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My Life & Hard Times on the Prepress Learning Curve

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My first printing of Falling Into Place came off the press in January, and

boy, did I learn a lot during the prepress stage. For those of you who are

planning a printing, here’s the story I set down for a sympathetic friend as

I slowly climbed the learning curve.
You Have No Idea…

I’m falling way behind in law school these days ’cause this book has been a ton of work. You wouldn’t believe what’s involved in this self-publishing game. Just getting the file ready for the printer is a major ordeal. When I printed the galley copies, I went with a short-run digital printer. Digital is nice because you have a much greater degree of tolerance with the quality of the file. Photos will come out decently as long as they are clear. But you can’t go digital with a large print run.  It’s just not cost-effective. I printed over 2,000 copies of the final version of my book, and for a run that size, you have to go offset. Well, offset is not as “tolerant.” You have to make sure that you send all your fonts to the printer on

a disk, along with the cover layout (including something called “color separations”). OK, I had a designer who could worry about those things. Hell, I

figured I paid him enough to worry. So I didn’t give it another thought. Big mistake.

Then you must make sure your photo scans are done right./li>bsp;Now I found myself in trouble. The designer scanned in the cover photos… front and back. Well, actually I scanned in the back one, but that came out blurry on the galleys, so I had to send it to him to re-scan. Anyway, there are 11 photos, black-and-white, inside of the book. When I was putting the book together, the designer said “Scan ’em in and e-mail them to me.”  Never gave me any specific instructions… just “scan ’em in.” So I “scanned ’em in.” I’m not real computer literate here. I just put them in the scanner and hit SmartScan.

The designer finished with the cover and the internal design, put the finishing touches on the file from my final changes, and sent the disk off to my printer. My editor calls the printer and gives them the specs–the size of the book, thickness of cover, etc. I’m in a state of bliss. These people will get together, work some magic, and at the end of the process, I’ll have a really nice finished book.  Yeah, right.
Big Mismatch Mess 

I get a call a couple of days later from the printer’s production department… “Your book size specs and those in the file don’t match. Either the designer has to redo the design files, or you have to go with the size called for in the existing file.” OK, my editor screwed up. She gave them the wrong trim size. No problem. Since the actual size is a bit smaller, I get a $200 credit on the original quote. No biggie. Now I can just go back to case law with no worries.

A day or so later, another phone call. Now I’m getting annoyed. This ain’t supposed to happen. I paid people to deal with this stuff! The printer now tells me, “Your internal photos won’t work. They’re not scanned right.” Ohmygod! The designer never said there was anything wrong with the scans I provided. They came out fine on the galley copies. “Won’t work on an offset press,” the printer tells me, “because you scanned them in at about 100 dpi. They all have to be re-scanned at a dpi of at least 300.” “What the hell is dpi?” I ask. They tell me to call my designer. My designer is away for a month… in New Zealand. Holy Keeeerist!

My nephew, bless his heart, takes pity on me. He’s staying at our house for

a few weeks before heading off to college in Texas. His timing is perfect! He offers to lift this scanning burden from my shoulders, without realizing

what trouble he’s letting himself in for.

He sits down at my scanner. Turns out it’s a piece of junk. Hell, I think I got it for like $29.95 after rebate, but I figured… hey, a scanner is a scanner, right?

My nephew tries re-scanning, but it just won’t work. Either my software or the machine itself won’t let him set the desired dpi. Lovely. Now because he opened his big mouth, he has to drive some 60 miles to his dad’s house to use his father’s $1,000 scanner to do the job. Guess that one’s more “professional”?
Picture This

A day later, I have a brand new CD-ROM containing good scans that I can

forward to the printer. I’m gonna miss my press date, though. By the time

they get the revised files, I’ll have lost a whole damned week. Or more.

Another phone call. The new photos are not the right size now. “Didn’t you

know that they had to be sized to the exact dimensions as the original ones

so that they could be ‘dropped in’ to the existing layout?” This is becoming a joke.

“Honey,” I say to my nephew. “You’re not gonna believe this one.…”

Luckily, I’m going from larger to smaller again, so my nephew says, “Not a

problem.” He resizes all of the photographs using PhotoShop. I lose another two to three days while he does this and we forward yet another CD-ROM to the printer. In anticipation of further problems, I buy my nephew a 50-pack of Rewriteable CD-ROMs. Who knows? At the rate I’m going, I might just burn through half of them.

Finally, though, the printer says, “Good show!” I’ve apparently passed a process called “pre-flight.” Where are we flying this files to? I’m wondering.

I’m about six weeks behind in my law school modules at this point, and digging myself into an even deeper hole. This is an “online” law school… a “cutting edge” sort of program. They don’t like it when students get this far behind. The Dean places me on academic probation. I begin trying to catch up. After all, the book is in the printer’s hands now, so there isn’t much for me to do.

Oops! The distributor e-mails me a bunch of paperwork I need to complete… fast. Tip sheets, spec sheets, vendor of record letters, you name it–a solid eight hours of work here. Plus, I find out from the distributor that I’m expected to put together a promotion plan. Law school goes on the back burner again as I begin digging into these tasks.

I call my editor. “You know a good publicist?” I’m definitely gonna need some help with this if I want to have any hope of salvaging my legal studies. I’ve invested two years in law school. I don’t want to flunk out now and piss away all the money I’ve spent so far.
Silver Lining Time

My editor tells me that she has some experience with publicity and offers to help me out. Her hourly rate is a lot cheaper than the rates for “real” full-time publicists, which I can’t afford. Plus, my editor is good… REAL good.

I send her everything the distributor sent me and now she’s working on the

promo plan and publicity materials. But I’ve still got to send the galley copies out to reviewers. So, instead of doing law-school work, I’m stuffing books into padded envelopes and slapping shipping labels on them. Wonder if I can appeal to the Dean for “credit for life experience” for this? Somehow, I don’t think she’ll be sympathetic.

I guess I’ll do what I always do–come out OK. And even if I don’t, I’ll be thankful for everything I’ve learned in this process. It will sure make things easier the next time around.

The major lesson I’ve learned? Become self-sufficient. I’m going to make

sure I learn how the composition process works, at least well enough to be able

to fix problems as they crop up so that I’m not so difficult for a printing house to deal with. I can only be thankful that I did some things right–like choosing a printer who was an absolute stickler for details, and who wouldn’t let anything “slide by” that could affect the quality of my finished product. Because of that, I ended up with everything I had hoped for, and more, in the finished books. The photos came out flawless and the cover is absolutely breathtaking… the colors so vibrant.

So I’m chalking these experiences up as an investment in my future and the

future of my little publishing company. I can’t help but believe that each subsequent book we take to press will go more smoothly as a result of the things

I’ve learned, and those I have yet to learn.

Rita Ippoliti is an information technology professional and “Falling Into Place”–the autobiographical adventures of a middle-aged woman learning to skydive–is the first offering of her small house, Kryos Publishing. Distributed by Biblio Distribution, it’s also available through Amazon.com, at http://www.atlasbooks.com, and via 1-800-BOOKLOG.

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