The spec handover

Snapshot from Google of book layouts

Snapshot from Google of book layouts

This marks the beginning of the book design process for a designer. It starts with a meeting to discuss the book with the editor, publisher, creative director and designer. Usually, the author is not part of these discussions. Here we discuss what the book is about, and what editorial has in mind for the book. Below are a few points which are given to the designer by the editor. As you’ll see it’s quite a lengthy meeting and a lot of preparation goes into this by the editor. A good editor will ensure that the brief has covered all of the following:

Spec design brief

A spec design is a shortened versioned of what the text pages of the book will look like. It’s planning out how text, colour, images and boxes will run throughout the book before it’s typeset. This makes typesetting a lot easier and provides a consistent flow of text/images throughout the book. A lot like product branding and a lot not! 😉

handover post image

This is the information you give to the designer:

Title of the book.

Colours that will be used in book: CMYK or Black and White or any Pantone Colours.

Size of the book. I always prefer it in millimetres – width and height.

Page/Book Extent: the amount of pages in the book which makes up the spine size. This info stipulates how thick or thin the book will be.  It also tells the designer how wide to design the gutter. The gutter is the middle of the book or the fold area. Thick books need more ‘breathing space’ so that text doesn’t end up running into the spine/gutter area, thereby making it hard for the reader to read.

Dummy text. This is provided as a word doc. It’s basically all the features, texts, main heads, chapter texts, part page texts (if any) extracted out of the manuscript by the editor. This is styled (tagged) according to style sheets like the body text, Head A to B, C, or D, feature texts, chapter text, content page texts – everything that could possibly be in the book which needs to be designed. This gives the designer an indication of how to design the heading hierarchy in the book. Which heads or subheads need to be larger than others. [show eg.] NB. The designer doesn’t know the book as well as the author/editor, so the more guidance you provide the designer, the better design you will get.

Preferred typeface (font family). The editor can suggest typefaces if they are knowledgeable on the subject. I wouldn’t use more than 3 typefaces in a book. Remember to leave some room for the book designer to add their expertise as well. After all, it’s why you hiring them in the first place, so ensure they have the knowledge and proven experience do to the job right.

Indicate how many levels of heading. Head A – the main heading, Head B – second main heading, or Head C which is a third level heading.

Longest and shortest headings. To establish how large the font size of headings should be. Remember, this all affect book extent, and what affects extent – affects budget!

Boxes or special features. This plays a huge role in the setup of a printed book. If there are a lot of boxes, then design the margins with more space to accommodate boxes. If there are no or little boxes, then the page design can be a bit more simple and cleaner looking. If the extents are heavy as in school text books, then try to work the boxes into the body text rather than separate them. Novels or literature books, have a less complicated page layout. It doesn’t require lots of different box features or headings. So in this case, there’s more room to ‘play’ with space.

Will the book be translated into other languages? In South Africa we have 11 different languages. Some publishers cater for all 11! Translations tricky because if a book is designed in English, it will not accumulate the same amount of space in another language. For example, an English heading that takes up one line of text will not consume the same amount of space in Afrikaans or Italian. So in this case, the designer needs to design 3 specs. One for English as the generic (or main) spec. Have it checked and signed off first, and then make up the other language spec from the English generic. This process can be complicated if it’s not approached correctly from the beginning. Using an experienced book designer can save you a lot of headache!

Footers (page numbers/folio’s) and Running Heads. Establish where you would like this to occur – top or bottom of pages or both.

Other book references the designer could use. Perhaps other books you admire or feel your book would work well with a few adjustments. References are always welcomed with designers as sometimes the visual explains better than the verbal.

Is this a first edition or not. First editions are usually special editions and designers need information such as this. If it’s a second edition, then sometimes this is based on the first edition design with only slight changes. In this case, provide the designer with the open design files – it could save time. Time saved is money saved.

Contents, Chapter Opener and /or Part page texts. Specify which page the chapter page will open on – left or right page. Or if this doesn’t really matter. Things like, will it always fall on a right-hand page? This is designed as Master Pages by the designer.

Lastly, the scheduleDeadlines. The designer needs to know what your book schedule is. We start with looking at the last stage – ie. the print date. We work back from that date. We then create 1st proof, 2nd proof until we reach a final circulation date. If dates are missed in the schedule, then accommodation from either the editor or designer needs to be made or you will miss your print date. And if you miss that, well… be sure to get your ass-kicked by your publisher.

Drop me a comment in the comments below if you have any questions.

Next, I’ll be talking in more detail about the book grid, so stay in touch!

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