This is How Huge Door-stopper Fantasy Novels Get Made

I’ve worked at Tor Books for nearly twenty years and I had never visited our bindery before. As the art director, I’ve been to our jacket printer, of course, but my job usually ends there. I had never been to the place where the guts of the books are printed, bound, and shipped. What better excuse to remedy that than to watch A Memory of Light—the final volume of a series that has been with me my entire career—go from rolls of clean white paper to shiny new hardcover books? A trip to historic Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Quad Graphics was definitely in order.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

When I arrived they were still well into a process that would take a few weeks to complete. The first batches are packed and shipped by truck to the most far-off places, working back to more local regions. I’m told it is unusual to be able to see every piece of the process on one book, but with such a massive print run, I was able to see AMoL at nearly every stage.

Here is our walk though the process….

In one corner of the plant, the spines of the hardcover cases were being stamped with red foil. A quick process of heat and pressure.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Meanwhile, the text is being prepared. It all starts with paper. Lots and lots of paper. Paper stacked and warehoused like the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

The 50” rolls are spooled into the offset printer. Here you can see one in use and another ready to engage the moment the first runs out.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

That bit of blurry grey area on the paper, that’s A Memory of Light.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

From one giant sheet, the printer folds and then cuts the paper into 32 page  bunches called signatures. In this case, it was a chunk of the chapter titled “The Last Battle.”

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Signatures on the move.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Signatures stacked.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

…and ready to move into the next phase.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

If you look in the middle ground of the photo below, you’ll see the skid with the signatures numbered 27 on it…

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

….those signatures are placed into a long machine that is a series of pockets. These pockets will drop each signature in decsending order (note that this is pocket number 27) thereby stacking the pages of the book in order. (I was told The Way of Kings was so long that they ran out of pockets and had to run the book through twice.)

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

It’s a bit blurry but you can see the book zooming by below the green shelf.  

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

The collected pages are then upturned and shaken until they line up neatly on the bottom.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Glue is laid on the spine and the endpapers attached.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

At this point it’s almost like a messy paperback.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Moving on to the next station.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Here they are being trimmed into a neat block of text.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

And on the move again.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Stacks of A Memory of Light now ready to have hardcover cases attached.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

The cases are stacked on top of a machine and drop down into it…

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

…while a dry stringy glue is laid down on the spine. 

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Through the machine the text block and case are connected and…

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

…a book! But a naked one.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

The jackets (you can see the white undersides of them below) are then fed through a machine that gathers up the pages….

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

…and folds the jacket around the hardcover case.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

And now we have our final product. 

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Each one examined for quality control….

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

…and then placed into cartons for shipping.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

Step by step photos of A Memory of Light being printed at the bindery.

The whole process looked like a marvelous bit of Suessian-magic to me, with long conveyer belts that doubled up and looped around. Everywhere we looked the warehouse was full of twelve foot stacks of the book in various stages of production. Looking at so many individual editions was a remarkable way to visualize the scope of Robert Jordan’s fan base.

I was very grateful to see this part of the process. My thanks to Jim Kapp, Tor’s production manager, for setting up the trip. And of course a huge thanks to Carter, Sally, Chris and everyone at Quad Graphics for inviting us in and letting us peek under the hood. If you have read A Memory of Light, these are the behind-the-scenes folks that have had a hand on each and every copy.

 

This article was originally posted on December 13, 2012


Irene Gallo is the Art Director at Tor Books.

17 Comments

Subscribe to this thread