Monday, June 25, 2012

How to push your book designer over the edge

by Vivian Zabel 

        Your book is edited; you and the editor think it is finished; the department head proofed it and sent it to the designer for formatting; the designer, who is not an editor but has formatted and helped copy edit enough manuscripts to recognize some common problems recognizes that more work is needed, or not. She formats and sends a PDF proof to the author, the proof reader, the editor, and the person who pays the bills. She asks everyone to go over the proof carefully and thoroughly. She gives directions as to how she wants each person to send his/her comments, changes, and solutions to problem areas each finds. One, yes, just one, person followed her request. She ends up with four documents, all "organized" or "disorganized" differently and hard to follow. She wants each change/suggestion/comment in order from front of the manuscript to the end, not jumping from one section to the other, but most don't list the problems areas in order.

        That problem is enough to push the designer over the edge, but then she looks at one of the documents. The person who sent the document doesn't understand some of the more elementary grammar or writing necessities. When a designer, who is NOT an editor, recognizes the problems, maybe it's time authors and editors do, too.

        Here are a few examples of what should already be known by writers and by editors:

1.  Dad, Mom, Sis, Grandpa, and other nouns are not capitalized IF an adjective is before it. For example, your mom, not your Mom; my grandpa, not my Grandpa.

2.  A character's thoughts are italicized and the words I, my, mine, or any other first person pronoun doesn't have to be included in the wording to make thoughts. They are words that the narrator wouldn't/shouldn't use as part of the narration -- unless the manuscript is written in first person.
      For example: Mary walked toward the door. Why shouldn't the world stop spinning for her. No, she gets everything she wants. The italicized words are not something the narrator should be writing, but something Mary thinks.

3.  Thoughts, which are italicized, must make sense as thoughts. Words spoken should not be confused with words thought by a character.

4.  Editors or authors who are not sure about something should get help from someone who does know before telling the designer to do something wrong.

5.  If each person involved in the copy edit sends in his/her revisions, sending in contradictory revisions for the same exact problems, the designer is forced  to make a judgement call or pester the boss. Each successive person should read the preceding person's edits. The designer follows the following chain of command: The author is outranked by the the editor; the editor is outranked by the department head, who is outranked by the company head. Everyone usually finishes proofing a proof at different times; therefore, seeing what others said first would help a person see if he or she agrees or not. A quick email would help each person better understand why or why not.

6.  Follow the style manual of the publishing house that is doing your book. Read it, refer to it, refer to it again, read it, follow it.

        I'm sure other things make a book designer want to snatch him or herself bald, but those are a few that can be easily fixed, if a person really wants to be a better writer or better editor.


  1. This is great advice. Publishing requires you to be a team player and follow guidelines. I can't say I've never made a mistake along the way, but I hope I learn from them.

  2. I may need to write another article: How to Drive Your Editor-in-Chief over the Edge.