Successful book production is all about the details
Books Production Self-Publishing

Book Production—the Technical Part of Your Book Project

So, you’ve battled through the writing of your book, and got a finished manuscript that you’re ready to publish. You’ve done the design work needed to get your writing presented in the most attractive and professional way. The next stage is the technical process—the ‘dark art’, if you like—of book production.

You need to overcome technical hurdles in any production process to get a successful finished product. It’s the same with book production. Whether your book is a physical printed one, or a virtual electronic one—they’re just different hurdles. Let’s look separately at printed books and e-books.

Book production for print

The colour model for commercial print, whether digital or litho, is CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). Present your artwork in that colour model.

Any photographic images you have, whether colour or monotone, need to be presented at the right resolution, and correct colour model, for print. Normally, these are 300 pixels per inch resolution (at final size) and CMYK, or greyscale, colour (which is simply the ‘K’ element of CMYK). Illustrations made purely of lines and/or solid colour should, ideally, be in vector format. That will have a solidity and crispness that a bitmap/halftone/raster image won’t have. Again, any vectors need to be in CMYK colour.

Don’t forget to consider bleed—this is the deliberate continuation of an image or background element beyond the area of the finished size. Bleed allowance is essential if you want your background, or any element(s), to extend right to the edges. Your printer will offer guidance on the amount of bleed they require—the usual is 3 mm extra all round. Bleed is removed when the book is trimmed to its finished size after printing. Online printing or self-publishing platforms supply templates tailored to their available book sizes.

There are two main parts to a printed book—the cover, and the text pages. The nature of the process is slightly different between cover and text. They should be treated separately, even though the whole book is going through a print process.

Your book cover artwork

A paperback (soft cover) book has its cover printed as one piece. This needs a single, contiguous piece of artwork—from left to right: back cover, spine, front cover. If your print specification and budget allow, you might also be able to utilise the inside front, and back, of the cover, for additional content such as a promotional cross-sell or images.

On the outside of the cover, it is easy to have a wraparound design if you want to. If you have an image that suits, for example, it can extend across from the back to the front.

Determining the spine width is crucial when you’re putting your cover design together. It may seem trivial, and purely functional, but it’s essential to know it, as it affects your overall cover artwork width. You need to establish the number of pages your book has, and the paper it’s being printed on. You can then obtain an accurate specification for the spine width from your book printer. Wait until your book is fully typeset, and ready to print, before finalising your cover artwork.

To ISBN or not to ISBN?

Another consideration is an ISBN barcode. An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is not a legal requirement, but you might still want one. If you’ll be offering your book for sale, retailers will expect you to include a barcode on the back cover. Even if you don’t specify a price, a retailer needs a barcode if it operates an EPOS (electronic point-of-sale) system, which most do. If you don’t have an ISBN you will need to obtain one and create a barcode from it.

Self-publishing platforms usually let you choose whether to place the barcode yourself or have it automatically positioned for you. If you choose the latter, you will need to leave the correct space for it on your book’s back cover, normally bottom-right. Your chosen platform will have a specification available for that. Make sure you adhere to it or your cover might be rejected for book production.

Your text page artwork

As with the cover, you need to present your text pages in CMYK colour. If all elements in your book are black, they will simply be in the ‘K’ of CMYK. Artwork originated in word processing applications such as Microsoft Word will be in RGB (red, green, blue) colour, even if everything is in black. That means it will not be usable without conversion work—a considerable amount if your book is substantial. Page layout programs, such as Adobe InDesign or Microsoft Publisher, are therefore best for creating your pages for print.

Do you have any illustrative or photographic content? How you best present it will depend on the paper your text pages are being printed on. Seek advice from your printer, or publishing platform, on the optimum specification for illustrations and photographs. If you don’t, you might end up disappointed with the quality of your finished printed product.

It’s possible that other things, like ‘page creep’, might need to be allowed for. For most perfect-bound paperback books, though, page creep is not an issue.

Book production for e-readers

E-books are different in nature to printed books. It’s a different production process, with less to do, but a different set of criteria and limitations. You need to present your finished files in the right way, to ensure successful publication and a good reader experience.

It is important to clarify, at this point, what is meant by the term ‘e-book’. This article refers, specifically, to the type of e-book that allows content to reflow on the reading device. PDFs, for example, have fixed layouts. Whilst fixed-layout e-books can be effective, sales platforms like Amazon KDP only accept them for children’s picture-books.

Your e-book cover

The cover for your e-book will be a front cover on its own, and possibly a back cover too. Your publishing platform of choice will have a specification for the optimum pixel dimensions of your cover image(s). Go for the largest image(s) you can, but don’t exceed the maximum size allowed.

The colour model for e-books is RGB, which has a greater range than print’s CMYK model. It is wise, therefore, to create your cover image from CMYK print artwork if you have a printed version. This is so your printed cover and e-book cover will be the best match they can be to each other. Your e-book’s cover will probably look less vibrant in print, if you do it the other way around.

Your e-book text content

For most e-books, the text content needs to flow like a web page (or set of web pages if you want chapter breaks). Any consideration of fixed layout, or page numbering, is immaterial for reflowable e-books. Remember, the way you specify the elements of your text won’t necessarily be the way the reader views it. On e-readers, things like text size, and fonts, can be changed at the whim of the user. Simplicity and adaptability are therefore the watchwords here.

There are optimum sizes for things like illustrations and photographs. For reflowable e-books, these should be placed simply in the flow of the text—information on this is freely available on many websites.

Assemble your text in the manner of a simple, single-column web page with a very simple style sheet. You can then convert your completed text file into the relevant e-book file format, such as epub. There are many utilities available to help you do this.

Don’t forget to include your meta information such as author, title, category, etc. Again, your chosen utility should have a menu option for this.

Just to reiterate, don’t try anything fancy with your text, unless your e-book is specifically fixed-layout. Just because you can create something on your desktop, doesn’t mean your book will look that way in someone’s e-reader. Keep things as simple as you can, even if you have a printed version that has a more complex layout.

There is another way through the book production maze!

You knew this was coming, but here it is anyway!

This basic how-to guide only covers a limited range of the possibilities in book production. You may find more perils and pitfalls in your process, depending on the nature of your book. One way to negotiate these is to hire a book designer to help you through them.

If you want to discuss how I might be able to help you get a finished book to be proud of, just get in touch anytime. Not ready to have that discussion yet? Get an idea of how much your book design project might cost by using my quick estimate calculator.