Tue
Nov 26 2013 10:00am
This is How Huge Door-stopper Fantasy Novels Get Made

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

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
Rob Munnelly
2. RobMRobM
Irene - maybe I'm losing my mind but didn't Tor.com run this piece last year before AMOL came out?

Rob the confused....
Irene Gallo
3. Irene
We did. Sorry, we missed the “previously posted” line. We’ll put that in. We’ll have a few encore posts throughout the week so that our own production and editorial elves can enjoy the holiday. ;-)
Steven Halter
4. stevenhalter
Rob:While the subject of your madness cannot be resolved, yes, tor did run this article last year. I'm guessing many of the tor.com staff are flitting off in Stubby to partake of fine meals Martian turkey-beast and filleted womp-rat.
Rob Munnelly
5. RobMRobM
Irene - thank the Light!

SH- in Stubby, I'd assume they'd be eating ration bars and drinking Tang.
Steven Halter
6. stevenhalter
Hmm, they really should describe what the accomodations and provisioning in Stubby are like. I'm picturing stainless steel, purple velvet and the Food Network kitchens.
Irene Gallo
7. Irene
We actually have thought about commissioning a cross section drawing of the ole ship. Hmmm....
Paul Weimer
8. PrinceJvstin
Thank you for sharing this peek into the very convoluted process!
Rancho Unicorno
9. Rancho Unicorno
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.”
A "chunk" of the chapter. Don't know why that made me giggle.
A.J. Bobo
10. Daedylus
Rancho@9 - Could it be because "The Last Battle" was almost long enough itself to be a short book? That chapter left me phyically exhausted when I got to the end of it.
Robert H. Bedford
11. RobB
One of the more fascinating posts Tor.com has published, thanks for reposting it!
Rancho Unicorno
12. Kip W
I think I saw a typo in signature 27, but it was going kind of fast so I'm not sure.
Rancho Unicorno
13. ces
I'm curious. How long does the process take, start to finish, to produce a book with its jacket on?
Bruce Bromberek
14. wombatpm
@13
It depends on the run size. You can't begin the binding process until you have some of every signature. So assuming the all signatures are available, and everything configured and ready to go on the Binding line, you can produce about 3000 good books per hour.
So the time per book is small and it is the setup and makeready that is really time consuming. Since the cost to makeready for a 10,000 count order and a 100,000 count order are the same, publishers like Tor like to produce books for authors who are going to sell lots and lots of books. Thus amortizing the setup costs over more units and keeping their per unit cost and low as possible.
Rancho Unicorno
15. Shay Guy
I've noticed that some books seem to skip the "trimming" part. Why is that? I first remember seeing it on A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Irene Gallo
16. Irene
@15 Shay,

In the old days, that was a “deckle edge.” It was the thin feathery edge created when people made single sheets of paper.

Nowadays publishers sometimes ask for a “rough front,” which is a cheaper way to get that “ye olde story book” feel with mass produced rolls of paper.
Rancho Unicorno
17. mollyyy
I was just wondering, do you know how much it costs to print a book? I mean, what are the costs associated with a book- to print, ship, market...
Thanks :D

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