Posted On March 18, 2011 by Print This Post

Behind the Scenes: Book Production by Debra Dixon

Have you ever wandered through a book store and wondered about the process a manuscript goes through on its way to being a bound book? If so, you’re in luck because Debra Dixon, Publisher and CEO for BelleBooks, is here to give us the skinny on book production.

Take it away, Deb.

Thanks for having me!

This gives me a chance to talk a bit about production, covers and how a writer gets from contract to “package.” Readers don’t always realize that most authors don’t have cover control if they are working with a larger publisher. They may have consultation, but they don’t make the final decisions. Covers are a part of the marketing package. Publishers want to be careful about the message they send, and they control covers to ensure the book targets the right market. A book’s cover has to appeal to a specific demographic. You can’t put a cutting edge tech look on an historical novel. You’d be surprised how often authors have tunnel vision about covers. Quite understandably, many authors see only the book and not the marketplace.

When books are bought, the editor begins prepping information for marketing such as a short synopsis, one-line book description, author backlist, and reader demographics for the book. Editor and author determine “read alikes” for the book, which helps marketing and the art department “see” where the book fits in the broad world of publishing. The “read alike” helps art see how other publishers are reaching out to that market. The art department, depending on the size can boast an Art Director in addition to graphic artists and designers who find, commission or prepare the cover art as well as handling the typography (text) of the cover. In Bell Bridge we handle 99% of our covers in house. (Click over to see our recent releases.

Additionally, in Bell Bridge Books, we ask authors to come up with a list of covers they find appealing. The covers don’t even have to be in a particular genre. What we’re looking for is the aesthetic sense of the author. Despite being verbal creatures, authors don’t speak “graphic,” which makes a picture worth a thousand words in understanding what the author perceives as perfect and yummy. Next we employ the author’s verbal abilities and have them fill out an “Art Facts Sheet,” which is chock full of questions and information on the book such as setting, characters, important items/props from the book, key moments, moods and scenes. Emails with ideas go back and forth.

While the cover prep work is quietly percolating concepts in the minds of all concerned, the interior of the book is getting its share of attention. These days, most “typesetting” is done with a digital file. Most editing is done with a digital file using the most-excellent Word software feature called “Track Changes.” I am a WordPerfect girl, but I will admit that editing chores go much more smoothly in Word. The author is working on a live file until the copyedit phase. At that point the manuscript is “locked down” and only the editor or production personnel will work on the file. Dedications, acknowledgments, forewords or other front and back matter is typically added prior to the copyediting phase. There’s been an in-house legal review of the book as well. This sometimes necessitates a consultation with attorneys.

After the editing rounds (Revision, Line Editing, Copyedit) are done, the book’s final file is sent to an interior designer who is in charge of getting the book into shape for the printer, choosing a type face for the book, for the headings, creating title pages, tables of contents, etc. There can be consultations between the editor and the designer for books with special needs. WHAT I LEARNED FROM BEING A CHEERLEADER is a book written entirely in diary entries. The editor and author discussed plans and strategies for the final book design. Then the designer and editor worked together to make final decisions.

You’d think the author and editor would be sick of the book by now, but when the interior designer has the book in shape, the author and editor get one last chance to proof/review the book before it is released to the printer. The Production Manager gives the book a final review as well.

Once the interior is designed, the Art Department jumps back into the process. They need the final number of pages to “pull a spine” for the book. (Sounds painful doesn’t it!) Once the width of the spine is known, the full cover front/spine/back can be finished or assembled into one file as if the cover of your book was laid flat on a table. That is…assuming the back cover has been done. You’ve got to have all three pieces and the back cover needs cover copy to lure the reader. The back cover copy can be created at anytime during the process, but for our publishing company the back cover copy tends to be one of the last bits needed. The art department is usually screaming for it. (Which, for us, sounds a lot like, “Dude. Where’s the copy?”)

Editors and authors work with the cover copy, usually bouncing the copy back and forth until everyone’s pleased. They’ll brainstorm titles in the same way.

This is really just the broadest overview of getting a book from purchase by us to purchase by you. We’ve got a checklist of about 85 steps, and some of those steps are really short hand for 3 or 5 sub-steps. There is no question that publishing books is a labor intensive process. It’s also a labor of love for most of us in the industry.

Happy reading!


RU Crew, if you could work at a publishing house for a day, which job would you do?

Thank you, Deb, for being with us today.

Join us on Monday when our own Heather Long talks about conquering nerves before an author appearance.

Bio: Debra Dixon is known as the Cult Leader of GMC due to her unintentional penning of a nonfiction book that has become a “must-have” accessory for every serious writer. For the last eleven years, she’s served as Publisher and CEO for BelleBooks and its imprint Bell Bridge Books. And before you ask, GMC is really easy to get. Just go to and use the link on the home page to jump to the publisher. For more information on BelleBooks:,,

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27 Responses to “Behind the Scenes: Book Production by Debra Dixon”

  1. Hi Deb,

    Thank you so much for joining us today! Any time I read about the publishing process, I am amazed. There are so many steps to keep track of, but your handy checklist must help a great deal.

    Major kudos to Belle for seeking the authors’ input on their cover, copy, and title. I’m certain that process adds a ton of time.

    Love scrolling through your covers. If I worked for a publishing house, I’d want to be in the art department. Seeing a cover go from blank page to a work of art has to be very gratifying.

    Can you tell our readers the difference between Belle Books and Belle Bridge Books?


    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | March 18, 2011, 4:40 am
    • Tracy–

      Thanks! Working with covers is a great deal of fun, but it’s also sometimes frustrating for everyone. “Beauty” is subjective. So, covers can be an area of disagreement. The Art Department’s job is to work with Marketing and Editorial, not just to put out a cover that the Art Department likes. Spirited discussions can and do happen. (g) Sometimes what sounds like a great concept just doesn’t cut it and we go back to the drawing board.

      Posted by Debra Dixon | March 18, 2011, 9:19 am
    • Tracy– I forgot to answer the question about our two imprints.

      Bell Bridge Books- This is an imprint with a big umbrella, covering lots of genres. We don’t do poetry, only a smattering of non-fiction. We are known for our strong women’s and literary fiction, plus our fantasy and Young Adult. BUT we publish a number of genres and in the last quarter of 2010 we added an editor to handle our burgeoning mystery/suspense list. There is no regional component to the books published by Bell Bridge Books. We’re also adding some more romance to our offerings.

      BelleBooks- This is our original imprint and specializes in fiction that is set in the South, about the South, etc. BelleBooks publishes the very occasional non-fiction book, too. (We have a photography book with novella by Shelby Foote coming out in April. It’s a hybrid.)

      Both imprints pay advances.

      Posted by Debra Dixon | March 18, 2011, 9:48 am
  2. Hi Deb. Thank you for being here today. I know this probably varies by book, but once the edits are complete on a book, how long does the production process take?

    Your covers are fabulous!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | March 18, 2011, 7:38 am
    • Adrienne–

      Thanks for the shout out to our covers. One of the ways we attempt to distinguish ourselves in a competitive market is with 1) strong editorial, 2) strong packages, and 3) strong/continuing marketing.

      In regard to how long between edits and publication…it all depends on which edits.

      At the “proofing” stage, that is usually done within a month of publication since it’s a final step.

      Revisions might be completed several months before publication and the author might see the copyedit anywhere from 1-3 months prior to publication.

      We tend to run really close on our pub dates. And we are always!! implementing plans to have books prepped early and just in the pipeline waiting. I’d feel badly but when I was writing for Big6, they always came screaming down to the deadline too. It’s just the nature of the beast.

      Most books aren’t “crashed” to get them out and there is plenty of time. Other books are a wild ride to the finish. Some of that also has to do with the author’s ability to deliver a book on schedule. (ahem)

      Posted by Debra Dixon | March 18, 2011, 9:24 am
  3. Morning Deb!

    I fall at your feet and worship the GMC ground you walk on! =) One of my fave books and most definitely required to be in every authors library!

    Fascinating article! I didn’t know so much went behind the scenes. Is there really a huge variety of typefaces used for the pages of a book? I’m going to have to pay more attention!

    Thanks for being here today!!



    Posted by Carrie Spencer | March 18, 2011, 7:56 am
    • Carrie– Bless you, my GMC child. (g) That book has just taken on a life of its own over the years. We’re in the 11th printing I think.

      As for interior fonts…oh my gosh. There are a bazillion. We tend to have our go-to fav or favs. But interiors in the “print days” were very important, especially in hardcover where you had a little larger page to play with than in a mass market paperback.

      There are decisions for title pages, chapter headings, line break wing dings, end papers, etc.

      These days because of conversion to all the ebook formats, we think much more about, “How is all this formatting going to translate to e-ink? How can we simplify the conversion process without sacrificing the look you can get in print.”

      For instance, doing something in a small cap font (where are the letters are capitals but it’s not like hitting the cap lock key)…for something in a small cap font, that doesn’t always translate well, so we have to rethink it.

      Posted by Debra Dixon | March 18, 2011, 9:29 am
  4. Hi Deb,

    If I worked in a publishing house, I would be an editor. I love to read. Plus making “the call” would be fun.

    My editor had me fill out a sheet about my vision for the cover of my book. It worked out very well.

    Mary Jo Burke

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | March 18, 2011, 8:04 am
  5. Mary Jo– An editor? Oh, you brave soul. The poor editors are trying to juggle so many people and their expectations: the author, the art folks, the marketing folks, management, production, copyeditor. Everyone is firing questions at the editor non-stop. (g) And the buck usually stops with editorial.

    Plus you can reach into an author’s brain and make the words fall onto the page. Time crunches, especially on established series, can be stressful as the editor is trying to hit her deadlines and keep authors on track. (There are brilliant, never-miss-a-deadline authors, too!)

    Posted by Debra Dixon | March 18, 2011, 9:33 am
  6. Hi, Deb –

    I think I’d like to shadow every job at a publishing company before making my choice :).

    I agree with Adrienne – your covers are absolutely fabulous! I realize it may vary by genre/sub-genre, but what’s hot in covers right now? What do you find the marketplace likes in contemporary and paranormal romance covers?

    Thanks so much!

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | March 18, 2011, 12:56 pm
    • Kelsey- We love hearing that folks like our covers! Thank you.

      What’s hot in covers? That is, indeed, so dependent on genre. The flip side to that is knowing what’s hot now isn’t going to be old soon. So, we’re always looking at ways to find something fresh but still signals the “familiar.” Especially for urban fantasy or any of the genres where the reader wants to know you *understand* the genre. The book has to immediately read as a certain kind of book.

      Lately I’m seeing some interesting things being done with typography.

      We’re all having to readjust to the brave new world where the thumbnail is more imporant (almost) than the print cover. What you can see on screen, what reads well at lower resolution is certainly different from what you can expect to look good at a crisp print resolution.

      Posted by Debra Dixon | March 18, 2011, 2:27 pm
      • Kelsey– One last comment. The Big6 has slashed budgets and jobs in the last couple of years. Budgets are very tight. Graphic departments are doing fewer actual cover shoots and utilizing more stock art.

        The challenge for Art Departments is how to integrate the stock art resources in such a way that the covers are fresh and feel like cover art, rather than a photo with text slapped on top of it.

        Hopefully we’ve done that with the BRIDGE TO HAPPINESS cover above. That’s actually 3 different photographs that have been combined and all of it had color work. Could we have found a woman standing on a beach with the Golden Gate bridge in the background. Maybe, but it wouldn’t have been the composition we needed or the feel we needed or the particular woman we needed.

        Posted by Debra Dixon | March 18, 2011, 2:53 pm
        • Oh, Deb – that’s great info! And if you can make a cover that looks like that from integrating stock art, I say keep doing it.

          After all this fabulous discussion today, I want the RU Crew to take a field trip to Belle Books – LOL!

          Thank you so much for your time and generosity. This is the type of fresh info we love to bring our readers!


          Posted by Kelsey Browning | March 18, 2011, 4:16 pm
  7. I am in the presence of greatness! Debra, I cannot tell you how many people have recommended your GMC book to me, but until recently I could only find used copies at astronomical prices. But a kind writer friend took pity on me and gave me a link to a small press that has new copies – just last week I became the proud owner of my very own copy of Goal, Motivation and Conflict! Now I have to memorize it – THANK YOU!!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | March 18, 2011, 12:59 pm
  8. I forgot to answer your question. If I could work at a publishing house for a day I’d either be a copy editor, because I’m nitpicky that way, or I’d work in the art department so I could see how the covers are made.

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | March 18, 2011, 1:01 pm
  9. Hello Deb!

    Fascinating post! I’m with Mary Jo…I’d want to be an editor. 🙂

    I have several questions. I’ve noticed that some books (i.e. art books) are now printed overseas to save on costs. Are your books printed outside the U.S.?

    While I understand marketing strategies differ from book to book, could you give us a brief idea of how you would market a contemporary romance written by a debut author?

    I don’t have an e-reader. I guess if I started traveling a lot, I’d buy one. Like most avid readers, I feel a book is a piece of art (for lack of a better word), to be treated with reverence, and I’m old enough to remember beautifully illustrated children’s books with gold-edged pages, ribbon book markers, and cloth bindings. Anyway, I notice paper quality, fonts and bindings, and when the type of typeface is mentioned in a book, I consider it an extra bonus.

    …. You’d be surprised how often authors have tunnel vision about covers. Quite understandably, many authors see only the book and not the marketplace……

    Is cover design partly influenced by the type of covers that are selling at the moment? For instance, I remember a few years ago, cartoon-y covers were the rage and now, I see a lot of headless male torsos. 🙂

    Like Carrie mentioned, your GMC book is a must read for all authors. I have your dad’s book too.

    Thanks so much for the time to be with us today.


    Posted by jennifer tanner | March 18, 2011, 1:17 pm
    • Jen– Where we print depends on the book. For instance…MOST of our books are printed right here in the U.S.A. But we’re doing a book–GONE by photographer Nell Dickerson–that was printed in China. It’s a full-color interior, embossed cloth cover with headband, dust jacket, gorgeous end papers and very specific paper due to the photographs. That book comes out in April and the boat just landed. Thank goodness! (We were worried about the recent earthquake.)

      China is known for its color print industry.

      But most of our books are fiction and the printing in the US is adequate and reasonable.

      RE: Marketing strategies
      Again, this is very “book dependent.” For ALL books we have to look at “discoverability” these days. (i.e. How do we pull readers to the book. How do we lift a book above all the noise that is out there. How do we secure reviews.)

      I don’t do the marketing, but we have part-time staff that does nothing but research blogs so we can find new reviewers. We do print galleys as well as offer electronic galleys. We belong to the same review service a lot of Big6 publishers use. We do full-color library mailings. We encourage blog tours. We have our own social media and networking, newsletter list, etc.

      We do some print advertising such as in RT, but not for every book. We market to independent bookstores, bookclubs, etc. We run ads in a variety of print and online programs from the largest wholesaler in the country (Ingram).

      For us, we consider the launch of any book to take 6 months to a year. We’re very heavily invested in creating backlist that continues to sell so we continue to sell the titles!

      We just got one of our titles placed as an excerpt in ABILITY magazine which is the largest magazine for those with disabilities. To support that, we bought online and print advertising.

      Promotion is multi-pronged, book dependent and reader demographic driven. For any book you have to find the right mix of tools that achieves “discoverability.”

      We have an aggressive review program because we believe that the “new world order” is all about buzz and not about books-on-shelves as a way to sell books.

      Borders just anounced another 28 stores closing. A small regional chain is closing 4 more stores, one of them in my town. So, all publishers are going to be pushed to find ways to secure readers when we can no longer just set the book in front of them and expect them to buy.

      Yikes!! That’s a long answer. Sorry.

      Posted by Debra Dixon | March 18, 2011, 2:44 pm
  10. Such interesting stuff – thanks for sharing it! I struggle to come up with my cover copy and it usually is changed by editor, so I don’t think I’m very good at it! I’d love to work on cover concepts. I think that would be fun and a little less challenging than writing a blurb.

    Dara Edmondson
    w/a Wynter Daniels

    Posted by Wynter Daniels | March 18, 2011, 1:21 pm
    • Dara– I would generally rather be beaten with a big stick than write cover copy. I can and I will play long when folks send me some copy for review, but it is never a job that I am delighted to do. I let the best folks for the job handle that! Everyone is happier that way.

      Posted by Debra Dixon | March 18, 2011, 2:46 pm
  11. Hello, Romance University ::waving:: I just have to say as a debut author with Bell Bridge Books, I’m v-e-r-y cautious whatever position I *think* I could take on. These people are bright, and they work incredibly hard. Debra Dixon’s GMC book is great, but seeing her give it in person — especially for an auditory learner like myself is what made it make sense to me. Wonderful blog, thanks for sharing!

    Posted by Donnell | March 18, 2011, 4:37 pm
  12. Hey, Deb! Good job, as usual. I am sooooo proud of my “buds” for accomplishing so much in the big publishing pond.

    Posted by Mary Marvella | March 18, 2011, 6:05 pm

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