Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Printers, publishers, and . . .

Earlier this morning, on a mailing list, someone trying to sort out a list of printers began to ask a question by positing "There are many, many on-demand book printers/publishers online, some with very low prices."

I responded as follows:

Stop. Right. There.

You're dumping alligators, seaweed, hippopotamuses, and pond scum into one bucket just because they all live in water. So let's try to sort them out into categories. Then it will be much easier to compare services and prices.

REGARDLESS OF WHAT COMPANIES CALL THEMSELVES OR SAY THEY OFFER, what we're interested in is what the are and whether they provide the services we need. So let's use our own bafflegab-free definitions and ignore the marketing materials.

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  • A publisher is someone who puts money at risk to produce and market a book.
  • A publishing services company is someone who provides services such as editing, design, indexing, or proofreading to publishers.
  • A book packager is a company that prepares books for publication on behalf of a publisher.
  • A printer is someone who owns printing equipment and accepts customer files for printing.
  • A book manufacturer is someone who prints and binds books under one roof.
  • Offset printing is printing from metal plates hung on a press and is typically used for 300 or more copies of a book.
  • Short-run digital printing is using digital printing equipment to produce one or more copies of a book for delivery to the publisher (or to a fulfillment warehouse).
  • On-demand printing is using digital printing equipment to produce a single copy of a book for direct delivery to a retail customer on behalf of the publisher.
  • A print broker is someone who accepts a job from a publisher and then forwards it to selected vendors for the required services.
  • A vanity press is a company that combines the services of a publishing services provider and a print broker and overcharges for both, making it impossible for a publisher that contracts with them to make a reasonable profit. Otherwise known as pond scum.
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Now, WITHIN A CATEGORY, it is possible to compare companies and evaluate whether one provides better quality or better services than another, and that can be a productive exercise.

There are book manufacturers who specialize in working with amateur publishers (high school yearbook staffs, for example) and have customer service reps (CSRs) who are adept at hand-holding.
Some of these companies also do a superb job of book manufacturing. Others tend to cut corners.

In contrast, there are book manufacturers whose CSRs are nothing more than traffic managers (friendly, competent, polite traffic managers). Any technical questions are forwarded to a technician, and the answer that eventually comes back may or may not be clear. These companies work directly with professional print buyers at publishing companies and with professional book designers, customers who are expected to provide trouble-free files for printing and clear specifications for the job. Within this subgroup of book manufacturers, some companies focus on quality and some focus on price.

Similarly, with short-run digital printers, there are companies that specialize in book manufacturing for publishers, and there are others that specialize in church cookbooks, machinery service manuals, and programs for the local high school football awards banquets. And, oh yeah, if you have a book of your weekly newspaper columns from the local shopper, they'll throw that together for you too. So, again, you can compare on quality and price.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Instructions to authors who think an Excel worksheet is a table

Well, it has been a very long time since I posted anything, and for that I sort of apologize. I guess my allotted social networking time has been absorbed by Facebook. However, in a conversation on the InDesign list, something came up that leads to a blog post, so I can link to it later. That something is tables.

This is directed to people who work in Excel a good deal of the time and who would like to see their worksheets reproduced in a book for which they are preparing a manuscript.

Print it.
That's right. Print your worksheet. The part you want shown in the book. You probably know the size of the book page by now, and I'm guessing it is not 8.5 × 11 inches. More likely it is 6 × 9 inches or thereabouts. So set up your page margins to limit the printed area to, say 4.5 × 7.5 inches. (On US letter paper, you would do this by making the top and bottom margins 1.75 inches and the side margins 2 inches.)

Okay, what you have now is approximately the way your worksheet will look in the printed book. It's permissible to run the table broadside (so the book has to be turned 90 degrees to read the table). The compositor may typeset your table rather than running it as an image of your actual worksheet, but the amount of type that can be squeezed into the page doesn't change much when that step is taken. So if the information on your test print is too tiny to read, then it will be too tiny to read in the book as well.

The key thing to keep in mind is that your worksheet can have an enormous number of rows and columns, and you can navigate around it just fine on your computer monitor. But a printed table in a book is limited to the size of the printed page. You can't just select a large region of your worksheet and shrink it down to page size and expect it to be legible.

What does this mean to you as an author?
It means that you have to think about the way information is organized for presentation to the reader. The way you have it organized now may perfectly suit your workaday purposes, but it may not work for your audience. So you need to select and organize the information in a way that will make sense to a naive reader. If you have a great deal of information to present, arrange it into a limited number of columns but allow it to run to a large number of rows. This will be printed on consecutive pages, and readers will understand it. If you instead have a limited number of rows running across a great many columns, there is no convenient way to make that comprehensible in a book. (Foldout pages are expensive and generally not available for short-run books. Trust me. Yours is a short-run book.)

What else?
 After you create a new worksheet organized for the reader's benefit, provide that as an actual Excel file to your editor. You may also want to provide an image of a table in your Word manuscript file, to show how and where you want the table to appear. But that is not sufficient in itself. The Excel file is needed as well, so the compositor has the table contents to manipulate and not just a picture that will then have to be typeset from scratch.

One more thing . . . equations!
Another problem that sometimes arises is the confusion between Excel formulas and equations. If you are explaining to the reader how to set up a worksheet, by all means cite your formulas just as you have them. But if you are expressing a mathematical truth, use an equation editor, or at least don't complain when your editor uses one. As an Excel user, you probably don't think about whether variables are set in italics or not. But in traditional mathematical notation, the choice of type font carries information (real information, defined by Claude Shannon as that which resolves an uncertainty). A letter set in italics is a variable. The same letter set in roman is a constant. In boldface it's (usually) a vector or a matrix (depending on the context), and so forth. Greek letters are part of the picture, and faking them (using lowercase u instead of Greek μ, for example) is a no-no. In Excel, none of this is relevant. But for an equation on a book page, whether it's a display equation or part of running text, it's important. I'll leave it up to you and your editor whether you assign variable names to business quantities or spell them out in their entirety (net profits = . . . vs. P = . . .). Just follow the conventions and everyone will be happy.

Okay, that's it.
Set up the table with the book page in mind and provide the file to the editor. Follow mathematical notation conventions. Just doing those three things will make the whole editing and production process much smoother for everyone.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Where in the world is the Press Democrat

I am exhausted from an all-weekend training seminar and therefore not in a civil mood toward anyone and shouldn't be posting at all so maybe you should just delete this before reading it as a kindness to me.

In this McLuhanesque Global Village Virtual World Age of the Internet, there seems to be a presumption that no one cares where you are in the physical world. I cannot begin to tell you how many links I have followed to newspaper websites to learn about someone's local story (posted on Facebook, posted to a mailing list, posted wherever)—good news, funny news, sad news, or bad news—only to be left scratching my head because the newspaper can't be bothered with datelines or with any indication on the news page of where the paper is published.

In today's episode, I followed a link from a mailing list post and then had to click twice more to find the About page, where I learned that the Press Democrat is published in Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County. Now it happens that I know enough geography to know that Sonoma County is in California, so I didn't have to read all the way to the end of the paragraph. But it would be so much simpler if the city where a paper is published were part of the header or footer of every page, as it is on a print edition.

I know I cannot influence managers of newspaper websites to change their practices, but maybe by whining here I can influence you, when you post to a forum or a mailing list, to put at least the city and state where they live in your signature lines, to clue people in to where you are in the world.

Friday, November 30, 2012

New interview on self-publishing

Tom Santos, one of the most active members in the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association (CAPA) has a regular slot on his community access television station. He interviewed me in September, and I found the DVD of the show in the pile of mail that awaited me when we returned from our adventures in the Galapagos and Quito. I've just uploaded it to my website. Take a look.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Kind words from a client

Dear Dick,

Although I am usually a careful researcher before I make a major move, I called you to help me compose my book on no more than instinct.

What a great decision it turned out to be. I had an idea of how my aunt's 90th birthday celebration book should look, but I didn't know how to get there. With my cousins as my clients, I conducted interviews and wrote copy. That was the easy part. They gave me their albums of photos, some as old as my aunt, others hot off the digital camera,and I stayed up nights worrying about combining the two elements into the book of which we could all be proud. There was no doubt that I had to turn the next steps over to someone. That's when I contacted you.

Our first meeting gave me the confidence that you could do it. As the weeks passed, I saw you take my materials and produce a result that I proudly presented to my aunt and cousins last week. Your experience, professionalism, creativity and easy-going nature made the process a pleasure. You even met my somewhat unrealistic deadline.

Thank you for the wonderful book that my family will treasure for generations.

Judy Goldwyn
As You Recall
46 Elder Street
Milford CT 06460
(203) 209-8098

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bulgarian ignoble; Cleveland fusty

One of the strategies spammers use to get past Bayesian spam filters is to include, in their hidden text, lists of infrequently used words. The unedited list below from such an email contains gems of unintended poetry. As a writing exercise, you might select any string of six consecutive words from this list and construct a story that incorporates them.

Without further ado . . .
horsdoeuvre washout northern duty hebrews reverential. egghead indignant scholar leatherwork saucy nomenclature igloo desert mousetrap towboat print typewritten electret albeit ibidem condescension alternate divisible huge. quaint czechoslovak fallen chauffeur reverential adjudge grim authenticate stargaze haphazard. emulsification condescend scull armistice eighth grandiose lancaster peer derail. whiny malarial crazy centimeter v harry borax barbital clever conversion. basilica affix hearted staple thanatolog northumbria alabaman dumbbell nevada score sacrament reverential fetish dexter only shortcut vogue enemy habeascorpus. print yule lacie corpus atonal tall smug grasshopper pedigreed.

headsmen. stick gypsy terrain binding.

beth monaco mortician. catastrophe frontiersman refract scales locksmith. elsalvadore maam lifelong boom indignant burnout oratory candid live oceanside ivory berkshire keypunch extemporaneous centrist. krypton granny dowel ci superlative syllabi eighth motto. alsace delight riot job insinuate notorious damp rhodesia firebreak downcast principal provocation guillemot. alphameric architect cerebrate terrapin rubble zero accuracy homonymy hartford knob gyrfalcon you habitude fritter seismolog elm boast refresh contra candid irreverent portulaca.

agony slat sclera advice historic galvanic mackinaw museum.

highwayman bacterial spangle maiden administrate autocrat hyperbola fragmentary solace turk brine. polygyn torment chapel.

grief mongolian beaker epistolatory elsalvadore rely.

longsuffering saith cordage crease secondary creed pizzeria apparition astringent poetic morale let hightail emphases councilman prepare carob interpolate. stalactite clay proboscis duchess.

logarithm hovel froze tangibly sovkhozy sweat arizona horsy crow penetrably pine decisive guillemot attest. booth cue dispensary technocrat khartoum subtract equivalent thessalonians madest java wed knapsack scrimmage pet machination defy girl large encode binaural luther. cent capacity eyewitness. loquacious elsalvadore symmetry eighth florentine prefab roommate wield waylaid lieu. jewelry scour chessboard dependent satchel genius divisor kennel georgia perorate prefix watt crease issue citadel lifetime noble spent flack bombproof testbed calibrate solace. altruism rind alway nevada southerner. distaff mandatory egypt elsalvadore leapt revolutionary.

chap slag eradicate newfangled pastry meliorate gingham mutably perspicuous aloud. boredom atrophic astir vivid cohesive polity shrug exculpate antipodes budgetary yemen monk fritter privilege agrarian autonom eminencegrise atlanta stifle.

nevada prisoner solder advocate bacterial sarsaparilla galore incommunicado crow turbaned ombudsmen sepulchral trapping minuscule kenyan accost yeomanry typic delivery. etch rear contour transfuse phobia drunk rhododendron are point.

prerequisite red slander wingmen byte last frontiersman cilia scan slowdown notorious cambodian blink pendulous cue revelation wast counsel amble equal alabaman. reject hardline winsome atonal maelstrom reticulum mile genotype doest soignee icon pastor script samovar mimetic learn burrito crosstalk tether pour react. assiduous coast jewelled sprint eucalyptus.

philadelphia testate topograph toll ovary rector. pension cytolog grapheme dynamite essential wastebasket fragment southerner reticulum rapture homogenize bulgarian histrionic bavaria viaduct ferry airmass decoy allergic carrel irrevocable. budgetary reception life plate cater unicef distort naval mousetrap tuba wheelchair treason sixteen tuft thwack flack chirp doctorate block heard.

repentant astringent tie postpone mallet magnum terrain java suite siren. infectious gullibly solicitous inevitability defacto saguaro skewer glade boron multiplicity blest wheelchair inure roost commodity corral. tangibly orthopedist dispensary painstaking hartford mensurable passersby chairperson upgrade delight allay shlemiel blanch cortices. berkshire amphetamine outside matthew goblet soliloquies smash attach wont leatherwork python kerchief huddle. shamrock injure scad pathogenesis chew perfuse falsehood locale lewd prejudice amicably interpolate spearhead ionosphere had retrorocket sacrament declension entrance.

whop bulgarian ignoble mutably elicit beam conciliate hocuspocus strip epa portulaca introductory blister tombstone swoop. dexter houseful fierce slab confidante submarine reject harrass wont astringent foothill hen burnout. success lounge sorption firebreak bureau. slowdown ducting. nihilist slug pantry. centigrade binaural tiff copyright facade ducting engross unicef pantomime. increase inhale kerosene surly.

santaana ombudsmen alphameric chimeric egypt staircase scrota cleveland fusty propriety treasure trapping grandmother macaroni barbarian tablespoonful. infix buckeye repast atrophic. subtract palindrome mantrap orthopedist whop gaslight crewman lifetime bystander accuracy equidistant pleurisy o pyrrhic comely violet flightpath.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Why it's important to work with native speakers of the language you intend to publish in

I am sitting in a hotel room in Trieste, which is at the moment in Italy, although it is walking distance to Slovenia and has flown many flags over the millenia, including its own as an independent city-state under UN protection after the Second World War.

A city with such a varied history naturally has much to offer tourists, and we have scheduled a full day of sightseeing following the end of my wife’s conference. In her conference bag was a highly produced tourist guide in English, a large-format map with attractively designed blocks on the back describing suggested touring options. This is the official publication of the tourist agency and carries no advertising. Thought went into this.

I am reading about James Joyce, who lived here twice. The writing and editing is fine. A native speaker of British English edited the copy for this translation. But the typesetting was done by someone who does not know English well. The text in the second column begins like this:
Even his most famous work, “Ulys-
ses”, was planned in Trieste, whe-
re he also wrote some of its most
significant chapters.
There is no variety of English in which “where” is two syllables, but to someone who speaks a Romance language, “where” can look like two syllables.

Certainly there are ways to avoid such traps. Choosing the correct hyphenation dictionary for the language you are typesetting is helpful, even if most compositors forget to do it. But being a native speaker is safer.