producing documentary books

Producing Documentary Books: Scheduling Production

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I like when things line up!
I like seeing things line up!

This post on scheduling production means I’ve reached the initial topic that prompted my Ultimate Guide to Producing Documentary Books. My May 6 post included a sample production schedule from James Cameron’s Titanic. Here, I’ll explain more about how to figure the planning for the various stages of a book’s production cycle.

Since photography will fill the majority of space on the pages, it’s the natural starting place for the schedule. Live events and behind-the-scenes titles are easier to block because you’ll know exactly when shooting must take place. For thematic books and biographies where new photography will be shot, the timing can be trickier. Subject availability, weather, seasonality and other factors have to be predetermined. Remember that travel costs will be higher in certain months and during popular holidays, too.

Marketing materials need to be developed as early as possible so selling can get underway. Traditionally, a BLAD (book layout and design) piece is the cornerstone and I’ll be covering BLADS in Part 15. The distributors need sell sheets, there are publisher sales conferences and book expos to consider. You’ll want to start an online push, which means at least a brochure website. It’s a good idea to have a separate or parallel production schedule for promotional tools and activities. With so many other details taking up your attention, marketing tasks tend to slip unless you create deadlines.

As soon as the photography is complete, the editing and sequencing needs to happen quickly. Based on the specifications, you’ll have an idea of the total number of images. For a 196 page book, you’ll want to edit to about 175-200 images. It can be done in two very long and exciting days!

The writer needs to be working on the manuscript continuously, and drafts should be circulating, but make sure there is a solid cutoff date for finished text. I like to give the designer three weeks after she has all of the image files to start layouts using dummy text. This helps to see how the book’s visual pacing is developing. Once the final text is edited and proofread, the designer will continue finessing the pages.

Captions, jacket art, copyright page info and lots of other bits and pieces will need chasing after. The time needed for working all of the layout rounds is always tight so add in flexibility somewhere. I recommend approaching the scheduling knowing that the mechanical due date is absolutely not movable!

Once files are transferred to the printer, another schedule kicks in. You won’t have much control over this phase in terms of timing. You’ve already figured out when the books need to be on sale and your printing contract will depend on that mechanical delivery date. (If you are printing in Asia, keep in mind there are weeks during the year when plants close for holidays.)

Then there are days like today, when scheduling time to watch the USA vs. Belgium World Cup match becomes a priority even for those who don’t watch sports. The Mayor of DC is hosting a free viewing party! When I return I’ll get into Building a Team.

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