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The Juggling Act of Production

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by Cherisse Landau, Senior Production Director, Penguin Random House

Cherisse Landau

When most people think of the publishing industry, the following areas come to mind: editorial, design, and sales. Production departments have lamented this fact for years. As the service-based side of this business, we lack the glitz and glamour of those other areas and can often be overlooked for our contributions. The truth, however, is that production plays an integral part in the success of any publishing house. We are the glue that marries the creative side with the business end of publishing.

While production departments are staffed with a wide variety of people from diverse educational backgrounds, we all share two similar traits: We are excellent multitaskers and born problem solvers. If publishing were a circus, production would definitely be the jugglers. Our jobs require us to excel in a fast-paced environment with lots of moving parts, where things can get complicated very quickly. We are successful in our endeavors because we have the innate ability to target issues with laser-like precision and course correct on a dime for several projects at once. We feel an immense responsibility to deliver every day because we are hyper-aware that a dropped ball can have a serious impact on the business.

Whether you are a novice or veteran, here are some helpful tips to help ensure that you have covered all your bases and wind up with a quality product as you move from pre-press to post-press.

1.Bring your vendors into the conversation early on.

Your vendors are a great resource. Don’t be afraid to involve them in preliminary conversations. No matter what the format or design you are considering, odds are they have created a similar concept or executed a comparable design already. You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel. At the end of the day, no one knows more about the plant’s capabilities then they do. Let them share their knowledge and alert you to any concerns they have about your project. They are excellent at guiding you to more efficient trim sizes, paper stocks, special effect treatments, and formats that, in the end, may help reduce your costs or produce a better product.

2. Build a schedule.

One of first things I do on a new title is build a schedule. During the volley of sending files/art to your customer service representative, receiving proofs and sending back approvals will fall into a predictable routine; it’s always best to check in with your printer. Peak seasons (e.g., the beginning of the school year) could mean longer turnarounds on proofs. Even the release of a huge title could push a facility’s resources to the limit and cause your binding date to be bumped. If you’re working with an Asian printer, please be aware of major holidays like Chinese New Year (end of January/early February) and Autumn Festival (October), which can shut your plants down for a full week.

3. Bulk dummies, ask for templates, and be careful with preflighting.

Bulking dummies are a great way of allowing everyone to see what they are getting well before advances. With a dummy, you can make sure the book is delivering the visual impact the buyers and editors were hoping for. It also gives you the opportunity to make changes before materials have been ordered. Believe it or not, the old construction adage “measure twice, cut once” can also apply to book production. Constantly sending revised files on a project can chip away at a title’s profitability, so make sure your file is 100 percent accurate before submitting it. Ask your vendor to supply a template so your designers have accurate measurements to build their files to. Pay careful attention to things like spine size and turnarounds on jackets when pre-flighting your files. Programs from companies such as Adobe have made it easy to check measurements and color breakdowns right on screen.

4. Choose the right proof.

The success you have with color on a book can be traced directly back to the proofs you requested during the pre-press stages. If you are matching an existing book, a digital proof is fine as long as you send a sample book to match. However, if you are in doubt about how color will reproduce on certain stocks or pair with foils, you should go in for press proofs. This can be costly, but it may be the only way to truly know you will achieve the look you are going for.

5. Perform safety testing.

If you work with children’s books, you know that safety testing your products has moved to the top of the list in priorities. The market demands proof that the products we give children will not cause them any harm. While most of us were aware of the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) regulations for toys with play value, which were applicable to arts and crafts books, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) goes even further, requiring mandatory compliance on regulations for products sold to children 12 years of age or younger here in the US. The standard includes compliance to lead, heavy metal, and phthalate levels, as well the ability to track the product to the source.

Some states have enacted additional regulations such as California Proposition 65 (Prop 65), which regulates the use of chemicals in products. Phthalates, which are used as a plastic softener, are on the list of chemicals that are known as harmful. The seven phthalates that must be tested for are: di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP), di-isodecyl phthalate (DIDP), di-n-hexyl phthalate (DnHP), di-isononyl phthalate (DINP), and di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP).

Hardcovers or paperbacks using 1/c or 4/c standard process inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) with no special effects and that use conventional binding methods do not require testing and are classified by the CPSIA as “ordinary” books.

The first step in your process should be to submit dummies and an application for evaluation to an accredited lab either here or in Asia. The lab will confirm whether testing is needed. If so, they will send you a list of applicable tests and fees based on the market(s) you intend to sell to as well as the age range you are targeting. The labs will also advise you of warnings that will need to be added to packaging and where these warnings should be placed. This information will ensure that your product is compliant before heading to press. Keep in mind, however, that most buyers will be looking for a certificate of compliance (COC). These can be created internally by your company but are based on tests done on advance samples from your final run. While you may test components along the way for your own purposes, the tests cited on the COC must be conducted at the ISBN level (whole package) and not on components. You must have tests completed and COCs produced before shipping goods.

Be sure to discuss time frames for each step with your lab and to build enough time into your production schedule to accommodate evaluations as well as final testing. A good rule of thumb is to retest your product annually. It’s also best to have a central database to collect this information.

A Few Things to Remember Before Handing Off Your Title to Reprint

There is nothing more satisfying than getting a carton of “book babies” delivered to your office. Before you place it away with its siblings on your shelf, be sure to give it a final review. Are the stocks what they should be? Does the color match the approved F&Gs? Once you are satisfied, submit it to the design and editorial departments for their final review.

Discuss any color comments with your reprints team. Be sure to share any concerns you have and advise them about any decision you made outside of the norm that will have to be carried through on all future printings. Additionally:

Make sure final invoices match the costs you’ve planned for.

  • Confirm books have reached your warehouse or customer.
  • All original art should be returned to you and then passed to your design department.
  • Finally, be sure to get a final application and PDF file of your title from the vendor for archiving purposes.

While the role of production can vary between companies, remember that prioritizing, staying organized, and using a 360-degree field of view are good ways of staying on top of your game.

About the Author:

Cherisse Landau is an 18-year veteran in the publishing industry. She is currently a senior production director for the Penguin Young Readers Group at Penguin Random House. Her position focuses on four-color picture books produced both domestically and overseas. She previously held the position of special markets production director for Penguin where she spent 13 years working in both adult and children’s books. During her tenure in special markets, she was chiefly responsible for establishing production protocols for the successful literacy program, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. She was also the production lead on the wildly popular Mr. Boddington’s Penguin Classics for Anthropologie.

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