Why do publishers want formatted books split?
February 2, 2015 2:13 AM   Subscribe

Why do publishers require academic authors to submit books with chapters as separate files and a contents page (separate file again) with page numbers that will be irrelevant once they apply their in-house style with their in-house software?

One of the things I get paid to do is format books in Microsoft Word (not Quark or Indesign) that academics have contracts with publishers for. But why, why, why?! do publishers (4 different ones at last count) want the following things?
1. The chapters as separate Word documents when they're going to concatenate the files anyway?
2. A (separate file) contents page with page numbers when the page numbers will change when they change the page size, font size and spacing?

If they weren't so nitpicky about the formatting details, I'd assume it was so that the authors were making sure each chapter was correctly formatted. But that doesn't make sense with the (relatively - for the average end user) complex things they want done.

I just want to know why. I can spend 20 hours formatting a book, and that last little bit is - meh - maybe 20 minutes, but WHY!

(I don't need any help on doing the formatting, thanks. If you want to know, I strip all the formatting out of all the documents provided to me, add all the chapters into one document [in your face, publishers!], format everything to styles and use Word to create a table of contents, which I then cut and paste as unformatted text so it remembers the page numbers; and split all the chapter files out with identical formatting. And because I'm really nice and publishers like me a lot to do this, I give them the entire document, the split document files, and a separate document telling them what all the other documents are, and the styles and conventions I've used. )
posted by b33j to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Regarding question 1: One common way of making a book in InDesign is for each chapter to be its own file (an .indd file). The book as a whole is another file (an .indb file) that has links to the constituent chapter files, and ties together page numbers, cross references, etc. If they're importing text from Word to InDesign, they'd want one Word document per chapter, since they'll end up with one InDesign file per chapter.

The relatively nit-picky formatting they’re having you do might be in service of making the import to InDesign go as smoothly as possible.

I’ve no idea about question 2, though.
posted by Banknote of the year at 2:42 AM on February 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Not in publishing, but reviewing/editing/correcting student's theses is a big part of my day job. I always ask them to split the text into chapter-level files for the process, as Word is (or at least used to be) notoriously prone to messing up the entire layout due to a change in one part of the document, or chocking on a big document with too many figures. On top of that it doesn't really have a good way of comparing big documents, so if the entire file gets traded back and forth a couple of times, even for minor corrections, you need to spend a lot of time rechecking everything every time. This is further complicated by the fact that the student will occasionally get the idea to "fix" some part of the text we have already gone over (and of course say nothing about it), introducing errors late in the process - again Word doesn't have a good way of keeping track of this kind of thing, so the extra discipline imposed by splitting the chapters is really helpful.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:07 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I do theses too, and I don't let the students change the document I'm working on. I've found a 300 page document will remain relatively stable if styles are used consistently and with as few as possible. Images go in next to last. I find changes by comparing (if they don't track changes) my document with theirs using the comparison feature. I then make the changes to the document I'm working on. Allowing other people and other computers access to a file like that will cause problems.

But that's not what I'm talking about (I agree with you about stability you see). There must be some kind of justification for professional publishing houses to want irrelevant page numbers (banknote's explanation of separate chapter files makes sense).
posted by b33j at 6:58 AM on February 2, 2015

Just a wild guess, but maybe the table of contents is for quality control. If they're generating the final ToC from InDesign styles, I could see then wanting to have a reference to compare to. Make sure the chapters and sections are all there, and that they refer to the right parts of the text.
posted by Banknote of the year at 8:29 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

There must be some kind of justification for professional publishing houses to want irrelevant page numbers (banknote's explanation of separate chapter files makes sense).

Well for corrections. If they need to go back to the author, who is NOT using ID, they need to be able to reference a specific page, paragraph and line number so the author can reference the same piece of text.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:32 AM on February 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's been a few years since I worked in print publishing, but those were our rules, too.

1. We wanted a separate document for each chapter because Word would get fussy and unstable after about 20 pages and because it made it easier for all of us -- copy-editors, proof-readers, writer, designers -- to work on discrete parts of the work.

2. The TOC with Word's pagination is helpful when working on the document before it hits the designer's desk and actual pagination. It's much cheaper to do significant edits before the designer gets a hold of the work.

3. You might ask your publishers if they have Style preferences or even templates. We created a Word template for our writers with a custom Style toolbar and custom styles that matched the Styles in a Quark template (showing my age), and import was slick and easy. No cruft and it saved the designer hours.
posted by notyou at 8:40 AM on February 2, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for your suggestions.

The corrections thing seems almost plausible, except: if author Jones submits chapter 13 to the editors Smith & Brown (who give it to me to format) and send it on to the publishers, Jones is only going to know page numbers in their own chapter starting from 1. When the publishers return corrections or asking for changes, Smith & Brown are going to have to convert the page numbers that the publishers are referencing to the ones in the formatted document to the ones Jones knows which increases likelihood of error. Unless the publishers send a marked up version of the new stuff, in which case the publishers' page numbers will be on it.

The table of contents thing for quality control - sure, a list of chapters in order, I'm all for that. But it still doesn't make the requirement for continuous page numbers sensible [and a separate document for contents breaks all the field links for a start (unless you're using some cute master/sub document system, and the publishers definitely don't want that, and don't expect it)].

Thank you, yes, of course, I already always use the publishers' style guide (even when they're contradictory), and as for template, when it's provided as a .doc instead of a .docx, and/or doesn't meet the publisher's own styles - well!
posted by b33j at 12:50 PM on February 2, 2015

Many educational publishers produce bespoke print-on-demand "course packs" for schools and universities consisting of a collection of chapters from different textbooks etc. specialised for that particular institution's course (example). Perhaps what you are doing is to help with that?
posted by Jabberwocky at 2:07 PM on February 2, 2015

Response by poster: No, these books aren't being used this way (I know this because my clients/colleagues are close, eg,I have worked with them for a decade, I see all the paperwork for the book and manage the peer review and chapter submission to editors).

I'm sure Banknote has the separate file answer correct. The table of contents with irrelevant page numbers shall remain a mystery, I guess.

Thanks for all your help and ideas.
posted by b33j at 3:28 PM on February 2, 2015

I "built books" in Quark XPress for a textbook publisher for a couple years in the 90s. We always made separate files for each chapter so it was just easiest for us to have separate Word files. IIRC it had to do with different chapters being ready at different times and it was just way more manageable. Also, if one chapter file got deleted or corrupted it was a lot easier to redo a chapter at a time. The editors worked (from hard copies) one chapter at a time and had to keep after the authors/professors for each chapter. It was just easier to keep up with illustrators and photos/images if they were broken down like that.

The only person who really touched the whole book at once was the indexer. The printer was completely able to take our separate files and have their pre-press people put them together for printing.
posted by bendy at 6:46 PM on February 2, 2015

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