cover, and since the costs of setting up a cover run are massive, but the costs of individual covers aren’t that high once the presses are set up to produce them, by printing and stockpiling additional covers, the publisher can substantially cut the time and money it takes to make new books if they have to go back to press. An author can take advantage of that, too—some publishers allow the author, with sufficient notice and payment in advance, to purchase at cost any additional covers they’d like from this run. It’s a bargain—a few cents apiece for something that would cost a dollar or more if it was produced for the author commercially. The decision to produce extra covers can be a complete waste if the book doesn’t take off as expected, but it’s still an extremely efficient use of time and money if the book does well. Once the final decisions are made for all the books on the list, the publisher sets the print runs for covers and books and cardboard display cases and headers and sends the print orders off to the various manufacturers.
Covers and books are usually produced at different places. Mass market covers and hardcover dust jackets take the longest time to make. The initial step of the process requires massive sheets of cover stock to be run through printing presses. Most covers are printed on one side in a four-color process. Some mass market covers have black and white printing or four-color printing on the other side, requiring an additional run through the presses. In four-color printing, each translucent ink color (red, yellow, blue, black) goes on the cover stock separately, and the finished colors combine in an image that looks like the original cover art. Once the printed sheets are dry, they’re coated with a waterproof finish that makes them glossy and helps them resist humidity, and then they’re cut into individual covers. Some books get a fancier matte finish, or a combination of matte and glossy finishes. These finishes have to dry completely, or the covers stick together when they’re packed in cartons for shipping, ruining them. They also have to adhere well, or the covers curl up once they’re out of their boxes. Then the printed covers are embossed, foiled, die-cut, or whatever. Some covers are foil-stamped first, then printed. Others are printed on foiled stock, so the foil-stamping step can be eliminated. Each separate process requires a trip through the machines. The fancier a cover is, the more steps it requires to make it, the more it costs to make, and the longer it takes to produce the covers. Once the covers are done, they’re packed into boxes and trucked to the factory where the printed book will be produced.
At the book-printing factory, roughly the same time as the covers arrive, the galley pages come in from the typesetter and plates are set up to print the book’s pages. The finished book is divided into sixteen-page folios, and each folio is printed on a single sheet of paper, which is then folded up and cut, resulting in the pages you see in the final book. Next, the folios are loaded into a machine to be collated. The machine has a series of hoppers, each holding a stack of folios. Once collated, the folios are joined. Mass markets are glued and bound in their covers, then trimmed. Hardcovers are sewn together at the spine, trimmed, then bound and glued to their hard bindings. Endpapers are applied, covering up the join between the spine and the cover. Once the hardback is complete, the dust jacket is wrapped around it. The manufacturing process is fraught with danger to a book. When somebody loads the wrong folio into a hopper (this happens all too easily), it results in the common problem of having sixteen repeated pages in book, and sixteen missing pages. Anybody who reads much will run into that occasionally. I once had a grandparent come into my store quivering with rage because the Walt Disney picture book she’d bought for her grandson had a folio from Playboy in it. I was never sure if that was an accident or some factory worker’s idea of an evil joke. I’ve seen whole bestseller print runs shipped missing the last chapter. I’ve seen books bound with the wrong cover. I’ve seen books printed from the Spanish-language plates bound in the English cover and shipped, and vice versa. I’ve seen a typesetter send the wrong file to the printer, and print a book from the first pass galley runs, rather than the carefully proofed pages. All the books went out with the myriad mistakes and problems from the worst first draft, rather than the beautifully proofed final pass. I’ve seen books printed with covers bound to them inside-out, upside-down, or backwards. You name the possible mistake, and I promise it’s happened. But most books survive this process and emerge intact. The finished books are packed into cartons and sent to the publisher’s warehouse.