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What difference has the digital age made for publishing?

When I started working with children, mentoring and nurturing them through the process of creating their own picture books, there was an extraordinary amount of printing to be done.

Extraordinary not because I am focussed on the thousands and thousands of pages that are now in the National Library in the archives, but rather, extraordinary compared to the process we utilize now.

For each child and each book, one particular part of the process translated into a regular production routine that looked like this:

  1. The kids would attend a two-hour workshop and they would finalise their illustrations, averaging 18 illustrations each. They would have the pages numbered (on the back!) corresponding to the location in the book (pages 4/5, or page 4 and so on) The illustrations would be in order, front cover, endpapers, half-title, full title, pages 4/5… These precious illustrations were the result of hours and hour and HOURS of work over the term and the holidays and they were very, very precious.

  2. I would carry them to the car. This sounds easy, but juggle an average class size of 15 kids, each with an A3 folder loaded with paper and trust me, it is heavy.

  3. I would then take them up the stairs (important to share this – they are HEAVY) and one by one, I would take the images out of the folder and scan them, high resolution, jpeg file extension, loading into the child’s digital folder. Scan, check, repeat.

  4. Then, yes, the folders would go back to the boot of my car, and I would drive back to the schools, having already emailed parents saying they were being returned, and I would drop them off to the reception, relieved that the burden of responsibility for this precious cargo was no longer mine!

  5. I have two screens for my computer. On one screen, I open the word document that is the child’s final manuscript, and the folder with the illustrations in it. On the second screen, a desktop publishing program to ‘build’ their books. Drag, cut n paste, allocate, save, check, repeat!

  6. Time to print! Using a black and white print option, all forty pages would be printed, put into a folder, ready for distribution to the children at our next workshop meeting.

  7. The children would take home the printed proof for parents to check as well, and together, they would mark up changes that I needed to make.

  8. The folders would be ready for me to physically collect, I would make the edits, print again, physically return to the school – and it would continue until the parents sign a ‘READY TO PRINT’ permission slip indicating I could share this file with the printer.

  9. I saved all the finalised print-ready files on to a USB, drove to the printer and joyfully, handed over the project for a moment.

  10. The printer released a colour proof for me to collect, take to the schools, have the children show parents again, and a second ‘permission to print’ would be signed.

  11. After collecting the proofs, I returned them to the printer and they finished the printing, quantity per child having been determined.

  12. Time to pick up the books!

This would take WEEKS!

This is where it is important to recognise there is digital and there is new digital!

All of this physical printing and driving to distribute proofs has been superseded by an even slicker version:

  1. As the children finish their illustrations, either a parent or a teacher at their school scans them and sends them to me using a file-sharing platform.

  2. I set the books up as I had previously, but this time, send a very small PDF version of the book directly to the parents.

  3. Depending on what technology the parents have at home, we either talk through changes or they print the pages that require changes, mark them up and send them back, having scanned them or even taken a photo and texting it to me!

  4. I will make the changes as they are returned, and if possible, the process of to’ing and fro’ing continues until we finish. Each time you see a ‘clean’ copy, it is amazing how many more editing issues arise!

  5. The parent simply sends a reply email: Ready to Print – and I upload a version to the printers file-sharing platform until collecting all files and requesting the printing begins.

  6. I check the files at the printer in situ, looking only for missed pages or problems that can arise during the printing process, but we no longer make any editorial changes, meaning I can sign off on the printing there and then!

  7. Time to pick up the books.

You can imagine how much time, energy, paper and money this saves us all!

It is the physical ‘turn-around,’ which, for an aspiring writer, is so critically important. Editing can be immediate, setting a book up to a print-ready file is expedient for the printers, not physically picking up, carrying, dropping off these folders has made me more amenable to offering to help people gratis! For example, it would take at least four to five hours of driving to pick up folders, scanning, going home to set up a print-ready file and returning the physical version.

Recently, an amazing teacher at Irvinebank State School in far north Queensland send me stunningly well-organised files with the children's illustrations (which they had considered the text placement, the location of the hero – nothing in the gutter! AND had all the elements for the entire book) and it only took 30 minutes to build each child’s book.

My time contribution for 7 children was less than four hours in total! 

This put the impact of digital technology into a very real perspective for me.

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