producing documentary books

Producing Documentary Books: Determining Specifications

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It’s time to get to some fun stuff in my series, The Ultimate Guide to Producing Documentary Books. You’ll be determining specifications of the book so there is a road map to follow as your deal develops. I must have 500 hardcover photo books in my library and I am certain my collection spans every configuration ever printed. I always ask the authors to tell me what type of book they are imagining and suggest they buy or borrow a few they like so we can study each aspect of the end product.

I hope he is bringing enough eggs for the omelet spec!
I hope he is bringing enough eggs!

For the spec sheet, trim size is a good place to start. A popular documentary book format is 10” x 12” and that shape works great for displaying photography. I’m not particularly fond of square trim sizes for documentary titles because images and text don’t layout in a traditional editorial (magazine) look. That’s a personal preference and there really aren’t any hard and fast rules on trim sizes.

More important to consider is the size of the paper. Paper costs can be 30% or more of the total printing cost. That means you want the paper size to work with the most efficient use of the press. Discuss sheet sizes and press options with your printer because they’ve done the math and can advise you what’s best for each situation. Also, for stitched publications, go for multiples of sweet sixteen on the number of pages in your book, which are called signatures. That way, the sheet folding will be the most cost effective, too.

Here is a theoretical spec sheet for a pictorial biography of a popular singing artist. You’ll see how you need to determine many specific, technical aspects of the book’s materials and contents. Use these categories to fill in the particulars of your title.

Title: The Unorthodox Jukebox of Bruno Mars
Authors: Bruno Mars and David Fricke, Introduction by Cee-Lo Green, Photography by Deneka Peniston
Description: An authorized photographic autobiography of Atlantic Records recording artist Bruno Mars.
Text: “In his own words” running narrative. Excerpts from interviews by appropriate entertainment industry journalists. Original insight threaded through the chapters from Rolling Stone senior writer, David Fricke. Opening essay by Cee-Lo Green. Extended photo captions from the photographer and editor.
Illustrations: 150-175 color photographs including Bruno’s early years as provided by his family and friends, a selection of career highlights from popular magazines and other photo archives. New, exclusive and unpublished photography by Deneka Peniston of his family and private life, on-the-road time, studio recording sessions, band members and live performances.
Trim size: 10” x 12”
Extent: 160 pages (10 signatures)
Hardcover edition: Casebound, deep foil stamping on front and spine, 4-color end papers, 4-color jacket with French-fold flaps
Printing: 4-color + spot gloss varnish
Binding: Smythe sewn, square backed, fully cased in, head and tail bands
Text pages: 140 gsm matte (grams per square meter)
Endpapers: 140 gsm woodfree
Jacket: 157 gsm gloss
Case: Japanese Saifu cloth over 3mm boards
Packing: Individual shrink-wrap, double walled export cartons
Retail price: $49.95
Pub date: November 2015

One you’ve established these parameters you’ll want to stick with them as best as possible. Next, I’m going to cover Developing a Budget and without the above details mostly decided, you’ll be doing too much guesswork.I haven’t met Deneka Peniston yet but I really admire her work in this genre and I’d like to work with her. I don’t know anything about Bruno Mars either but if you do here is a trivia game to test your knowledge.

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