You may remember that I posted last July about a writing project I’d decided to take on. Well, just six months on, week 3 of this year saw me doing the final edits on the print-ready PDF of the whole thing before it went to press a few days ago – yay! It’s hard to believe how fast it’s all gone, the sheer volume of work and effort that were involved, the amount I’ve learned and the new skills and responsibilities it’s brought. I can’t wait until it finally comes out – I think the publication date is in March (watch this space…).
Any writing project brings with it serious considerations about use of space. In the academic writing I did in the distant past, word counts and style sheets were the all-important units of measurement. Writing for the commercial educational sector brings further constraints, most significantly the need to plan content for each page of each chapter in detail before you’ve even started, and the need for your units to fit onto the page format of the final product. For the first publication of this kind I did, I didn’t really know in advance what kind of space per page was going to be available and this led to much agonizing cutting of material in the latter editing stages (and given that this then had a knock-on effect for the solutions section and the glossary, it was all the more of a headache as a result). For another project, where limited space was a major and deliberate feature, the template I was given to insert content into was so detailed that it more or less automatically generated a WYSIWYG final format and I could see immediately where I needed to economize. This latest project has been somewhere in between these two extremes. While the document template took into account page size/layout and roughly managed things like font size and spacing for the different types and functions of text on any given page, there was still a lot of guesswork regarding how much space various other essential non-textual elements might take up.
Most significantly, this publication was to have lots of full-colour pictures, ranging from thumbnails to double-page spreads, and these in fact accounted for many of these unknown quantities regarding space. The necessity for me to think of the illustration aspect at all times really added a further major layer of planning to the whole project and one that proved at least as complex as the generation of text “content” – and this, I think, was the biggest eye-opener of the whole experience. In many instances I could just indicate where I wanted a photo of what, and someone else would later have the task of sourcing suitable images, but I was also given a list of stock photo sites I could use to source particular images if I wished to do so. I think this combination of perceived freedoms gave me a bit too much ill-founded confidence at first: it was tempting to think the world was my oyster and that I would find a photo of anything I damn well wanted via the powerful search engines each stock photo provider offered, or that writing “please insert photo of x here” would be the end of the matter. Wrong. Big fat wrong.
It was only when I was part of the way through the project that I started actively trying to select my own choice of images for inclusion, having decided that since I do have ideas about what sorts of photos I like and what I don’t, I might as well exercise this choice. And it was at this point that my naivety became blatantly obvious – no, you cannot simply find a picture of this or that brand, this or that paid tourist attraction, or this or that celebrity on stock photo sites, or at least not for any kind of commercial use. This set me into a spiral of despair at first as it necessitated rethinking a number of activities I had planned to base around just these kinds of pictures. Ultimately, though, it led to me having simply to think rather more creatively about how to adapt to the constraints I’d discovered, and although the frustration at not finding a picture of this or that did continue to the end, I think it’s true to say that rather more good ideas were born of this restriction than were nipped in the bud by it. [Insert pithy quote about adversity and creativity here :)]
Needless to say, it was quite something to receive the “semi-final” PDF version of the final document, all typeset, in full colour and with all the photos, for detailed proofreading and final tweaks. What needed to be changed at this stage wasn’t generated so much by mistakes – almost all of these had been nit-pickingly spotted and eradicated earlier – or by the desire to reformulate something more impressively / simply / effectively, but rather by aesthetics and more immediate, measurable considerations of space and spacing. This sentence needed to be shortened so that it didn’t run on to a second line or have such an awkward line break, or that item should be deleted or moved so that there was enough space for the picture / map / diagram; here something needed to be moved up or across a bit, while there some colour-coded items needed to be swapped around so that the overall impression was better balanced visually. It was quite a different kind of scrutiny and editing dictated by often very different considerations from what would govern a purely text-based entity, but I have to say that I enjoyed this challenge a great deal.
So now my work is done, and I can breathe a big sigh of relief. Thanks to all those who suffered and stoically put up with my periodic moaning, groaning and gnashing of teeth during this whole project. You know who you are.