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Saturday, July 05, 2014

How Does ... A Manuscript become a Book?

Jean Sexton answers:

It actually starts before the manuscript with a concept. A person has an idea for a book or a story and then emails Steve Cole with the idea. Together they will mull over the idea to determine if it has merit. Rejection letters are always hard because it is the author's "baby" that is being tossed out. However, the idea must fit the Star Fleet Universe and must be plausible enough militarily that the Steves don't reject it outright.

Once the idea is accepted, then the author will write his concepts and turn them into a cohesive whole: a manuscript. To give it the best chance at acceptance, he will run it through a spelling checker and a grammar checker. He will check with Steve Cole if he is producing charts or graphics. Steve can provide guidance on what our book will need -- what looks good on the author's screen and prints on his printer may not have the resolution we need. The writer will coordinate with Steve to see if his computer's word processing program will "play nicely" with Steve's programs. Sometimes Steve may want a PDF of a chart so we can recreate it.

Once Steve has a manuscript in hand, he progresses to design and layout. For books there are all sorts of decisions. What sorts of headers and footers do we want? Do we need a border along the sides of the pages as our Federation Commander books have? What will the title page have on it? What about the publisher's data, including the copyright date? For an article, we will need to lay it out in an existing format, such as Captain's Log's headers and footers.

Sometime in this process cover art is ordered and tweaked until it suits. Our graphics person will add the title information  and logos. We'll create back text and our graphics person will choose a back cover color and some bit of art. It won't be printed until we know how thick the book will be (and that also determines the price).

Depending on the length of the manuscript, Steve may go ahead and lay it out. We did that for the Federation Commander Tactics Manual. For a shorter item with leeway on time, he may just produce it as straight text. The straight text has the advantage of the readers (Steven Petrick and me) being able to make changes without affecting the pagination and careful editing that goes into traditional layout. We'll determine if it needs a table of contents and/or an index. Actual data for these types of pages is checked far later in the process.

Once the item is laid out, then things become trickier with the proofreading. If I tell SVC that we need to spell out "7," then that could create an extra line. That isn't so bad, unless there's no room for an extra line. Then we go looking for a way to "suck up" a short line at the conclusion of a paragraph. For example, "a short line at the conclusion of a paragraph" could be "a line at the paragraph's end" without losing much meaning. Sometimes I have to learn to live with imperfection to avoid having a page with a single line on it.

Proofreading has become a process here at ADB. Steve sometimes refers to it as "shifting mountains, boulders, rocks, and dust." He tries to catch the mountains as he lays out the text. For example, does our author always refer to "internals" when he means "points of internal damage"? If so, Steve tries to catch it and fix it. We all know he won't catch everything on this pass.

Next come the "boulders," or things that are frequently (but not consistently) wrong. Does our author sometimes forget our "Oxford comma" that comes before the "or" and "and" in a list of three or more? (That isn't an uncommon problem as most people are carefully taught to omit it.) I try to catch that sort of problem.

Then comes the "rocks" pass through. Did our author have a typo and write "due" instead of "do"? We've caught some of these smaller problems on other passes through the manuscript, but sometimes things get missed.

"Dust" is the editing that helps clarify what an author meant. "Tom told Harry that his socks didn't match." Whose socks were mismatched? A rewrite will clarify it. "Tom noticed Harry's socks didn't match and told him about it."

At each point we check the changes we made. Did "Tom " become "Tiom"? Did a period go in instead of a comma? On a page with a dozen fixes, one could be skipped.

Petrick is usually "the fresh eyes" on the "next to the last" pass through. He knows the rules and knows to question facts. "The destroyer has fifty-six engine boxes." "Fifty-six" is spelled correctly; I'm happy. Petrick would be the one to say "WHOA!"

Then we check those changes and start "fiddling" with the layout. Some articles end with space. In the past we've stuck art there to fill up the white space. That led to a book that looked a bit same. We might have a column with art at the bottom beside another column with art at the bottom with a "rinse and repeat" on the opposite page. We are trying to do something more visually interesting with our later books. Art is being used to break up the wall of text, to let your eyes rest as your brain absorbs information.

Once the art is in, then we go through again. Did the picture overlay some text? Did the text overly the art? Did something shift? Is the picture pixilated?  Each problem is flagged, fixed, and a replacement page is printed and checked.

Finally we create the table of contents. We will check this against actual titles on the page and verify the page numbers. A few books have an index and that gets carefully checked to verify it is "Jean's alphabetizing" and not the machine version. We will check publisher's data for accuracy and then for author and artist credits.

Then we have a finished book. Now it is ready to print, bind, ship, and be read by you. We hope you enjoy it!