Higher Education

Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

How a book is produced

Once a manuscript has passed through the editorial process, it is now ready for actual production. The first stage consists of designing the text; choosing the correct typeface and point size for the audience, and determining what kind, if any, art and/or photos should appear with the text. After the sample designs have been approved by the editorial department (and perhaps marketing), the text will be formatted, or typeset into proofs. Nowadays it's common to ask for page proofs, so the text looks just like it will on a finished page, with computerized typesetting, it's quite simple for changes to be made to the pages even if there might be quite a lot of corrections at this first proof stage.

Of course, once the manuscript has reached the production stage, the schedule becomes all important, especially if the book has an important publication date. A large part of the production person's role is to make sure all the people involved in this stage follow the established schedule. First proofs need to be seen and read by the author/s, editor, designer and finally back to production for a check of marked corrections, before they are sent back to the formatter for making the corrections. After the first proofs have been okayed by author/editor, the designer will commission any art. It's safer to commission the art after the pages have been set, as it's then apparent how much space is available for the artwork.

The second set of proofs may have the rough art in place. Roughs are the first proofs the artist supplies, to show that the artist understands what's asked for and can be shown to the author if the art is of a technical nature and requires author approval before final art is created. The second page proofs should be quite final, and generally the only corrections that will be made will be minor and not involve new page breaks (i.e. the line ends will not change over a page break). It's from these proofs that the editorial department will commission an index if the book requires one.

Final art will be scheduled to arrive in-house around the time the index and second proofs will be returned to the formatter (again, after editor and designer have seen and checked the proofs). Photographs, if any, and the final artwork will need to be scanned electronically to render it into a computerized format. Once this is done, the formatter can place the images on the text pages and the final set of page proofs will show the pages as they will appear once printed.

The last set of page proofs and the disk will then be sent to the printer. The printer will download the information on the disk ensuring the proofs produced from the disk supplied matches the proofs supplied by the publisher. The printer's proofs will be shown to the publisher and once approved, the printer will proceed. Depending on the printing company chosen, the printer will either make plates from producing film of the text pages, or create plates electronically, bypassing the film process completely. The plates are photo sensitive aluminium sheets and generally have 32 text pages on them. The pages are arranged on the plate depending on how the sheet of paper will be folded for the binding process. The plates are wrapped around a drum on the press and the ink will flow from the plate, to a blanket against which the sheet of paper will pick up the text image.

Once the sheets of paper come off the press, they are then folded into signatures, each signature will usually comprise of 32 pages, but there are instances when a book will have larger or small signatures depending on the page count. Signatures will always be made up of multiples of eight pages. Signatures are then gathered together and placed in correct order. If the book is to be sewn, the stitching will take place next, with threads passing through the middle of each signature and every signature is stitched together. The book blocks as they are called are now ready for the trimming process, whereby the three edges are cut away to result in the final size of the book. The trimmed block will travel by conveyor to the casing-in line, where the hardback cover will be glued to the book block. Jacketing will then take place either by hand, or machine.

If the book is to be bound as a paperback, the folded part of the signature will be cut or ground off. Grinding what will eventually be the spine, or cutting notches into the sections of the spine will allow for the glue to be absorbed into the book block and make for a more securely bound book. Again, book blocks will travel by conveyor to have covers glued on, but the trimming process won't take place until the covers are on.

Quality checks are done throughout the printing and binding processes, but there may still be some problem books that slip through. Bulk stock will be shipped to the publisher's warehouse, and it's the responsibility of the production staff to ensure the quality expected is maintained from start to finish.

The schedule established depends on the type of book being produced; the longer the book, the more artwork and photographs involved the longer the schedule. If a book is to be sewn and casebound and jacketed, it will require more time at the printers. Usually the marketing department will have a date by which the book MUST be in the warehouse, and if this is the case, a work-back schedule will be developed. A straight paperback text, with little or no artwork and photos can be managed comfortably in four months, allowing 3/4 weeks for the printing and binding. For a complex education text, involving multiple authors, illustrators, a cartographer, and a photo researcher, a minimum of seven months is generally necessary, especially if the book is being produced as a full four colour text. Obviously with more people involved and extra processes, the cost of producing this kind of text is considerably higher and it's safer to proceed more cautiously. This may involve doing tests of sample material from the formatter and film-supplier (if the printer is not supplying film) to ensure the printer will not have any difficulties using the formatter's disks.

While it's possible to do so much with computer technology now, there's also a greater degree of unknown things occurring due to not being able to see all of the processes. Testing material before committing to final processes is partly a luxury (if a tight schedule is what you have to work with) but also a necessity, to make sure those books in the warehouse look just as you expect them to.