Between the Pages: Where Editorial and Book Design Workflows Come Together

Date: Monday, May 23, 2011
Forum speaker: Joel Friedlander
Forum arranged by: Jim Norrena and Diana Young
Summary notes: Ann Marie Aubin

It used to be that if a writer wanted to be published, the standard was to approach agents and publishing houses. If the writer had talent, and an astronomical amount of luck, a book was published.

Joel Friedlander, a book publisher and author of A Self-Publisher's Companion - Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish visited BAEF to discuss the ways that publishing has changed for writers, publishers, and of course, editors.

In the past, the way a book came about involved endless submissions to the "top" people in publishing. Agents negotiated percentages, and publishing houses worked on all the details that go into publishing a book. From acquisition through development, to the final printing process and advertising, a single title could involve hundreds of people and impossible sums of money.

Now, with talent and perseverance, a writer can produce a manuscript. With relatively simple tools (meaning products and devices that can be purchased by the average person), the writer can independently create a book that can be marketed and sold just like one produced by a huge publishing company. Instead of requiring the services of many specialists, such as editors, indexers, and layout professionals, the author is free to make the decisions, and essentially do all the work independently.

The rise of faster technologies, digital imaging, and innovative manufacturing processes, along with new distribution channels, have made self-publishing a much needed option. Consider that one of the first industries to be digitized was printing. The labor-intensive days of typesetting in the traditional sense are gone.

There is a difference between subsidy printing—known as vanity presses, in which writers pay to be published—and self-publishing. The public and we as professionals must understand this difference. Vanity presses do all the work for a fee. Self-publishers do all the work, and then some. The investment of time and savvy on the part of the small publisher is what makes these two publishing venues completely removed from one another.

"Incidental or ephemeral writing merges with literary writings, which may at the same time be trying to imitate the ephemeral," Joel said, referring to the number of books that have sprung directly from blogging. Instead of only publishing writing that fits a particular genre, self-publishers are free to share ideas that don't fit a particular niche.

Joel's own book, A Self-Publisher's Companion - Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish, was created straight from his blog, The Book Designer. He simply packaged the pertinent material from his blog into a book, put it on the market, and got the word out about it and himself through networking and the blog site.

One of the biggest benefits of self-publishing is that the book never goes out of print. If you sell your first hundred copies and a bookstore suddenly wants a thousand more, you simply start up your computer, and your self-publishing empire can produce those new copies.

On the topic of a self-published book never going out of print, Joel said, "Once your book is on the server, it's there forever."

Authors need to be wary, however. Sometimes an independent publisher will buy the rights to a book, thus making it impossible for the writer to publish more copies or use other venues. Joel warns everyone involved in self-publishing to be vigilant about their rights to their intellectual property.

Because the self-publishing industry is so new, we're able to watch the phenomenon as it develops.

E-books, such as those published on Kindle, are essentially word files translated into HTML. As more people leave behind so-called p-books ("p" for "published"), we're going to find that standards of quality, interest, and salability become based on the electronic (e-book) market. Currently, there is a huge range of standards, from pure self-indulgence to pure literature, and all the levels in between. Books from big publishing houses are known to be extraordinarily polished (as they should be, considering the time and money involved in their production). Self-published books run the gamut from bad to good, just as the individuals who produce them do.

Joel points out that text is the lingua franca of the Internet. You can have hundreds of pictures and flashy graphics, but every website boils down to text on some level. People read much more than they did ten years ago, a result of nearly universal Web use and self-published books. This is a very exciting prospect for everyone, especially editors.

As "average" people become writers, where will they find editors? If a bartender from Florida produces a great manuscript for a cookbook, who will help polish that material for publication? A good and accessible editor.

"The first thing a writer should spend money on is an editor," Joel said.

So, what is the editor's job here?

Editors must adapt to new technology. Relying on outdated editing methods, such as the red pencil on the page, handicaps both the editor and the publisher. Joel still uses E-Fax because editors still insist upon editing on the page. The gold standard is an annotated Microsoft Word document. Working from faxes is time consuming for him, but for now it's necessary. Until astute (read: marketable) editors learn the all-important skill of editing on the screen, publishers like Joel will be forced to work with faxed edits. Keep in mind that not every publisher is so patient.

Manuscripts must have a well thought-out consistency. The layout of the page must be readable, pleasing to the eye, and logical. If numerals are used, there must be a standard way of expressing them. Book designers receive a manuscript and essentially wipe out all the attached code in favor of plain text. Editors must be aware of this. If you include a great deal of coding (meaning italics, fonts, margins), you will be disappointed to hear that it was for nothing. Book designers like Joel need a pure text document in order to work. It's up to the designer to make the flashy stuff happen.

Corrections pose a problem for book designers. Every correction must be done by hand. The same goes for words that aren't in the dictionary; auto-formatting can make unusual words a nightmare. Joel goes so far as to say he hates corrections because of the money and time required to implement them. Again, a good editor is called for.

In the proofs stage for a self-published book, the document becomes a PDF rather than a Word document. There are PDF annotation tools available online. Mac computers have PDF annotation tools built in.

Editors must begin to see social media as prime space for commerce and connections. Joel knows—we all want to work at home in our sweatpants, and that's a noble desire indeed. But to get the work, we need to network. Start Tweeting. Use Facebook. Be a presence on LinkedIn, and write your own blog. Educate potential clients about what you can do, and why they need you.

Joel had the great idea to offer levels of service. Consider developing package deals. Say an author wants you to finish editing within one week and provide suggestions for improvement. Offer speedy service and your best recommendations for a particular price rather than forcing him to pay for your entire repertoire of services. Let your customer pick and choose what's needed.

As an editor, you know how often people think they can get away with having their nephew's friend check their manuscript for typos. We need to get out in the world and proselytize the need for editing in general and clear communication overall.

When you as an editor sign a contract with a writer or publisher, make sure of the following:

  • The price is clear

  • The price of corrections (some writers will nitpick indefinitely if changes are free)

  • How to cancel a job

  • Specific dates and deadlines

What is the future for books?

Joel sees a lot of experimentation with form and length, and innovations in media integration. We'll see social innovation sparked by new forms that become acceptable in what we call a "book." What was once considered poetic scribbling may well become a vanguard in serious literature.

The form of the book itself will influence its subject matter and actual layout. For instance, Joel pointed out that the binding on PoDs is tighter than in commercial books, so this has influenced making the page gutters wider.

Because e-books can physically do it, we may well find that music tracks and film clips become legitimate parts of written works. We may see that we can watch Julia Child actually prepare the recipe we're working on, right inside the book!

Joel believes that ten years from now, a "book" will be:

  • Digital

  • Mobile

  • Aware of the network

  • The network will be aware of the book

  • Social and sharing

Editors are needed to shape these new forms and expectations. Writers, publishers, coders, and designers can't do it. Good editors will influence how the next generations use and enjoy books.

Joel Friedlander is the proprietor of Marin Bookworks in San Rafael, CA, a publishing services company where he's helped launch many self-publishers since 1994. He has owned businesses in graphic arts, design, and book publishing. He was Production Director of Aperture Books, where he produced award-winning photography books. He founded Renaissance Press in northern California, a private publisher of hand-typeset and hand-printed books. As the owner of Globe Press Books in Yorktown Heights, NY, he published books of memoirs and east-west spirituality. Learn more about Joel Friedlander by visiting

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Ann Marie Aubin works as an editor in San Francisco. Visit her website



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