Finished?: The book building process

Each season, Heyday’s interns write thoughtful blog posts on their experiences as insiders in the book publishing industry. This January, Anna Zeemont came to us from Oberlin College for a 30-day full-time intensive internship in Sales and Marketing. Here are her thoughts.

During my time at Heyday, I tried to gain an expansive view of the publishing process. So I talked with a variety of staff members here, people who work in editorial, production and marketing aspects of publishing.

What struck me most was how much thought goes into the smallest details that to a reader could seem invisible. Gayle, Heyday’s Editorial Director, described how things like font choice, the presence or lack of prefatory (table of contents, title page(s), introductions, etc.) or end material (footnotes, indexes, acknowledgements, etc.) and comma usage are in fact thought through quite purposefully. Heyday’s Production Director, Diane, thinks about the layout and physicality of a book, including minute facets like what kind of paper to use. Thicker paper is more expensive, but thin paper can show images from the page on the reverse side. And whether paper is glossy or matte drastically changes the way it looks and how ostentatious and flashy the book comes off. Natalie, Marketing and Publicity Director explained that blurbs from book reviews that show up on back covers are in fact quite deliberately chosen for various reasons.

Here’s an example of a more subtle detail I’d never considered. Books are made up of small sections called signatures, each of which are only a few pages long. In the bookbinding process, the edge of each signature is attached to the binding:

So the number of signatures determines a book’s length. How tightly the binding holds the signatures together dictates how “flexible” a book is, in other words, whether the pages will lay flat in front of you with no effort or you’ll have to hold them down to keep the book open. Further, as Gayle and Diane explained to me, publishers have the option to print one signature on different paper, with color, or in an otherwise different way than the rest of the book. It’s more expensive to print pages in color, on nicer paper, so producers and editors can choose to have one signature in the middle of the book printed in color. I’d noticed plenty of books in the past with only color sections in the middle and I’d always wondered why. I just sort of accepted them as they were. Now, I realize that it resulted from choices made during the publishing process.

Because there are so many facets that create the final product of a book, there are infinite directions publishers can take a book. Malcolm (Heyday’s founder and publisher) told me about a book called 1 Book/5 Ways, which follows one manuscript taken on by five different publishers. Despite the fact that the original text was identical, each manuscript turned into an entirely different book—all because of different small decisions that, when added together, made entirely distinct products.

When I look at a book, it seems like it’s in a final, perfect form and all of the decisions and details are invisible to me. But this is one of the most exciting discoveries I’ve made during my time at Heyday: that beneath a seemingly perfect form lies a multitude of choices and details and a rich story behind how the book was made.