Editing presentation materials

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A blank book dummy (souvenir from a former life)

It’s the London Book Fair next week, and one thing I have been doing recently is editing presentation materials. But what exactly are they, and what are they for? And what do you need to tackle this kind of work?

My most recent experience in this area has been for trade book publishers producing co-edition books (books published simultaneously by more than one publisher), so that’s what I’m talking about here.

What are presentation materials, and what are they used for?

I use the term ‘presentation materials’ to refer mainly to book dummies and blads, as well as AIs and cover copy – aka ‘the blurb’. The definitions I’ve given below are ones I have come across, but publishers’ practices vary, and the names they give things vary too.

  • A dummy book is a similar format (size) and extent (number of pages) as the intended finished product, and has been mocked up to look like a real book, in part – most of the pages will be blank and white, but it will have a cover that looks real, and selected pages that will also look real. The question that should concern the editor is – just how real do these elements need to appear? 
  • Cover copy may be produced at a very early stage in the book’s life, and needs to offer a taste of what is inside the book. It tends to be short; when you write it you obviously need to be selective about what you include. As a freelance editor, it’s possible you will be asked to write cover copy. It is much more likely that you will need to check it at proofreading stage, when it’s extremely useful to remember that it may well have been written long before the book itself. Does the finished version of the book still deliver on all the promises given on the cover?
  • An AI (advance information) sheet describes the content of the book, listing its features in some depth – sort of like a contents page with more detail – as well as its vital statistics (format, extent, number of words, number of images), and probably also including the blurb and information about the author(s) and/or illustrator(s). If you are asked to edit the AI, you will need to ensure that it contains clear, accurate and credible information. You may also need to get creative when it comes to detailing the contents of the unwritten book.
  • Finally a blad (book layout and design) is a document that will often be professionally printed on stock (paper) just like that of the finished book. As well as sample spreads from the book, the blad may contain advance information. Multiple copies of the blad will be printed and taken to book fairs and used in other sales situations.

In short, all of the above documents are tools for selling. Apart from the final incarnation of the cover copy, though, they are not tools for selling the book to the end reader in a bookshop or online. They are used to sell an idea to enable a publisher to commission the complete product, or to sell the rights to the finished product. Therefore the information included needs to be enticing, but it also needs to be clear and accurate, and give a fair representation of what the finished book will be like, and what makes it an attractive commercial proposition.

What might I need to edit?

To edit layouts for a dummy or a blad, you’ll need to work with text that has been placed in order to give an impression of the finished book. It may not be final, and it’s likely that you’ll need to do some writing to fill gaps – either to fit a space, or because captions are missing.

You may also need to roughly work out the pagination of a book in order to add folios to dummy pages, or to mock up a table of contents, or to write descriptive material about the book’s content for an AI. A good understanding of the anatomy of a typical book in the relevant genre will enable you to do this quickly.

Do I need particular skills or equipment?

Sales material is often produced in house in a flurry of excitement, long days, late nights and caffeine. The book fair looms, when everything must be ready. As a freelancer you don’t see most of this (which may or may not make you grateful). It means that you will often be commissioned at short notice and given a tight deadline. The publisher hopes you will grasp the requirements of the job quickly, carry it out with the minimum of fuss, and return it promptly. There will almost inevitably be a bit of back and forth to get it right, which you must deal with equally efficiently.

Some of the work, on dummies and blads for example, will require you to work in layout, which basically means you need InDesign – and you need to know how to use it (there won’t be time to figure it out on the job). Make sure you know what version of InDesign the publisher has, and if they want you to use the same, or if they are happy for you to send back IDML (InDesign MarkUp Language) files if you have a more recent version.

Because you need to assimilate information quickly, and it is likely that you will need to fill in gaps in material, it is important to be familiar with the market for which the book is intended. Everything that is shown needs to look right. It might not stand up to critical scrutiny, but it needs to appear real enough to convince anyone giving it a quick once-over. As with any other editing work, attention to detail is crucial. The person flicking through the dummy or AI is likely to know the market well, and any obvious errors such as typos or incorrectly spelled names will be instantly jarring, and may hamper the project’s chances of success.

I like doing this kind of work because as well as being fast and exciting (well, relatively!) it gives me an insight into a side of publishing that I don’t so often see these days as a freelancer – especially if most of what I do is copy-editing and proofreading, which are such discrete parts of the larger process.

The work sounds interesting – how do I get it?

My understanding is that much of this type of work may be passed to editors with strong in-house contacts. If you do have a good relationship with a publisher client who presents at book fairs, it can be worth reminding them from time to time about the types of work you can do – and this approach is of course useful in other contexts, too.

Find out when the major book fairs are, and try approaching publishers for work in the run-up to them. There is often extra, urgent work available at this time, and you might get lucky.

Finally, let clients know if you can use InDesign. If you do, it’s an important factor that can make you suited to these tasks.

Photo on 02-09-2015 at 13.12Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008. She’s glad she finally knows why a blad is called a blad, and wonders why she didn’t google it before.

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4 Comments

  1. Some publishers make the blad from the jacket design; folded at the the left or right of the spine even with flaps. The back, then contains further details and sample inner pages.

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    1. Yes … I think that comment really helps to put the blad in context – thank you. 🙂 It can be hard for an editor, especially working remotely, to get an overview of the entire life of a book, and this is why (I think) working on this kind of thing can be interesting. But even though I have edited quite a lot of material for blads over the years, I have to confess that I have rarely seen the end result (just as I don’t see the finished version of many of the books that I edit). As editors we tend to work on little pieces of the process, and that’s one of the reasons I like to go to the London Book Fair, say – to get a different perspective on things and see a *little* bit more of the bigger picture.

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  2. Do you know what? I’ve worked on blads for years, but never knew what the word meant! I asked a manager once when I worked in-house, and she didn’t know, so that bit of wisdom never got passed on. Thanks for that!

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