This is a relatively busy week. I’m hoping to “transmit” two Berklee Press book/CD packs into production (meaning, give a production manager the Word and Finale files, for layout in InDesign, and play-along audio CD masters for duplication), and have also been reviewing the printer’s final proofs for my wife’s book that we’re self-publishing.
Pronouncing something “done done done” is a little hard for me, as at these milestones in project lifecycles, I still sometimes find scary, horrendous mistakes. There are just so many inventive ways that mistakes can creep in, by my own hand as much as anyone else’s. Each one gives me a new form of publishing PTSD. The cumulative effect has been to add a level of anxiety to the end game of publishing, for me.
The best way I’ve found to control this is to maintain a series of checklists, for different stages of book and CD production. At this relatively grizzled stage of my career, I’ve got some good lists! So here are a few things I’ve seen that you might look for when finishing up your own project—book, album, concert program, and so on. It might seem like I’m associated with a lot of disasters! But they’ve been accumulating gradually over a long time (and hundreds of projects), so maybe it’s not as bad as it looks….
In no particular order:
1. Typos on the spine. The trick with book/CD jacket spines is that on the proof, they are oriented sideways. If you don’t print it out, it’s particularly difficult to spot typos on them. Some typefaces and letter combinations are especially hard to see in some fonts: li instead of ll, and so on. In one book, no fewer than five competent professionals signed off on the last proof with a typo on the spine, including me. It did go to press with this error, and we spent thousands of dollars reprinting it. I am forever traumatized by this. So, I always print out hard copies to proofread at a late stage of the publishing process and turn the paper sideways to proofread the spine. It’s easier than turning the computer sideways to check. I also proofread covers backwards and forwards—an old proofreading trick that sometimes brings subtle things to light, because you’re not distracted by the content.
2. Leaving a co-author name off the cover. This one fortunately didn’t go to press, but it made it awfully far in the production process. One author was my primary contact on this project, and the graphic designer on that cover was his friend, rather than our usual designer. So, the designer just put his friend’s name on it, and it took me a looong time to notice this. Fortunately, we caught it. That would have been another traumatic disaster, and the forgotten co-author would have never forgiven me.
A way to avoid this kind of thing is to give the designer an explicit “art direction sheet,” which includes a detailed set of instructions about exactly what needs to go on the cover: title, subtitle, author names, CD included icon, logo, and so on. You need to think about this kind of thing away from the heat of the battle, before the proofs come and the deadline is too close, when you can be deliberate and detailed. I could give you my list of excuses for not doing an AD sheet that time, but you’d just scoff at me for them, and you’d be right to do so.
3. Typos in page headers, particularly chapter titles. Left-hand pages have the book title at the top, and right-hand pages have the individual chapter titles. These get typed in by the layout artist and seem to be typo traps, for some reason. I see mistakes in these all the time: headers that don’t match their chapters, wrong chapter numbers, wrong words, wrong punctuation, typos, and so on. Chapter titles need to be cross-checked in three places: the table of contents, the chapter opening page, and the chapter’s header pages. Anything that the production team needs to rekey can be a similar typo trap: title pages, copyright pages, index, etc. In the first book Berklee Press I ever edited, they spelled my name wrong in my editorial credit on the title page. It said something like, “Edited by Some Bozo Who Can’t Spell His Own Name.” We never checked it, and it went to press like that. An excellent lesson for me in humility as well as project management.
4. CDs with files as MP3s, not AIFF or WAV. This is a great danger when people create CD masters in their home studios using iTunes, rather than having a professional engineer do it. That’s very rarely the case with our books, but it’s happened a couple times, when authors have done some professional-level engineering work and want to self-produce their play-along CD. If you Q/C-check CD masters on a computer, you might not catch it, if you don’t deliberately check the file type. But MP3 files won’t play on many CD players, and of course, the sound quality is inferior. See my CD Mastering Checklist for a list of similar things to check on CD masters.
5. Leaving the engineer(s) off of the recording credits. This is a subjective call by the author, but often, the engineer makes a very profound contribution to an accompanying recording, and they deserve to be listed as a key contributor to a project.
6. Notation files with the wrong text. This is a common mistake in pedagogical music books, which we nearly always catch, fortunately, but it’s something easy to overlook. The issue is that layout artists often can’t read music notation, so it’s not always clear to them whether or not the notation logically matches the text. It’s important to have a couple thinking musicians review proofs for the logical flow of the material, rather than just people confirming that the spelling and punctuation are correct.
7. Omitted paragraphs of text. This happens when layout artists transfer Word files into graphic design programs. You have to compare the original text with the layout, to confirm that no text is missing. Like item (6), it’s best for the author to check these, as that’s the person most likely to catch it.
8. Repeated systems of notation. This issue usually happens when there’s a change in the music system layout. Say you have a piece that’s six systems long. At first, two fit on the title page, three on page 2, and one on page 3. We decide to move the header up and squeeze three systems onto page 1. While we might only think we are changing page 1, pages 2 and 3 also readjust automatically, and so we must change the exported graphics for pages 1 and 2 and delete page 3, in order to avoid repeated systems. This is an example of how a relatively small change might have far-reaching repercussions.
9. Roman numerals in front matter. Our house style, shared by most commercial publishers, is to have the copyright page, table of contents, acknowledgements, etc. set in lowercase Roman numerals in italics, and then page 1 is the first page of chapter 1. Designers new to book publishing are often unaware of this publishing convention and start page 1 with the title page.
10. Butt-ugly covers. This is often a failure of vision and patience, more than a proofreading mistake, but the effect on sales can be devastating, even to a really good book or album. Bad covers are sometimes the result of committee syndrome, or just bad communication with the graphic designer. A few times, covers go to press that are really not good enough, and sad to say, sales suffer as a result. In happier news, there have been a few instances when we put better covers on back-catalog books, and sales increased as a result. Everyone judges books by their covers—and by their titles too. It’s worth trying hard to make these really good.
Are you as exhausted by this list as I am? I’m stopping at ten, before the self-loathing gets too thick. So much can go wrong. But for me, the point in publishing is ultimately to make high quality information and art available to people, and making sure it’s all easy to “digest” is a high priority. It’s important to get it right. There’s enough junk out there already, without us piling on more.
Checklists can be a great help in ensuring quality. Developing them is an aspect of management strategy—devoting time to plan how to make the project good, rather than only reacting to what’s in front of you. This is a critical dimension of effective project management, and it can help you avoid some of these nightmares.