Conference 1998: Cirencester

Page owner: Conference director

Whitcombe Lecture

Two societies – one aim:

Mark Le Fanu, Society of Authors

Summarized by Dorothy Groves

On the day that the governor of the Bank of England told the TUC that he felt like 'Daniel entering the lions' den', our Whitcombe lecturer probably felt that his situation was not dissimilar.

Mark Le Fanu, not a writer himself but general secretary of the Society of Authors, opened by saying that he had found that many of the problems and concerns of authors were shared by editors and proofreaders – isolation, relations with publishers (good and bad), the pecuniary advantages and disadvantages of being freelance, and rates of pay. Where two or three authors were gathered together, he said, it was certain that they would discuss money and treatment by publishers.

He spoke with admiration of the growth and vigour of our own society. After a failed attempt by Charles Dickens to found a Society of Authors, the present Society was founded by Walter Besant in 1884 as the Society of Authors, Playwrights and Composers, eventually taking its current name and predating the founding of both the Booksellers Association and the Publishers Association. Its aims are generally to improve the lot of its members – in particular, to improve copyright law and to remedy some of the practices used against authors.

The Society of Authors currently has 6,500 members, owns its own premises and has a staff of 12, its considerable funds being administered by a management committee. Within it are a number of groups – e.g. translators, broadcasters, medical writers, education writers. Only 15–20% are fiction writers. The only criterion for membership is to have at least an offer of publication from a commercial publisher.

The SoA's functions include public representation and lobbying on issues such as copyright law, VAT on books, public lending rights; trade union-type activities – recommending rates, negotiating rights fees with bodies such as the BBC, drawing up minimum terms agreements with publishers; the provision of information, notably through its quarterly journal The Author, but also through the publication of many short guides and through seminars and larger meetings devoted to particular problems; and 'members' services'.

This last includes giving advice on and vetting contracts; supplying books on trade terms; and answering many queries daily on varied topics – tax, late payment, cancellation of contracts, how to change agents, royalty statements and others. The Society also undertakes legal representation on behalf of its members, especially important test cases.

Some of these issues (representation, dissemination of information, answering members' enquiries) are carried out also by the SfEP, though without the resources available to the SoA. As far as common problems are concerned, Mark suggested that, although there is no accreditation test for authors, they are on the whole even more isolated than we are. They have little direct contact with the publisher, since the editor is the main contact.

Most authors need help and would like to share their experiences, and The Author contains a large 'whinge factor'; this is therapeutic for the members and does not imply that all editors and proofreaders are villains. Indeed, the SoA receives relatively few complaints and does not always take the side of the author, but of course, it is the bad cases that get publicity.

The author–editor relationship has changed over the last 20 years: whereas formerly editors tended to stay in one place and were always there to be the author's advocate within the company, and did actually read and work on the books, the impression nowadays is that they have too little time to read and nurture their books, and they move around much more.

There is nothing, Mark said, so cataclysmic to an author as a change of editor. And the big conglomerate companies that have emerged make the author feel more alienated from the publisher than before. Editors are often solicitous up to the point of contract, then become dormant for a while – and after publication they cease contact altogether.

On improving relations, Mark thought it would be a good idea for publishers to have some sort of 'news sheet' to send to authors and to freelancers, indicating who's who in the firm, whom to contact, etc. He emphasized that there are some consistently good publishers and went on to name a few. Good communication is the most important factor in author–editor relationships – good briefing, attention to the author's wishes, even if they cannot always be carried out, and encouragement.

If only, he said, editors would remember that authors are sensitive creatures who need love, and would give the impression that they think their author's book is a work of genius, deserving to be published with just a few minor alterations and just the odd correction of errors of fact! Ah, if only … Authors, he said, are really a mixture of arrogance and sensitivity, only very occasionally paranoid, and need massaging (figuratively speaking).

On collaboration between our two societies, Mark suggested that perhaps we could provide some joint guidance to both authors and editors on what is expected of each. In the question-and-answer session afterwards, a member proposed drawing up a list of the characteristics of a good editor/good author.

Mark reminded us that George Bernard Shaw, a vigorous campaigner for authors' rights, said that he 'minded more about the removal of a comma than he did about the death of his mother and father', though he was 'extremely fond of both'. Perhaps the main message from our speaker is that editors and proofreaders should remain extremely fond of their commas, but mind more about their authors – and vice versa!

Discussion groups and the open forum

Summarized by Ros Morley

Nine groups of members, corporate members and committee representatives reflected on six discussion topics. Groups were asked to consider two items in depth. The questions prompted wide-ranging discussions, which were then shared in the open forum.

Editorial excellence

How do you produce a high standard of work when cost restraints cause publishers to cut back on editing? There are, of course, reasons for budgets, so you should discuss the priorities with your clients, discover their problems and talk about your difficulties. You should find it is possible to build up a good working relationship despite that tight budget. An experienced editor can tailor the needs of the publisher to fit the cost. Be aware of ever-changing language and style, and be prepared to be flexible about what is excellent and what is relevant. Excellence may be possible; perfection is not likely to be.

Membership of the Society

Most of the groups chose this as one of their discussion topics, and the question of whether the Society should be trying to recruit more members, and what sort of members these should be, exercised much of the debate. Those who join the Society with few skills and who are prepared to accept low rates of pay do not help our struggle to persuade publishers that NUJ-recommended rates should be the minimum recompense for our labours.

Building the Society

This topic was linked by many of the groups to membership of the Society, but took the discussion a stage further by suggesting ways that we can encourage people into publishing, such as visiting sixth-form colleges to talk about the publishing industry. At least one group felt that Accreditation and Registration needed to be explained better to our members and corporate members!

External contacts

Most of the groups mentioned the Institute of Publishing, and the Publishing Training Centre, if only to ask what these are and what they do. Hopes were expressed that we can stimulate contact with the new Institute of Publishing, and further our existing contacts with the Society of Indexers and similar organizations. There were reservations about opening membership of the Society to those other than editors and proofreaders, but meetings with other professional societies (picture/photo researchers, etc.) might be encouraged.

Working with clients

The groups tackling this topic discussed the point that worries many freelancers: whether their clients will still be there if they have to turn down work. It isn't easy to keep the work coming in at a steady pace, and it is tempting to take on too much rather than risk losing a good client. There was some overlap here with the group discussing editorial excellence; the relationship between publisher and freelancer is paramount, and clients will recognize when they are receiving value for money. Be aware of your image: consider a trading name, think about registering for VAT (which is not a burden to administer and might persuade clients to take you more seriously), and remember to claim for all expenses – the point was made that publishers never reject expenses claims! Feedback is helpful for us and for our clients, and is yet another way to build up a good working relationship.

Ways of working

Many of us work from our own homes, but we should also consider alternatives. The benefit of working in a different location is advantageous for some freelancers in that it keeps private lives separate (no phone calls in the evenings) and encourages good timekeeping. But weigh this against being able to work while the baby is asleep in the next room! Consider collaborating with other freelancers, especially if you have more work than you can cope with; the advertising columns of Copyright can be useful for this.

Multimedia publishing:

Gordon Plant and Jo Sturges

Summarized by Katie Lewis

Gordon and Jo talked largely about the experience of developing CD-ROMs, but most of what they said applies to web pages as well. The theme of the talk was 'Coping with chaos'. Gordon has spent eight years ('They're like dog years', he says, '– feel like 56 human years!') in multimedia development, and explained why chaos is the norm from the 'techie's' point of view. This is still very much a developing industry, full of surprises: it depends a great deal on trial and error, and on iterative processes. Repetition is not failure, and testing takes up a large part of the budget.

At the same time, last year's success is this year's mistake, so you must develop your product quickly. Budgets are large, and fewer than 10% of information CD-ROMs make a profit. There is, by definition, no one who is very experienced in the business. It takes very little to set up as a multimedia developer. Companies tend to be either very small or huge, there are always cashflow problems and developers frequently go bankrupt in mid-project, so you should distrust the level of expertise they claim.

Both speakers stressed that buzzwords are often used to disguise lack of expertise. You should always ask what these mean – the real experts will be able to explain everything without using buzzwords. Words that seem familiar often have a different meaning in the multimedia context, and multimedia jargon can change meaning very quickly: last year a hybrid CD-ROM meant it was able to work on both PC and Apple Mac platforms, this year it means it not only has hypertext links within itself but also has links to an internet Web site.

Gordon recommended that you should understand the limitations of the medium, find a common format for file exchange, establish ground rules and look at similar products to see what works. You need to understand what the end-user will actually see; many problems arise because specifications aren't clear enough, and the publisher doesn't understand what the product will look like until it is developed.

Both speakers emphasized how useful publishing experience can be: the young designers have very little experience with words. You have to make the words count in multimedia, using 50% fewer than on the printed page, and splitting text into small (unrepetitive) chunks, without marketing-speak or meaningless graphics. You need to develop an inverted pyramid structure, starting with the conclusion and working back and out to all the previous screens. Useful information about how to write in this non-linear way can be found on Microsoft's website.

Gordon's view of the future is both optimistic and pessimistic. As the experience base grows and work flow systems are developed, things should get better; at the same time, fierce competition makes progress unlikely, and work flow systems probably won't work efficiently.

Jo spent two exciting years as multimedia editor on a project called Virtual Paris. She enjoyed the challenge and found invaluable her experience in children's publishing and her knowledge of structure and logical presentation of information. Just as with children's books, she suggested, it's important to control the vocabulary and make sure that everything that isn't instantly clear is explained. The writing must be very tight – you can put a maximum of around 200 words on a screen, and the language must be pitched at the right level for users, who often wouldn't pick up the equivalent book. The visual side dominates. Graphics work much better on screen than words, so you must use them intelligently, forming your core first and then the add-ons, with the words as extras.

A CD-ROM can contain a vast amount of information, but how do you find your way round without page numbers? Not only do you have to provide all the various inputs in the form of words, graphics, animation and sounds – each with a unique identifying number – but you have to control the navigation by detailing all the links. Good planning is essential and involves huge amounts of paperwork.

In spite of their unprofitability, it seems that CD-ROMs are here to stay, since there are plenty of other reasons for having them. If you have phenomenal planning skills, this might be the area for you. Apparently, some recruitment agencies are specifically recruiting multimedia editors. But bear in mind that multimedia developers earn about three times the rate that book editors can get – fight your corner. And be prepared for chaos!

Where is English going?

David Graddol, Open University, and director, English Company

Summarized by Michèle Clarke

I think I picked the short straw in agreeing to write up this lecture – I scarcely had enough time to write notes on the torrent of fascinating information that David had to impart.

He started by listing and then demolishing six common myths about the future of spoken English:

  1. All the world will speak English in the future.
  2. Technology (e.g. the internet) will ensure the dominance of English (wrong – there are multilingual websites already).
  3. Media globalization (e.g. CNN, NTT, the BBC) will subject the world to English (wrong – local languages are being developed in the broadcast media).
  4. Native-speaking countries (e.g. the US, the UK) will benefit most from the spread of English (wrong – Germany and Belgium, for example, are all publishing very successfully in English).
  5. The British won't need to learn foreign languages (wrong – employers are requiring more and more languages from their employees).
  6. Native-speaker ELT service providers will continue to be regarded as the 'real thing'.

There then followed a brief history of our language, which had to overcome all obstacles to become the dominant one. We sped through Old English; 16th-century literary English; the Renaissance, when geographical boundaries were set up and the Royal Society helped to spread science to the masses in an English communicative language, a language more suited to scientific dryness than the copiousness and ambiguity of the previous century; the Enlightenment era, when taxonomies, grammars and dictionaries were born; and finally to the 19th-century birth of the OED and on to our present age of destandardization – full circle.

There are three types of communities speaking English today:

  1. those whose first language is English (including the UK, the USA, Ireland, NZ, Australia), numbering 370 million
  2. those whose second language is English (including India, Malaysia and Nigeria, and other 'pink bits' of the world map, where we created a social élite as go-betweens to spread English to the rest and where now the new generations have almost slipped into the first category above), also numbering around 370 million
  3. those who use English as a foreign language (a volatile number of 700 million at a conservative count, and proving not quite as fixed as we thought).

This latter group is closely linked to economics – the number of English courses being run in Korea has recently fallen by 50% in the wake of the economic freefall going on in the East. This group needs to speak English in order to communicate with other non-native English speakers. As an example, David referred to the Chinese engineers being taught English by Belgians so that they could communicate with German and Italian plant engineers fitting equipment in China!

Parameters influencing the rise or fall of the spread of English include:

  • the population explosion – projected to level off in the next century at around 11 billion
  • the future age distribution – a middle-age bulge appearing in southern and particularly western and eastern Europe
  • the rise of other languages – by the year 2050, English (second only at present to Chinese, which will stabilize but at such a high level that no other language will catch up) will have been caught up by Hindu/Urdu, Spanish and Arabic
  • the proportion of Group 1 native speakers (see above) – falling at present
  • the loss of other languages – biological diversity loss (e.g. logging) goes hand-in-hand with language loss; it is thought that 90% of current languages will have been lost by the end of the next generation
  • the redistribution of wealth – in 1990, 55% of the world's wealth was owned by the Big Three (Europe, Japan and North America); by 2050, Asia will own 60% and the Big Three only 12%, and Asia's wealth will be earned and spent in Asia – what language might be the common broker?
  • employment – over the last 200 years, agriculture and manufacturing have been rapidly falling, the service sector rising, and language is more important in the latter; the service industries are being globalized, not with uniform language and culture, but with an interdependency, less hierarchy and a dependence on communications.

So English is being pulled in two directions – centripetally, towards an international lingua franca, a multi-style, multi-standard English; and centrifugally, with new fragmented Englishes coming of age. There is a closer relationship between speech and writing with an 'informalization' of communication by email and hybrid genres. There is a breakdown of gatekeeping and a 'multi-modality', where the relationship between words, images and sound is rapidly changing.

Coming so swiftly after a really good workshop with Val Elliston on the standards of English, this lecture was a fascinating foil, and I never quite knew which side David was actually standing on. But it made us all think! The conference was worth every penny for this lecture alone!

Language, truth and advertising:

John Osman, Brann Direct

Summarized by Mary Korndorffer

Who has not been taken in by the beguiling billboard? Who not mesmerized by a mellifluous marketing manager? Marketing companies spend fortunes measuring and monitoring you in order to communicate the identity of their client.

John Osman is now a legal compliance editor with the Cirencester-based marketing company, Brann Direct, UK headquarters of Schneider Communications Corporation, Inc. of Maryland in the US. He monitors copy and scripts for a wide variety of clients, to ensure that the advertising is 'legal, decent, honest and truthful'; it must not corrupt or deprave.

You may wonder where truth comes into advertising, but customers will not be loyal to a company they do not trust. The devil is in the impression that advertising makes; the angel is in the detail, for the cost of the seduction must be made clear. The language used must be accurate in fact and argument; the reader of the text should be the critic of that text. John mentioned the Wonderbra campaign, where the actual audience did not seem to coincide with the target market.

There are watchdogs. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) sets the limits of public acceptability. The regulations are found in the British Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion, whereas the ASA deals with complaints. For example, a notorious Benetton campaign that offended public sensibility was withdrawn, although the company mounted a strong defence of its creative strategy.

The Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre examines all advert scripts to ensure that they comply with the Broadcasting Act 1990. Direct marketing and telemarketing have their own regulatory bodies and are well aware that general disapproval would lead to pressure for changes in the law. Any unwelcome communication is a junk communication, be it by mail, phone or fax, and can be avoided. Protection from junk mail can be ensured by contacting the preference service; similar services exist for junk phone and fax calls.

Managing freelancers and freelancer value:

Elizabeth Knowles, managing editor, Oxford quotations dictionaries, and Sue Deeley, vice-chair, SfEP

Summarized by Val Rice

Elizabeth Knowles

Managing editors

Managing editors have a dual role: as authors and as editors to outside authors; they also give editorial advice on some projects. They manage several titles, all at different stages of production, and have at least one major book project a year. The life cycle of a dictionary begins with a suggestion for a title, a proposal with sample entries, an estimate of editorial costs and an outline schedule. The commissioning department collates these, together with production costs estimates, cashflow forecasts, etc.

At OUP, the proposal must be approved by the Delegates, who give permission for the name 'Oxford' to be used in the title. This permission must be obtained before work starts on a book.

Once permission has been obtained, the headword tagging system has to be agreed and set up by the computer department. A design sample is produced at an early stage. Schedules must be feasible, and allow for delays in other departments, such as the computer system being made 2000 compliant, as well as for outside factors and marketing needs. Publication dates must be met.

Work with freelancers and outside authors

Some work in-house as casual contract staff – editing, keyboarding, index editing, identifying quotations, proofreading – or carry out research in libraries in London and Oxford. Each person works in one area, but there is the danger of that person feeling isolated and being unable to see how his or her work fits into the overall picture. A clear briefing is essential, setting out what is to be done and the terms of engagement. The brief can be verbal or written. Elizabeth likes to arrange an in-house briefing for all concerned as this is a valuable opportunity to talk about the project and more generally. Good communication is vital.

Managing editors are paid to ensure that books are published on time and within budget. Cuts sometimes have to be made within the requirements of a publishing schedule and freelancers then may be told there is no more work. Elizabeth's advice was: keep people informed – if a book is approved, book your proofreader in advance so that she or he can build it into her schedule.

Freelance rates

Managing editors in the dictionary department have all done the work for which they employ freelancers. They try to establish a common rate for the work. Rates may be renegotiated if/when necessary, taking annual budgets into account. Feedback and training are regarded as very important.

There is no freelancer training budget, but editors look closely at work in the early stages and give feedback so that freelancers will enjoy the project and be available for future publications. Regular monitoring helps both editor and freelancer. Feedback can be written, or by phone or email, which is becoming more widely used as queries can be raised without too much interruption to work.

What can freelancers and editors expect from each other?

It can be a good professional relationship; both need to feel they are getting value for money. Friendships can develop but do (indeed, must) not compromise an essentially business relationship. Trust can be built up by good communication.

Sue Deeley

Freelancer value

Sue presented facts and figures about where the money goes – the economics of publishing books and journals.

Cost estimates for book production:

  • 30%: editorial/production
  • 10%: marketing
  • 10%: distribution
  • 7%: royalties (authors and editors)
  • 28%: agent/bookseller discounts
  • 10%: overheads
  • 5%: net profit

Approximately 1.7% of the total budget is spent on editing and proofreading. In journal production, the agent/bookseller discounts become subscription agent discounts.

When a book is reprinted booksellers, printers and binders get more work. There are more overheads and more royalties, but proofreading/editing is a fixed cost and we get no more money. Has anyone ever thought of discussing repeat fees, such as are paid for radio and TV programmes?

The costs of working freelance:

  • consumables
  • travel (trips to the post office)
  • communications
  • heat and light
  • National Insurance
  • 'sick' pay
  • holiday pay
  • pension (an employer would pay 4–10% of your salary)
  • capital goods (computer, etc.)
  • training
  • insurance
  • accountancy fees.

Rates of pay survey

On the subject of the Society's survey on rates of pay, Sue said that nearly 400 replies had been received and analysed. We were given a foretaste of the results.

It was interesting to learn that two thirds of jobs are done for a fixed rate and that the average income of members working full time is £17,400; this is equivalent to £10 per hour for a working year of 225 days. But – and this was Sue's final, telling point – when all the overheads and expenses of working freelance are allowed for, this hourly £10 actually works out at about £6. Food for thought!

Selling yourself:

Ann Youngs, Thomson Corporation

Summarized by Richard Cook

'How do we get the rates of pay we want?' one delegate asked, referring to multimedia companies. 'By convincing them of the value of what you do' was the reply.

In a world where copyediting and proofreading are increasingly regarded as part of the service sector, it is important that freelancers are aware of the very real need to sell their skills.

'How do you feel when you have had bad service in, say, a shoe shop?' was the first question asked by Ann Youngs, performance consultant with the Thomson Corporation. The typical response was anger and never wanting to shop there again. What came through strongly in this seminar was that success in business in a competitive environment depends to a great extent on how well you sell yourself. A set of editorial skills is all very good and proper, but it needs to be brought to the attention of a customer, who remains to be convinced that your particular set of skills is essential to the running of his/her business. Ann pointed to three rules for success as a freelancer:

  1. Sell yourself effectively.
  2. Identify your competitive advantage.
  3. Manage challenging situations.

You need to identify customers' needs and sell yourself effectively with these in mind. The guiding principle here is customer focus. In dictionary terms, you should try to 'create predictably positive experiences that meet or exceed customers' expectations'.

A helpful exercise is to think about what it feels to be a customer. What is it you value? Research has shown that there are five key things rated by customers:

  1. Reliability: performing the promised service dependably and accurately.
  2. Assurance: conveying trust and confidence by demonstrating knowledge about what you are doing.
  3. Tangibles: creating a positive impression through the appearance of yourself, your correspondence, your work, your invoices, etc.
  4. Empathy: communicating that you care and treating the customer as an individual.
  5. Responsiveness: helping customers willingly and providing prompt service.

Using these attributes as a framework for your interactions with customers enables you to find out what is really important to those customers and to act on that information.

So why should a customer do business with you? A helpful tool when trying to win business for the first time or when offering a new service to an established customer is a capability statement. To help you identify your competitive advantage, it should:

  • link your capability to your customer's probable needs
  • be specific enough to be of interest to the customer
  • be broad enough not to close off options to you
  • provide the basis for a common understanding.

So how do you manage challenging situations? Dealing with customers is not always smooth and trouble free. Sometimes conflict arises, or there is a difference of opinion and you need to agree a way forward. Don't despair. Managed well, this can be an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with a customer. Here are six steps to dealing with times of crisis.

  1. Listening: This is a key skill. Listen for feelings, facts and expectations and be prepared to understand the customer's point of view.
  2. Restating: Repeating what the customer has told you in your own words shows a willingness to listen and collaborate. It can help defuse a situation and shows empathy.
  3. Asking questions: This is the key to clarifying the situation and working on a solution. Offer information and options only when you have identified and fully understood the problem.
  4. Setting expectations: This is very important in avoiding future problems. Often a situation is difficult because a customer does not receive what was expected.
  5. Obtaining agreement: This involves first checking with the customer that the problem has been tackled and then agreeing the next step.

As if to emphasize the need to sell yourself, Ann ended her seminar by handing around a beautifully produced handbook that Thomas Nelson issue to all their freelancers. This goes to show that even customers need good adverts.

You know what I mean!

Valerie Elliston

Summarized by Anne Waddingham

About a dozen of us assembled in the rather echo-y lecture theatre, thinking that Valerie would lay down the grammatical laws. But I should have known better, having attended Valerie's Brush up your grammar course a few years ago.

Valerie doesn't tell you what's right and what's wrong; she's too subtle for that. She coaxes, encourages, considers different viewpoints, suggests, inveigles and is rarely didactic. If anyone entered the room feeling certain that good grammar is black-and-white, and is simply a matter of rigidly applying 'the rules', they must have left the room chastened and much wiser.

Valerie had devised a cunningly badly written report of a recent Radio 4 'straw poll' debate on: 'A language authority is essential for the preservation of standards in English'. I can believe her when she said it was difficult to write – for someone with her sensitivity towards the written word, it must have been purgatory to mangle her tenses, dangle her participles and muddle her verbs.

We spent the session dissecting the errors, debating almost every one heatedly – too much so, in fact, as we only managed to complete the first of two-and-a-half pages before time defeated us. Valerie wanted us to consider three questions:

  • How far was instant understanding impeded?
  • How many of the stylistic errors and infelicities really mattered?
  • Should we distinguish between spoken and written English in this regard?

It would have been nice to have had more time to debate the above points but, let's face it, putting a dozen editors in the same room and expecting them to reach a consensus about a single grammatical point is pure folly. Amazingly, there was no blood on the floor (a tribute to Valerie's tactfulness).

One of the recurring themes in the exercise was the flexibility of language: moving on, changing constantly and adapting with the times.

Visit to Earle & Ludlow, printers

Summarized by Ann Griffiths

Ten of us went to Earle & Ludlow, a firm of printers chosen for our visit because all the relevant processes are carried out on site.

Most of the documents the firm produces are fairly small (fewer than 10,000 words), although they do print a few books. Like many companies, the firm started out printing black-and-white work; now documents are produced in four colours and more.

Most jobs are received either on disk or via Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) lines. The few that are received on hard copy can cause problems, although the company has a camera on site to convert text on paper into a format suitable for conversion to film and plate.

Difficulties also ensue from the fact that most computers used by printers are Apple Macs; this generates compatibility problems with the PCs used by most authors. Another dilemma known to members of the SfEP was raised – that of moving from traditional practices to computer processes, and the concomitant problems of keeping oneself and one's equipment up to date.

Our guide, Dave, told us that the easiest way to explain the printing process would be to demonstrate a job from start to finish. Beginning with the arrival of a job on disk, the stages may be summarized thus:

Disk – film – plate – printing

The files on disk are converted to the appropriate format and are then transferred on to film by use of a raster image processor (RIP). This is a computer device that processes the information into a form that can be accepted by the film.

The film image is then etched on to a plate by means of a laser, and during this process, the plate is hardened up and its background coating removed. A copy of the document to be printed is produced at this stage and sent to its originator, who has responsibility for its veracity.

Printing from the plate on to paper takes place in the press room. Here there are different machines; the one selected depends on the size of the print run. A smaller machine that can print all four colours at once is used for short runs – up to about 5,000 copies. For larger jobs, a more sophisticated machine is used. This machine prints two colours at one time, lets them dry and then prints the other two.

An 'optimist' in our party asked Dave what would happen if things went wrong. Dave replied that the machine was a Heidelberg press, the top end of the range, and they experienced few problems. He went on to say that the company intended to buy a larger machine, suitable for longer print runs, which will transfer all four colours at the same time. Such a machine would take up a lot of floor space and is very expensive. We discussed the cost of machinery briefly – even in a small print works, there are many thousand pounds' worth of equipment – the insurance costs must be very high.

We were given a demonstration of a print run on the larger machine. Holes are punched in the plate so that it is positioned accurately on the press. The take-up of the image on to the paper was explained; it is done by the judicious use of different layers of water, alcohol and ink. The machine cannot print directly from the plate to the paper and needs a rubber sleeve in between.

We were also shown the company's guillotine; this is a super-fast and efficient device that cuts whole reams of paper at once. Another machine was used for die-stamping embossed material. This was a hand machine that prints from a block and is used for small jobs such as business cards and personalized stationery.

The company also had a collating machine, which is used for very small jobs. For larger 'finishing processes', Earle and Ludlow subcontract work to a firm 'just around the corner'. Many pre-printing jobs are also subcontracted.

Finally, thanks are due to Earle & Ludlow and to Dave for arranging an enjoyable and informative visit.

Visit to BDA design studio

Summarized by Simon de Pinna

A brief coach ride into Cirencester from the Royal Agricultural College is the BDA design studio, recently refurbished and well-equipped with the latest high-tech computer equipment and accessories required to input text and images in a variety of formats. Andrew Stephens, one of the directors, first described the traditional route for dealing with artwork:

  • Half-tones – sent for origination and bromides or photomechanical transfer (PMTs) or dot-for-dot and used as camera-ready copy (CRC).
  • Line – either redrawn or rela, or left as is, and all used as CRC.
  • Colour – the slide or colour print would have been converted to colour film (four-colour) by a photographic process. The films would be cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK).

As a designer, Andrew is clear about the editor's role in dealing with a design studio or typesetter at different stages in the production process. The (ideal!) editor should:

  • assess the artwork and separate it into categories: line, half-tone and (if colour is to be used) colour line and colour transparencies or prints
  • decide which line figures are acceptable as they are and which need to be edited
  • decide what size the acceptable figures should be
  • decide which of the remaining line figures need to be rela and which redrawn; edit these line figures (based on the design specification and any instructions from the publisher); decide the most appropriate size (this is not always required by the publisher)
  • decide what size the half-tones and/or any colour figures should be and what features are important and what may be 'cropped' from the image. Remember that these figures can be reduced in size but not enlarged
  • catalogue all the figures with appropriate instructions about cropping, size, overlays, redrawing and rela
  • produce an accompanying letter to the designer that should include details of fonts to be used for rela and any other specific style instructions.

Andrew suggested that the editor would need to see a proof of the line figures and the author could be asked to check this. For half-tones, a bromide could be seen to check size and cropping; for colour images, a colour match print proof could be seen.

Once these have been 'passed', the files are sent to the typesetter where low-resolution scans ('positionals') are incorporated into page proofs. At the printer's the high-resolution scans are coded to replace the low-resolution ones automatically. Corrections to figures at proof stage cannot usually be done by the typesetter; the original artist has to correct and send a new file. It is clearly very important to sort out as many problems as possible before the proof stage.

Similarly, Andrew was able to itemize the functions of the art/design studio. It should:

  • assess supplied artwork briefs, roughs and instructions, and notify the client/editor of any potential problems with timescales/budgets or the instructions themselves
  • supply illustrations with agreed sets of proofs in the required formats to either editor or typesetters
  • amend illustrations as required by the editor
  • archive material to allow amendments to subsequent editions.

Art studios should not be expected to make decisions about fonts, illustration sizes or content unless they are fulfilling a page design role as well. Art studios will charge extra for any amendments to illustrations that are the result of incomplete or changed briefs from editors. If forced to send an incomplete brief to an art house, the editor should allow extra budget for amendments. Additional sets of proofs would also incur charges.

Andrew demonstrated some of the processes involved in taking an editor's artwork brief and turning it into a publishable electronic form. As an illustrator himself, he is well-qualified to distinguish between a poor and a good artwork brief – he showed us both. This is one editor who felt the need to improve his pathetic matchstick-men efforts when he next briefs an artist!

The editorial/production interface:

Linda Thomas

Summarized by Sara Hulse

Linda's workshop was on the role of the production controller in a typical large publishing company. Her background includes a period spent as a senior production controller at Oxford University Press, with responsibility for a list of academic reference books that included the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary, so she is well qualified to talk on the subject! She has also worked as a journals production editor for Blackwell Publishers, where she had a special responsibility for freelance editors.

Her talk focused on the interface between the production and editorial departments and on the activities carried out by the production controller. Production controllers are responsible for the physical qualities of the finished book, and although production is usually seen as the last stages of bringing a book into existence, it is, of course, involved from the very beginning, when proposals are being prepared.

'Production' refers specifically to the manufacturing stages from typesetting to binding, although the work itself is not usually carried out by the production department. Production includes the cost of transforming the editorial and design elements into a form suitable for manufacturing, as well as the cost of materials, the manufacturing itself and delivery from the printer to the warehouse or other destination.

The production department provides information relating to costs, schedules and technical issues to the editorial and marketing departments, which they then use, with information from other sources, to make editorial decisions. The first stage of the process is that the editorial department will request an estimate for a new book or reprint, supplying details on, among other things:

  • format
  • extent
  • type of paper
  • bulk
  • number of colours for text and jacket
  • print run
  • how the text will be submitted
  • date of publication
  • date for handover of text to production
  • special requirements.

The production controller then gathers together all the necessary information to be able to provide an accurate costing and a draft schedule for the work, covering aspects such as:

  • text design
  • jacket/cover design
  • typesetting
  • methods of data capture and/or correction
  • corrections
  • paper
  • binding material
  • pre-press
  • printing
  • binding
  • jacket/cover material
  • jacket/cover printing
  • packaging
  • delivery.

The production controller is in charge of specifying paper and other materials, selecting typesetters, printers, binders and delivery services, and negotiating and working with them. Although the production controller liaises mainly with the typesetters and the printers, there are many other departments and activities whose input is important. For example, specialist printers often have to be used for jackets or covers; binding materials may have to be specially made; and freight and shipping of the finished books has to be organized.

The capability of the typesetters and the printers has to be taken into account. For example, can the typesetters handle maths notation? Can the printers provide the correct binding?

In terms of materials, paper is probably the biggest cost, possibly £300,000 to £400,000 for the OED. The paper is made specifically for a particular job. Production controllers have to know about the properties and qualities of the various paper types, as well as their cost, so that a paper can be chosen that is most suitable for the intended market.

Scheduling is of the utmost importance – the publication date of the book cannot be changed because it will have been published in promotional literature, etc. When production departments draw up schedules, they start from the required publication date and work back through the manufacturing stages to the manuscript delivery date. Once the job is booked in with the various suppliers and delivery dates agreed, any changes can be disastrous.

When you understand the areas for which the production controller is responsible, you can begin to understand the vital way in which they contribute to the appearance of a finished book.

The marketplace

Summarized by Christina Malkowska Zaba

A new feature in the annual conference programme this year was the so-called 'marketplace', an informal forum for the exchange of information and ideas.

During the first day, the lobby of the Royal Agricultural College gradually filled with more and more intriguing posters, notices, stands and stalls, and at the designated hour delegates were able to wander at will through them. Copyright was there, explaining the production process in fetching cartoons; the Publishing Training Centre had a good spread of wares, including details on its distance learning and other training courses; and the Society of Indexers had a stand at which you could get information about software for indexing, the perils and joys of freelancing and Society activities.

Networking was everywhere visible to the trained eye and ear: 'Can I give you a buzz?', 'Here's my card', 'When can I get in touch?' – all overseen by Editorius Superbus, the Roman hardboard cut-out copyeditor (well, this was Cirencester!) whose eagle was perched regally on a set of – what else? – pencils. I'm sure he approved of all the groundwork going on. Rome wasn't built in a day, after all.

The advertising opportunities were excellent, although many members didn't make full use of them. Corporate members were able to advertise for freelancers, and freelancers for clients. And many a notice was scanned that day, as Virgil might have said, with, as I heard, good results.

On a less epic note, the 'Ideas and tips' noticeboard became covered with 'stickies' giving suggestions ranging from URLs ('wonderful websites') to tips on getting the best out of your Tipp-Ex. And there was space for the SfEP itself to give details on the range of activities it covers, from a map of regional groups (with phone contacts) to 'Meet the Committee'.

The soap-box facility didn't seem to get used much. Perhaps editors are quiet types who don't feel the need to rant to the public. But there was certainly plenty of activity around this event, if of a low-key kind. My vote is for making it a permanent conference feature.