(Nearly) everything that can go wrong with graphics in your book

Once a book goes into the page layout stage, graphics cause way more problems than any other element. It’s like a horror story. Here’s an incomplete list of the things that can go wrong — and I’ve seen all of these happen:

  • Author and publishers failed to clarify who is responsible for designing the graphics: “I thought you were doing it.”
  • Wrong graphics inserted in the text.
  • Graphics placed too far from the place where they’re referenced in text.
  • When graphics are placed in the obvious position in the text, there are big gaps before or after them.
  • Failure to reference the graphics within the text.
  • Use of the words “above” or “below” in text to refer to graphics, when the actual placement is not actually “above” or “below.”
  • Table delivered as graphic instead of as text in manuscript file.
  • Two versions of same graphic delivered, publisher doesn’t know which one to use.
  • Graphics delivered in a file format that the publisher can’t handle.
  • Graphics numbering issues: skipped numbers, duplicated numbers, or inconsistent numbering.
  • Graphics numbers in text don’t match numbering of files delivered separately.
  • Graphics delivered to publisher embedded in manuscript file instead of separately.
  • Fonts in graphics don’t match fonts in page design; or graphics include fonts that don’t render when the book is printed.
  • Confusion about whether to use captions in the manuscript file or captions within the graphic; if both delivered, duplicate captions.
  • Failure to clear copyrights for copyrighted graphics, or graphics that inadvertently include copyrighted content.
  • Graphics delivered in low-resolution format that looks poor when printed.
  • Graphics delivered in color for a book printed in black-and-white; when rendered in grey scales, appearance is poor.
  • Grey scales in charts are too similar to distinguish when printed.
  • Moire patterns appear in photographs due to reprinting halftones sources.
  • Graphics stretched or squeezed relative to normal aspect ratio.
  • Failure to mark second color properly in graphics for books with a second highlight color.
  • When the graphic is reduced to the width of a page, text within the graphic is too small to read.
  • When reduced to the width of a page, the graphic is too long to fit on the page.
  • Errors in graphics are hard to correct; or when they are corrected, they cause additional problems in the same graphic.
  • Inconsistency in terminology between text and graphic, or among several graphics.
  • Numbers within data charts don’t match text describing those numbers in the manuscript.
  • Graphics rendered in black and white in printed book but should be in color in ebook.
  • Graphics are just plain ugly, for example, crude PowerPoint slides in an otherwise well-designed book.

How to avoid these problems

You could choose not to do graphics at all, but often, a picture, diagram, or chart is exactly what you need to clarify a concept described in the text. And graphics add visual variety to text-heavy books. The solution is not to eschew graphics completely, but to make sure, given the potential problems they create, that they’re actually worth including.

If and where you do use graphics, here are some tips to head off problems.

  • Have a conversation with the publisher about graphics formats and expectations. Many publishers have a standard set of instructions; read it and follow it.
  • Don’t assume that one publisher treats graphics the same as another. What your last publisher did may be very different from what your next publisher expects.
  • If you as the author are responsible for rendering the graphics — which is what many publishers expect — get information on what fonts to use and what dimensions the publisher
  • Hire a designer to create graphics that look good and follow the publisher’s specifications.
  • Pay close attention to content consistency between the text and the graphics.
  • Allow extra time for perfecting graphics before turning them in. Make every possible effort to deliver completely finished, perfect graphics. It’s much simpler to edit text than graphics during the production process.
  • Create a separate memo including a list of graphics and instructions, and deliver it along with the manuscript and the graphics files.

No matter how hard you try, things will go wrong. But with proper preparation, you’ll be able to make sure the resulting graphics improve the book without screwing up the production process.

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