Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Difference Between "Well, I Want to Be Published" and "I Want to Be Published Well"

A recent topic in an illustration group I am a member of has caused a quite a stir. There is a shared and growing unhappiness over print quality of finished, printed picture books vs the artwork (whether digital or traditional) turned in to the publisher. In my short publishing history (2 picture books, 6 kids' graphic novels), each book has been over-saturated and far darker than the original artwork, to the point where light blue skies are suddenly dark purple and subtle shades of grey are harsh and black. I was wondering, as an editor, do you notice a disparity between original artwork and final product?
The tough part for me as an editor is that I may or may not see the original artwork; and even if I do, I'll see the proofs somewhat later, and may or may not remember what the artwork looked like.

It's true that there's not so much that illustrators can do about this-- publishers may be willing to give you consultation over proofs in your contract, but they certainly aren't going to give you approval, which is the only thing that would prevent them from rushing ahead with proofs you don't like, if that's what they want to do.

The thing illustrators can do is to talk to each other about which publishers are screwing up and which aren't. If a publisher realizes that illustrators are going to stay away from them for the crappy quality of their printing, they'll have a motivation to improve.

Whose production quality do you admire? Who's burned you? Comments are anonymous.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting. At my pub. house, color correction of the proofs (multiple times and at various stages) against the original artwork, in conjunction with our production team, is a standard part of the editorial process. I guess I assumed all houses did this, but maybe not.

--Another Editor

JustBill said...

As a former magazine production manager, the only way to know what the print quality is going to be like is to be standing in the press room during set up. When you're in charge of production for a magazine, this is a routine part of the job.

What may be happening is the publisher is contracting with printers making the most inexpensive bids, and then is opting out of any quality control during the printing.

It's also true that the amount of ink on the page will vary somewhat during the length of the print run, and the amount of this variation depends on the experience and diligence of the guy running the press, and possibly on how much he had to drink the night before.

http://www.awritersnotes-billjustbill.blogspot.com/

christine tripp said...

Since most of the printing is done in foreign lands (and I agree with Justbill, for the lowest bid... and you usually get what you pay for:) I imagine many publishers just take the finished product as is. Often small press's don't get that the art even matters that much and believe the average buyer would not know the difference in good print and poor quality. I must say, for a teeny publishing house, with the printer in China, my publisher has always put out books with excellent colour and saturation reproduction. They however never sent me F&G's or proofs.

working illustrator said...

I'm a little shocked, EA, that you 'may or may not' see the original art for the books you work on. Can you elaborate on that? I'm guessing that maybe sometimes what arrives are scans that the illustrator has made him/herself? I can't believe you wouldn't see originals that were actually sent to your offices...

As for the idea that illustrators would turn down a paying job because of bad reproduction, it is to laugh. As long as the publishers' checks continue to clear, they'll never have any shortage of willing victims.

That having been said, I've mostly had good experiences with reproduction, at least on trade books. I'm sure this is a function of working with good houses; the consideration drops off pretty quickly as you go down the food chain. I've always gotten at least one set of proofs to look over and usually more than one. Several times I've actually gone to the publishers' offices at this stage and looked at the proofs against the originals with the art director (this is easier for me than it might be for some people since I'm an NYC resident).

I have had some goofups on some mass market stuff I've done: on one book where the originals were 15% larger than the trim size (not at all unusual), the art director never reduced them before printing them. As a result, we lost everything at the margins and the pictures came out an oddly cropped mess. Another publisher printed an entire book from 150 dpi scans I'd sent them for art approval, despite the fact that I'd told them in the email the scans were attached to that I would send them 300 dpi scans as soon as they told me the images passed muster. These days I resize everything myself if I'm doing the scanning and send full-res files, even for art approval.

The problem of oversaturation the illustrator opening this thread mentions strikes me as a possible result of a production team trying to compensate for cheap paper by slathering it with lots and lots of ink.

Anonymous said...

I have had the questioner's experience on the last FIVE trade books I have illustrated for two different smaller publishers and virtually have given up hope of ever having a book reproduced well. I certainly am not interested in selling this junk with my name on it, and getting these results time after time is affecting my motivation to continue illustrating at all. Since my work is traditional, I believe the problems have as much or more to do with the quality of the publishers' scans as they do with the printing (garbage in, garbage out), as the color has been grossly oversaturated in some and flat and washed out in others. Furthermore, if the color reproduction is not bad enough, ignorant design decisions have added to the overall poor quality of the books. In my most recent book, for example, none of the bleed was cropped, even though the intended cropping was clearly indicated. I would LOVE to name names as you suggest, if doing so would encourage better production values; but I'm not sure it would or that this is the right venue. For a variety of reasons, fear of unemployment not being the least of them, other illustrators also seem reluctant to be specific about who's producing landfill. But some definitely are.