Tuesday 10 March 2020

Catching the glitches. Non-fiction authors have checking duties right up to the wire - Moira Butterfield

I’ve spent some days the last week working on a non-fiction book that I finished writing nearly a year ago, for the 8+ age group. There’s careful pre-press checking to be done, and it’s a very vital stage of illustrated non-fiction writing.

I've been pre-flight checking my book this week. 

 The book I’m talking about has spread headings, captions and labels that work closely alongside the illustrations, like an orchestra of musicians playing different instruments to create one piece of music. There’s a glossary, credits section and contents spread, too.

An illustrated non-fiction book for the 8+ age range has a lot of different features that work together. 

It’s up to the non-fiction writer to be available at the right time for checking duties leading up to press date. That means consulting with your editor so you are aware when you are likely to be needed, and not disappearing off the grid without warning.

Er...Where did that writer go? 

 I usually get a slightly panicky feeling at this point. Will I miss something? Will I let a big mistake go through that will ruin my book? It’s unlikely, because I won’t be the only eagle eye on the case, but the fear of letting something slip through does concentrate the mind on doing a thorough job.

As a young inexperienced editor I once made a big pre-press mistake. I was given loads of colouring books to organize, featuring characters owned by different Licensors such as Disney and Hanna Barbera. Each book had to have the right copyright notices on the back, but I got some of the Licensors mixed up. This would have been a big deal and would have led to the pulping of the books and consequent costs if anyone had noticed. Luckily I was getting friendly with the young man in the sales department who was responsible for sending out approval copies to the Licensors. He…ahem…omitted to send the colouring books, so nobody ever noticed. I was saved and yes, reader, I married him.But that was definitely a one-time only bacon-saving strategy!

"OK, I won't tell!" 

 In case you also find yourself checking a complicated visual project, here are the most common things that I have found I am likely to spot:

A last-minute art error appearing - Has the artist illustrated something that contradicts the text? I will have checked art roughs and, hopefully, caught anything untoward, but small details could have been added since. For instance, on the space spread I’ve just been checking some of the people are weightless but some appear not to be. Children will definitely notice that, so some judicious seatbelt-type straps will need to be added to figures casually sitting down.

Has some of the text been put in the wrong place? This is a common issue as non-fiction book text can comprise lots of small sections and often, with the amount of work involved the pressure is on and the deadline looms uncomfortably. It’s easy for a section of text to be accidentally placed wrongly at the last minute.

Are the labels near enough to the pictures to make sense? It’s relatively common for them to be misplaced because they’re small and fiddly, and there are sometimes lots of them.

Have I written consistently? In position, text issues can sometimes become suddenly clear. For instance, have I used the same terms throughout? The glossary inevitably gets written much later than the rest of the text and that’s where terms can sometimes accidentally change. Did I say nanobot in that glossary when I’ve been saying nanorobot everywhere else?

Are all the extras correct? It’s perfectly possible for everyone in a team to miss mistakes in the extra material – Headings, contents lists and folios. The author should always take a moment to check them because they’re all too easy to forget.

 My name – I don’t know why but it’s often spelt wrong. I make a point to check the spine, where a weird version of it may well have slipped through.  

How hard is this name? It's surprising! 

It’s a very good idea to do this checking process in a calm state without kids running around or people wandering in demanding your time.

This will never work!

Finally, remember this - All will be well and, even if something small did slip through, so what? It can be changed on a reprint and, really, will anyone even notice or mind?

The book will be born and it will be marvellous. Fingers crossed.

I have been ‘preflight checking’ A TRIP TO THE FUTURE, published by Big Picture Press in July. It’s my shot at inspiring the scientists and inventors of the future.

See you in July! 

Moira Butterfield
Twitter @moiraworld
Instagram @moirabutterfieldauthor 


Lynne Benton said...

Really interesting post, Moira - especially how you met your husband! And of course many of the things you have to look out for apply to fiction books as well. I remember having to point out to my editor that the juggling balls referred to in the text seemed to have disappeared on one page! (The illustrator did restore them before the book came out!)

Anne Booth said...

That's a very helpful and interesting post. Even with fiction books, it can be a good idea for an author to check the illustrations. I love the story of your lovely husband saving the day!