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The Life Cycle of a Book in Production: Part 1

By Giulia Caparrelli and Juliette Tulloch

“If Editorial is the heart of publishing, production is the lungs,” said Ebury’s Head of Production Catherine Ngwong. Production is the engine that transforms an initial manuscript into a product ready to get into the hands of readers around the world. But what exactly does production do and how can a stack of papers become a beautiful book? Let’s begin the journey of a book from author to reader, with a focus on production-related activities. Part 2 will follow in the next issue!

Images by: @_prod_squad_books on Instagram


To the author, this will feel like the end goal and a moment to celebrate; after months, years maybe, the manuscript is ready. To the publisher, this is only the very first step in a long process that will bring the book to life and which will usually take at least one year. Production will be first involved in the process to provide an initial quote for the costs of printing and binding based on a rough specification that includes trimmed page size, extent, use of colour, binding style and print run.

Option Clause

This is a clause in a publishing agreement that gives the publisher the right to consider acquiring the author's next book before other publishers can do so.


The trimmed page size (TPS) of a book refers to its format (height and width), which can be either portrait or landscape. UK publishers tend to measure this in millimetres, whereas the US uses inches.


The extent is the total number of pages. This needs to be an even number because books are made from folded sheets of paper, which have two sides. Most commonly, the extent is calculated in multiples of 4, 8, 16 or 32 pages.

Print Run

This is the number of copies of a book printed at a given time. The initial print run refers to the number of copies produced for a title’s first release. If there are extra copies that need to be ordered, these are referred to as ‘run-on’.


The pre-press phase includes all the activities that a publisher needs to complete to ensure the manuscript is ready to go to press. These include copy-editing, typesetting, design and proofing. All these activities require daily collaboration between the editorial, production and marketing/publicity teams. Given the high costs of printing, this phase is critical and mistakes need to be spotted early on. Proofs are constantly revised until the author and publisher are satisfied. During this stage, production is also responsible for sending purchase orders to the printer and binder.


The preparation of the text for composition is achieved by marking up elements such as headings and subheadings to give it structure. This process is necessary for the designer to know how each element should be positioned and designed.

Purchase Order

A main responsibility of the production team is to prepare the purchase order to be sent to both the printer and the binder based on the initial book specification and request for an estimate. The purchase order serves as a binding contract between publisher and suppliers.


Once the pre-press activities have been completed, a PDF is sent to the printer. There are two main printing methods: traditional offset lithography and digital printing. In lithography, images are transferred from a printing plate to the paper in groups of 4, 8 or 16, whereas in digital printing, images are printed one by one. Digital is most commonly used for print on demand and short print runs.

POD (Print On Demand)

When a book may not be reaching its sales targets, it will instead be printed on demand, ultimately printing the book in small batches, or when someone has ordered it. This can sometimes be more expensive and the book itself will be of a lower quality than normal.

Running Sheet

Often confused as proofs when they arrive, they are a set of folded, gathered and trimmed sections, before the binding has taken place. This is the stage where it is usually too late to be making corrections but it is cheaper to do it here than when the book is fully bound.


This is a finished order that contains fewer books than requested. This may be the result of printer errors or excessive spoilage (planned paper waste) during the printing.


This can be a blank copy of a book with solely the front and back cover printed on it, so you can create marketing material before receiving the completed manuscript or a low quality proof.


There is a growing demand from collectors of author-signed editions, and this is that tip-ins enter the production process. The author will write their signature on a blank page (the tip-in), which will then be added to the production run of the book later.


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