Discovering Production

As a reader, I used to pick up a book and judge it by the cover and story. Now that I have been studying publishing for a few months, when I pick up a book, I think about the production choices. I think about what paper, typeface and other design decisions went into the book. Over the last few months, I learned that a lot more goes into the production of a book than the average reader would ever guess.

I chose to move to Edinburgh and attend Edinburgh Napier because of their emphasis on vocational training. (I also just really wanted the opportunity to live in Scotland.) I knew enthusiasm could only get me so far. I wanted to develop a practical skillset.

Napier’s MSc Publishing course gives you a year of dedicated learning in editorial, marketing, rights, production and everything in-between. It’s an in-depth overview of the entire publishing industry—books and magazines. I’ve always been interested in design but didn’t really know what it entailed. I didn’t even know what production was a few months ago. I knew someone had to design a book’s cover, but I never thought about the work required in typesetting and designing a book’s interior.

I’ve learned that it’s the production department creating the overall look and feel of the book, transforming a word document to a polished and professional product. Production meticulously goes through the text eliminating “widows” and “orphans.” They’re the ones ensuring the formatting is clear and readable, preparing the book for printing. Never had I considered how the choice of typeface changes someone’s perception of a book. For example, a production designer wouldn’t use Helvetica for a Sherlock Holmes novel. Baskerville, a typeface fitting to the story’s period and setting, would be a much  better choice.

Production choices define a reader’s experience with a book. A good example of this is the work of Scottish publisher Barrington Stoke. They use a specific type of paper and a specially designed typeface to create dyslexic-friendly books. Production choices like these can make a book more attractive and accessible to readers.

I enjoyed learning about editorial, rights, the fiction market, etc., but production has been my favorite topic this trimester. I learned how to navigate InDesign and put what I learned into practice by designing AI sheets and book templates. I’m happy to report that my prior dread of InDesign has morphed into (mostly) genuine enjoyment. Three months ago, I didn’t even know how to use a Mac computer. Now, I can typeset a book. Seeing myself and my fellow PC loyalists progress has been immensely satisfying.

I came to Napier thinking I wanted to pursue either editorial and marketing. While I’m still very interested in those areas, I’ve now added production to my list of ideal jobs. I’ve no doubt that as I continue through this course, I’ll discover new and exciting areas of the publishing industry to add to my list of dream careers. Hopefully, after completing Napier’s MSc Publishing course, I’ll find myself working in one of them.

Photo via gizmodo
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Placement at Palimpsest

Before starting at Palimpsest, I wasn’t entirely sure what the precise role of the typesetter was in the publishing process. I had read about this branch of publishing, but quite often it is only mentioned in passing, and in relation to the activities of publishing houses rather than in its own right. In this respect, my time at Palimpsest has been illuminating. I have been frankly amazed by the sheer volume of work that can pass through the office in a single day, and the vital position that typesetters like Palimpsest hold in the industry. In spite of this constant activity, everybody I have had contact with has been friendly, approachable and more than happy to help with any questions or problems I have had. I have had no previous experience in an office environment and was impressed that a company can be so productive and yet also retain a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

In my first week in the proofreading department with Steven and the girls I completed several revises and one full read. Though Steven may have thought this would be boring (it wasn’t!) I have genuinely enjoyed putting the skills I have learned at Napier into practice. The feedback I was given was timely and helpful and the exercises I completed really highlighted the importance of quality of output for a company like Palimpsest and the attention to detail that goes into every page.

During this first week I also toured the office, sitting in on operational assistance, customer service, pre-production and production. Though I wasn’t with each department for very long (understandably they were all very busy) each one gave me an insightful outline of the work done in each area and how they all come together as an efficient and cohesive whole. I was also very happy to have time to sit in on the Palimpsest epub operations and find out how this is affecting the way that books are produced and how the company is adjusting to this development.

My second week in the production department was equally as beneficial. I was looking forward to getting in some practical InDesign work and I appreciate the effort the production manager went to in order to fit me into the department during a busy work week and provide me with worthwhile and beneficial exercises. Even having only got through two sets of revises, I have picked up many tips and tricks of the trade on InDesign just by listening to and watching the operators at work. I even got a little Photoshop experience into the bargain!

The variety of activity on the placement has been stimulating and challenging and more industry-relevant than I might have hoped for. Two weeks in the same department may have been a little much, but moving around and sampling each area has given me a far greater understanding of the processes involved in typesetting than I came with.

At no point during my time at Palimpsest have I felt lost, wandering or forgotten about and I think that is the thing most placement students worry about. It is clear to me that the aim of the company in offering this placement is to benefit the student rather than themselves and this is commendable indeed.

http://www.palimpsest-bp.co.uk

Image used with kind permission of Palimpsest Book Production Ltd.