It’s not a pretty job, but someone has to do it . . . and do it right!
Counting the manuscript is probably one of the least favorite tasks of the book
designer, but is often overlooked as one of the most important. If the count is not done thoroughly and accurately, time and money can be lost later when changes need to take place.
needs to know the finished page count in order to get accurate printing and production costs. Not only are these costs important to the publisher’s budget, the costs are necessary for Marketing to competitively price the book. The size of the book is important to production in that the cover/jacket mechanical will be based on a finished spine width.
needs to establish a price for the book long before the book ever gets to the printer. Advertising needs to take place, catalogs are probably in the works while the book is being designed and set. Imagine the problems that can arise when Marketing is told the book will end up being 396 pages instead of the estimated 320 pages advertised.
The printing costs will obviously go up. In order to maintain the profit margin established when the book was priced (assuming the price
can not be raised due to competitive book prices or the price has already been advertised) a greater number of copies will need to be printed. This will successfully bring the unit cost
down, but will increase the total dollars spent on that title and more money tied up in inventory.
Let’s assume that Marketing refuses to budge on the advertised 320 pages and demands that production make the book squeeze from 396
to 320 pages. Now the fun begins. Everything was right on schedule, the book was looking good, everything was right within budget, and then, wham, this happens. Now the book has to go
back to the designer to refit the book. Time is lost. The book will have to be repaged, and if there was substantial art, tables, figures, etc., this will not be an easy task. The
compositor will undoubtedly charge for rework. The book may not look as good as hoped now and is costing more than planned.
Had the 396 estimated book pages been established in the early stages of design, adjustments could have been made with marketing,
production, and design. Okay, now that we have discussed the serious implications of a miscounted/fit book, let’s get on with the task of doing it right!
Character counts are more than just counting the number of characters that appear in the manuscript. The count serves as a rough map
of the book and its raw elements. An inventory, so to speak. With these raw elements carefully laid out, the fit and design of the book can then proceed with a secure feeling that
everything is being taken care of and no surprises will occur.
The first thing you must ask when receiving the manuscript from the publisher is, “Is this everything?” Find out if there is
more to come, like an index, etc. Some of the information you gain at this stage of the design may not be applied until you get into the fit or layout, but it is important to get that
information now. Here is a list of things you’ll need to begin the count:
Final trim size. You can be thinking of these elements in terms of the space that will be available. Some photos will look just fine as
quarter pages in an 8-1/2 x 11 trim but need to be full page in a 6x9 book.
- Is there more copy to come? Charts, tables, art, figures?
- Is this the final edited manuscript? Will my count be real?
- What will make up the frontmatter and in what order will it appear
- Do you have all of the frontmatter?
- Do you have all of the backmatter. Will there be an index?
- Will there be photos? Illustrations? What are the desired final sizes of these photos. Will they bleed? Will the photos be throughout the copy or will they be a separate photo section. Will this photo section be part of the total page count or a separate unit? What about captions? Do you have caption copy?
- Will there be color? Throughout or just in certain signatures?
- Will there be bleeds?
- Have all elements been marked clearly? You don’t want to find a couple of dozen A heads appear later because of inadequate marking of the manuscript.
- Find out the author’s intentions. Will certain copy (sidebars, tables, etc.) be required to appear where they are mentioned or can they be placed as page makeup dictates?
- Will all openings begin new rights, or new left and rights?
- In cases such as cookbooks and lesson books, pages will be dictated by type of copy, not by quantity of copy. For example, a new recipe may be required to start a new page regardless of its length.
We will talk about each one of these questions in detail as we go through the count. While we are counting pages and elements, we should
flag each type of element. Flag each variation of each element. We flag elements for two reasons. First we must know how many times a particular element appears so that we can estimate
the impact the element might have during the fitting stage. Second, we must determine the worst-case-secenario for each of these elements. This scenario should not only, for example,
include the longest extract or line of verse, but also the shortest. We don’t want to design our A head design to accommodate the longest one only to find out that the one-word head
is too small.
Okay. Let’s grab the beast and get down to the task at hand-counting characters. Grab a sheet of paper and write down chapter one
(or Introduction, Part One, or whatever section you are counting) and draw several vertical columns to allow for figures to be entered. It is in these columns that we will write
information concerning the elements we encounter. I’m sure you thumbed through the manuscript when you first got it to get a feel for the types of elements that are in the book.
This preview will dictate the number of columns for which you will allow space. Many publishers and designers have designed their own “Character Count Sheets” that already
have every possible type of element listed in columns. If you don’t all ready have one of these forms, I suggest you think about putting one together for future books. Not only will
it speed up this rather lengthy counting process, but will make your counts more readable by someone else in the event the count is referred to long after your memory of the count has one
Separate all of the front and backmattter from the manuscript. We will take care of those sections later. Right now, we want to
concentrate on the bulk of the book, the body. Let’s begin with the Introduction or the first chapter.
If the pages have been prepared by a word processor and all lines are justified, counting a dozen or two lines of text and then taking an
average will give you the average manuscript characters per line. If the type has been set ragged right, you’ll need to visually determine the average length of line. You do this by
drawing a line down the right side of the page at such a point that if you were to fold back the excess lines cut off by the line you’ve drawn, you would make all of the shorter
lines reach the line. When you are satisfied with the placement of your divider line, count two dozen lines of text up to that line and then take an average. Once again this is the figure
we need use as the average number of characters per line of text.
A quick and easy count is to multiply the number of manuscript pages by the average number of lines on a page and then multiplying this
result with the average number of characters per line. Quick and simple, but very, very rough. To be as accurate as possible, I recommend taking each chapter (section), counting the
number of lines on each page (don’t take an average), and add them for a total. Counting each page allows you to become more familiar with the book as well as be able to identify
trouble spots or type elements that need to be counted differently.
Go through the first chapter and count only the number of text lines. When you are finished, you can multiply this figure by your average
number of characters per line producing the number of text characters in the chapter.
If this book is text only, proceed through each section until you reach the backmatter. If the book contains extracts, dialogue, or any
number of other elements, go back to the beginning of the chapter and begin to count those elements separately. This is where the chart you made earlier comes in to play. As you move
through each chapter mark the type of elements you see and the number of lines or characters they use. For example, headings must be counted in quantity while taking special notes
concerning length. Remember to flag these elements so you’ll be able to refer back to them during the actual design stage.
Extracts, dialogue, etc. can be counted using the same method as text. Watch for those elements that will be required to set
line-for-line, such as poetry and signage. Verse and short lines of special text will commonly be counted as lines as they will set line-for-line. These elements must be treated
separately because we will be figuring in space above and below as well as setting them in a different size and leading.
If you are not sure about an element, flag it, count it separately, and make note of it. Give it a special name for reference. If it
turns out to be the same as another element, it’s an easy thing to add it in. If, in fact, it ends up being something odd, you’re covered and will be able to treat it
Make note of tables, illustrations, and anything else that might be marked (TK) “to come” and indicate these items in the
appropriate section of your count sheet. Not only do you need to know how many of these types of elements appear in the book, but where, as well as how big. Changes in format, such as
changing the size of full-page photos to half page for instance, can have effects within individual chapters depending on the particular requirements of the design.
Sidebars need to be counted as separate element and not to be included in the count for text. When you have completed the first chapter or
section, repeat all of this for every section in the book.
Make a careful list of your frontmatter. Make certain that you have discussed the frontmatter elements with the publisher. Find out
such things as:
Will there be a half-title. Is it standard for this particular publisher to always have a half-title? Can you add one if needed or
eliminated if not? Can you add a second half-title if necessary?
- Will there be a dedication?
- Is there a card page?
- Is there an Epigraph, or any other "special" pages?
- Will there be an Acknowledgments? A Preface, Prologue, or Introduction?
You need to know everything you can about the frontmatter. A dedication showing up later on suddenly requires two pages.
Backmatter is another "matter" (sorry about that!). The backmatter usually contains elements that are quite complicated
and, in many cases, quite lengthy. Just do your best to find out everything you can about the makeup of the backmatter. Some charts or tables may be necessary to appear one to a page.
Some charts will need to set on facing pages. Others will run turned, with repeat heads.
Will there be an index? Will the index need a pre-established number of pages for the indexer to fill? Will the index be subject to fit in
whatever pages are left over? These issues need to be discussed with the publisher. Allow for a larger index than anticipated as this is usually where you can make adjustments later
It's a Wrap!
Once completing the count, you will be amazed at how familiar you have become with the book. You will have more confidence knowing
that a style you choose for a particular element will satisfy that element’s wide-ranging requirements. You will have had the opportunity to "read" the book and get a feel
for the type treatment and design flavor the book requires.
An accurate and thorough count will aid, not only the initial design, but any rework that may take place. Imagine doing a quick count and
fit for a 6" x 9" book. Your design is prepared and sent to the publisher. They love the design, but editorial has decided to change the trim size to 7-1/2" x 9-1/2."
Or, the editor wants the type size one point larger and want to know how many more pages that will make.
"No problem," you say, "I'll just consult my thorough and accurate count and I'll have
the numbers for you in a flash!" We won't picture this scenario had an accurate count not been prepared!
So sharpen your pencil, grab your pad of paper, and prepare to build a
relationship with your next book that will only pay dividends in the long run. Make this routine a part of each design.