Thoughts and tips on feedback, criticism, typesetting and the book plan










This week I’ll be covering a lot, but in a short-ish post. Let’s start with giving and controlling feedback. Controlling feedback? Say what?! You can do that?!… YES YOU CAN 🙂

The feedback process can be a very long process depending on the client you working with. Every design job is usually circulated to everyone who has a say on that project.

This will test your abilities on how well or how bad you deal with feedback and criticism. Believe me, they are two very different things!

Taken from Wikipedia:

Feedback is a process in which information about the past or the present influences the same phenomenon in the present or future. As part of a chain of cause-and-effect that forms a circuit or loop, the event is said to “feed back” into itself.

Criticism as an evaluative or corrective exercise can occur in any area of human life. Criticism can therefore take many different forms. How exactly people go about criticising, can vary a great deal.


In our jobs we all expect and appreciate useful criticism, and constructive feedback. Criticism is good if the tone of it is right, not personal, and not too general in its criticism. There are many books, websites which explain these differences and how to deal with it. A great book I read called, Resilience by Mark McGuinness, speaks of this. As artists, writers, we are often challenged or faced with this, and so should learn how to deal with it. Embrace it rather than avoid or fight it.


Here’s some tips to keep in mind when looking at creative work, when you’re the one who has to feedback:

  • Know the design brief. This is where the creative stage starts so if you don’t know what this is, then your focus and commentary won’t either.
  • If you have nothing to say, then don’t say anything. There’s nothing worse than forced or duplicated commentary. In this case, you could just say “This is great! (maybe say Why its great), Thank you.”
  • Only have the essential people on the project provide feedback.
  • Say why something doesn’t work.
  • Say why something does work. This clarifies your thinking and creates solution-driven feedback between designer and client.


Tips on CONTROLLING design feedback (for the designer)

When you receiving feedback on a design job, ask these 2 simple questions when discussing with the client. Sometimes asking the right questions focuses the client on the real issues – instead of the designer’s ‘precious’ emotions 😉

(Note: the questions all require a simple yes or no answer. Then it can be discussed further after the answers have been established.)

  • Does it meet the agreed brief?  If not, why not?
  • Do you feel the target audience (the market you targeting) will respond favourably to the design? If not, then why not?


This takes you back to the original design brief. Something we all tend to forget when we get absorbed into the act of feedback. It reminds me of when people go to war (or politics), they get so caught up in the aspect of war itself, they forget the reason why they are there, i.e. the very thing they are fighting for.

Asking these 2 questions prevent the feedback from straying into personal opinion. A danger we often find ourselves in which leads to useless criticism. On the other hand, art is emotional so we tend to feel ‘personal’ about it, and we should! We feel personal about it because we really care about what we do. So in order to move forward in a design process, aside from our emotions, also look at the hard facts, and the original design brief.

Remember, feedback is important and it’s improvement. It’s improvement when the project is moving forward and looking better. It has the ability to create moments of ‘Aha!’ for creatives. The tips and questions I presented here are not intended to make you defensive at all. It’s intention is purely to help you handle and control the feedback you get. Not to dismiss it. If you really have to defend your art, then do as they say, “Pick your fights carefully”. Decide if there’s something you need to let go of. And if so, how!

One other thing about feedback is that it destroys the process if people become egotistical about it. Especially those who take their job titles seriously. Those who, because of their title, comments with their ego, instead with their knowledge or facts on a project. Freelancers are not immune to this either! This kind of behaviour is silly, and not solution-driven. It will only end up going round and round in circles. Kill the egotistical person! and hang him as an example for future egotistical persons to see! …Seriously though, don’t let your ego’s get the better of you. Listen to what the other person is saying too.



There is a wealth of history behind typesetting and how it all started. This image comes from a creative blog which speaks of typesetting (see link in image caption), or you can visit Wikipedia:

A key element in choosing a typesetter is if you have worked with them before, or have a reference of their work from someone you trust. I guess that applies to most industries. Nonetheless, the last thing you want is a typesetter dropping your book in the middle of the project. Trust and reliability to complete the job are key factors for big corporations. Oh, and of course your fee. Yes, of course 🙂

When I worked at a publishing house, we had a handover with the typesetter, editor, designer and production team member for that particular book. Each has their role to play at the handover. The editor explains what the book is about, and goes through the schedule, and anything else which relates to the editorial process of the book. The designer will take the setter through the whole spec design – pointing out issues or things they might come across while typesetting, and provide the disk with the open files.

Contracts are made up by the editor, and production need to ensure that this is signed by the setter before the job starts. This is an agreement between the publishing house and the supplier to do the job, for an agreed fee, and adhering to deadlines.

A schedule is also given to the setter which provides dates to supply 1st, 2nd and 3rd proofs, and final print date. Print pdf’s need to be provided correctly, and on time. I find the typesetter handover meeting an interesting process. To sit in with all the different team players discussing the book. Team work – in any business – is vital.

Sadly, I saw what setters were expected to do in often short time frames. I saw what editors were expected to do on top of everything else they had to do. This opened up the book world and took me on many adventures, challenges and a realisation of the love I developed for books.

To be honest, sometimes I find employees job roles not focused enough. Why do I say that? Because an editor never only edits, and a designer never only designs. If an employee were only meant to focus on his/her main role, we’d have better quality products, a faster and more productive environment. A much more pleasant one too. One of the mistakes we make in order to get your ‘money’s worth’ or the best out of each employee, we think we need to load as much responsibility into that role as possible. Then stick a fancy job title next to their name like ‘senior’ or ‘executive’. Instead, what we need to understand is that those things shouldn’t matter. Its employee engagement that matters. You see it all over the internet. Top business websites talking about employee happiness and engagement in the workplace. In order to go faster, produce better quality, and have more productive, happy teams, you actually need to slow down. Look at your company culture. What does your company say about you? Most importantly, what does your employees say about you?…

… Now, how the hell did I get from typesetting to employee engagement?! 😉


The flat plan or book plan.

The flat plan or book plan.

Flat or book plan

This is a document indicating the exact page flow of your book. What chapter opens on what page, giving an accurate guide on page numbering. If you have colour in your book, it also gives a good indication of where colour pages will sit. However, if you have a book that is half b/w, and half colour, then the flat plan is an absolute must as guidance.

The book needs to follow the flat plan 100%. If I remember correctly, if a book exceeds the original extent, then it has to be recommissioned. This means wasted time – and often more money required as the setters will need to get paid more as well as the printers because the book has become longer.

To add to this, here’s a great description of a book plan from Wikipedia.  


I hope this post wasn’t crammed with too much information. The next post is all about the book cover. The part of the book everyone judges and enjoys.

Comments or questions are always welcomed! To answer a previous note on how to deal with a combination of fonts – I’ll be talking about this when we dealing with cover designs and the use and effect of different typefaces on a cover. Stay tuned… or just follow my blog 😉

2 thoughts on “Thoughts and tips on feedback, criticism, typesetting and the book plan

  1. Interesting read: apart from my work in newspapers, I was never handed a book plan! I am aware thought you design many inlays 🙂

    “if a book exceeds the original extent, then it has to be recommissioned” I remember a book I was designing, and about a week before the deadline, I got 800 footnotes to add there. The author “forgot” them. no recommissioned, just a “deal with it” and thats that. From 400 pages we went to 600 and the author was not understanding why my editor was telling him the book had exceeded the budget, as he said “but footnotes are so small” 😀

    “To be honest, sometimes I find employees job roles not focused enough” I agree and I can add many publishers have a do-as-you-go attitude – and this is not a big concern of mine, as I am now used to it. I do think however that publishers could adjust better practices with the growth and as time goes by.

    • Thanks for the feedback Guilherme! Very interesting comment. About the recommissioning bit… this was closely monitored within the publishing house I worked at. Though, it’s still no excuse in the freelance world. If a book increases from a 400 pages to 600! then surely it should be accounted for? Where does the extra costs for that lie? To the freelancer as well as to the book’s budget itself. Budget and limitations are good – thats why they are there – forces us to be more creative and practice accountability. It’s not just the publishers or authors. It’s also those who work for them – we need to try to improve this glitch in the system, rather than accept it. It may be a long while, yes, but until that happens, it starts with us, right now. In fact, it’s already happening 😉 I hope this reply helped (somehow!). But, it’s good to chat about this openly 🙂

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