How do they do a book and book production?

Do you ask yourself how certain stuff is produced? How they do it?
I am asking myself quite often this question. I am so curious.

There is something I already wanted to know when I was a little child. You know that I love to read.
So how do they do books?

Meanwhile I am happy that I am able to answer this question.
And while answering this question, I can also show how they work in my industry.
How a Media designer works.

I am doing anything that is connected with Pre-Press. I am working closely with Publishers and Printing Shops.

First person in book-production is the author.
The author has to write a book. Then he offers this book to publishers. When the publisher accepts the book, I become part of the game.

Roughly you can distinguish six sections until you can hold the finished book in your hands.

  1. Design:
    Creating the layout. Sometimes you have to stick to an existing layout, since textbooks are published in series.
  2. Preparing type setting:
    Editorial office is checking the text of the author and prepares it for typesetting.
    They specify headlines etc. Media designers should never have to decide if text has to be set bold or italic. This is written down in typesetting specifications.
  3. Typesetting and proof reading:
    Entering the text into layout, make up, submitting text to proof reading.
  4. Pre Press:
    In my opinion #3 is also part of Pre Press, but this part is explicit for image processing.
  5. Printing:
    Happens usually via Offset printing, but also via digital printing. Digital printing is similar to the way you print a text at home or in office.
  6. Book binding.

Certainly we don’t have to follow the steps one after the other.
I am a full service company and offer book production from A to Z. Sent the manuscript to me and I will finally send a printable PDF to publisher or printing shop.

I have visualized the work flow of book production. Working steps are calculated via Working Days (WD). A very rough calculation. Sometimes it happens very fast, and sometimes it is a very slow process.
Some parts can be influenced by me, others no chance. Proof reading by the author (for example) – this can be very quick, if he has read the text carefully before sending it to publisher. It also can take ages.

Now lets have a closer look.


Publishing company inquires if I am able to produce a book for them. We make appointments, most times they have already set up the date for printing.
When producing a text book including table of content, index, footnotes, pictures, illustrations and sometimes tables, you should think of minimum of six weeks production time. This does no include proof reading of the author.

I set up the work flow very roughly with 97 days of production. The WD are average values.

After setting the appointments, Publisher sends a type setting order and first part of the edited texts.

I am checking it the delivered files are readable. Usually they will send word-files (.doc files). Sometimes the so called word-files have not been created with word, but have been converted afterwards.

Authors in the academic world are based everywhere. So you will never know which has been the text program of choice for writing the text. It can be any.

Layouting and typesetting of a book is much more sophisticated than writing a letter. Therefore we never use text processing programs, but layout programs, as InDesign or Quark XPress. A couple of years ago there has been PageMaker, Ventura Publisher, FrameMaker and Ragtime in the game.

So I also check, if the text is compatible to my laout program.

On basis of the delivered layout by the publisher I will set up one or two chapters, which will be send via PDF to the publisher and checked carefully.

Together with their ok I will get the whole text files.

Now I have to work hard.
Entering the whole text into the layout. Formating every tiny little piece of text – every headline, every footnote, every paragraph.

I am working with style sheets. They had been created together with the test chapter. Sometimes we have them from a former book production.

Usually I need one to two weeks for this part.


We are attending the part where we might get lost.
Publisher is sending proof to author.
The author has to read the book carefully. No need for spell checking or grammar, this has been done by editors before. Much more important is: checking footnotes. Are they correct? Correct place?

When finished with this part, we also want the author to mark tags for an index.
Yeah the author has to sit down with a yellow pen and marks and marks and marks.

When the galley proof is back in the publishing company, they deal with it the same way as they did with the first issue.
Some add corrections and tags on the printed pages, others use the PDF-note tool.

On a side note: I really hate, if editors try to tell me corrections whil calling me.
We are not talking about minor corrections as: “There is a wrong headline style on page 25.”
No I am talking about major corrections.

Trying to transmit corrections via phone is unfair towards the customer.
Nobody is able to verify if everything has been transmitted.

If you can’t write it into the manuscript, than you should email it.

Helz-Design is entering the corrections into the book – highly concentrated.
Then I will index the tags.

Thanks God there is an index function in my layout program.
Activate it and it will create a wonderful index telling you e.g. “book ………1, 3, 5, 8, 20”
I have to style the index.

Same way we are doing the table of content.
In this case style sheets have a double function. We have created one style for each headline type. Table of content includes headlines. Editor will decide which subheading will be included.

Just have a look at a structured table of content.


I am checking layout again and again – carefully. Is the make up still correct? Are all headlines correct? Correct places of headlines?

Maybe you are familiar with word. Sometimes word creates really strange results in breaking.

A headline has to stick to the following paragraph.
It is not supposed to stand on its own.
I also have to watch the pictures.
Best way is to anchor them into the text. Keeps them in the flow.
But this is not possible all the time.

Again; PDF-File to the publisher.
They do the final checkup. This time usually with the graphic design department.

Some publishing companies have very specific styles.

Some want paragraphs on a new page without indent.
Usually you have no indent after headline. At least this is the way we do it in Germany.
The rest of the text is set up with a small indent. It helps to structure the text. You can read it much easier.

So if the publisher doesn’t want an indent at the beginning of a page, you should customize it at the end of production.
No changes in break are expected anymore.

I am customize this after entering the final corrections.

Even if we are correcting the book three or four times, we will never get a 100%  correct book. It is not possible.
So if you find a mistake in a book, don’t think that my colleagues have been sloppy, it just emphasize the fact that there is no 100% correct book.

I am finished.
Publisher will check the files finally, than i will get an imprimatur. The publisher signs a little letter saying: all well, all ok, ready to print. YAY.

I will sent the printable PDF either to the printing shop or to the publisher who will sent it to the printing shop.

Printing shop starts with checking too.
They are setting up the machines. They are making up the plates.
They are printing a special proof with is called “Blue print”.

Publisher is checking Blue print and signing it as imprimatur.

The printer pushes the button and here we go. Printing.
A somehow quick job.
Paper needs longer to dry than to be printed.
You should give the guys at least one week for their work.
When the paper is sound and dry, the book binder enters the scene.
Binding – ready to deliver.

Hopefully they won’t forget to send a reference copy to Helz-Design.
It is a very special moment when I find the reference copy in my mail box.
Finally the result of my work is in my hands. I can touch it, I can feel it, I can smell it.
I will show you my treasures, when you pop in for a cup of tea.

So if you want to know parts of the process more detailed, or if you want to ask a question, don’t hesitate …

3 thoughts on “How do they do a book and book production?

  1. I really enjoyed that – must confess I skipped a lot, but WOW! What a lot of work, I am also a book lover, it is interesting to read about all the ‘behind the scenes’ work. Look forward to that cup of tea!

    1. thanks ruth
      skipping a lot :P and i typed my fingers bloody *joking*
      maybe i should have parted it?

      it is a lot of work, but it is worth while every page :)
      i just love it.

      and i am also looking forward to the cup of tea :) you just opened pandora’s box … means you don.’t know how many books i have … but i won’t bore you :))
      thanks for stopping by :)

Comments are closed.