‘Press pass’? Explain.
A friend asked me this recently, and shortly thereafter a colleague enquired if I’d write this piece on what I do. Has the world been waiting to know more about the Dark Art of Production. Or are we just talking about a few people feeling entitled to know why I occasionally leave the office for a few days at short notice, with only a cryptic Out of Office message by way of explanation? Time to demystify, it seems. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this.
Invariably the few days prior to a book passing into the hands of the people who’ll take all that writing, designing, marketing, selling and publicising and make it something physical are a flurry. There’s still work to do on the evening I charge out of the office and up the M4 to the print factory in Somerset.
It’s a very interesting time in the history of this particular outfit. Only a couple of months prior it had ceased to be. After a difficult and controversial period in its history it all appeared to be over until salvation arrived in an unlikely form. Over the summer the building lay empty and the kit (kit = book making machines) lay idle and got dusty. Quite a lot of it was sold. To be back here is very exciting. I’m not known for being excited about much. I’ve been here dozens of times. I know where the kettle and the biscuits are. To feel the buzz of it again is brilliant. Everyone appears genuinely pleased to see me. I don’t take it personally. I’m a customer, so the arrival of one of these creatures means that they are literally back in business. They’ve moved past the heartbreak of losing their jobs and seeing the end of a proud company, which had been a major employer in this area for several generations. They can think about the future again, and you can see it in the big grins all around the place.
I had been advised to be here the night before, for an 8 a.m. start. Over a number of years of this kind of thing I’ve learned that printers, bless ‘em, are ever optimistic. The keen sense of anticipation, and some butterflies, dissipates as I learn that the previous job has overrun and we’re now looking at a 2 p.m. kick off instead. It happens. Far from kicking my heels there is plenty still to do. I’m at the printer so we’re all ready to go, you’d think. Naive fools. With the loan of a laptop, a phone and a colleague back at base we direct traffic between Editorial, the Repro House and the printer, carrying out last chance tinkering. There’s plenty more minutiae to discuss; the logistics of deliveries direct to key accounts and to our own warehouse, particular stickering and packing specifications required by some customers, the number of advance copies required by Eburyites poised to launch the pre-publication publicity effort. There are lots of bits and pieces to arrange.
About two thirds of the paper needed for this printing.
Turns out it’s 4 p.m. before I actually see any printing. Time to flick a switch in my head and do what I’m actually here for. Spending as I do the major part of my working life in an office the step into a press room (press room = big hall with large printing machines (pictured)) requires some adjustment to new surroundings. Ah yes, here were are, I remember this - bloody great big piece of German built precision engineering; stacks of white paper; momentary heady feeling caused by ethanol fumes. Introduction to, handshakes with, the minders (minders = the two gentlemen running the press) and off we go.
The smaller of the two presses dedicated to our book during my visit
The printing of any book is broken down into sections. In this case I am looking at a side of paper with 24 pages on it, in 6 tracks (tracks = columns) of 4. I therefore have 24 pages to consider and, having worked with the minders to get a result with which I’m happy, approve. On hand are the proofs I’ve spent the last few weeks finalising (proofs = hard copy of all the pages of the book, the colours of which we are endeavouring to match). The pages are imposed (imposed = laid out) in such a way that they will be in the correct order when the sheet is folded four times. You could try this yourselves. At home please, not in office hours.
In a book such as this, with lots of images extending across two pages, the opposite halves of an image are usually not alongside each other on the flat sheet. Let’s hope you can’t see any difference when it’s folded and bound, eh? I take a little time to assess what the minders put before me, checking carefully each picture against the proofs, and each half of any spreads against each other.
When considering what, if anything, to change I need to think in terms of the four inks being used in this case. The standard four of colour printing: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. During the first side of any press pass there is a period of tuning in to the colours and the way the layering of them creates an image. The interplay of the inks is what this is all about. Think an image is lacking a little contrast or depth? Bit more Cyan might help that, bit less Magenta maybe. After extra brightness? Yellow, perhaps. There’s no science to this, no foolproof method. No ink level can be adjusted in absolute surety as to the way a given picture will change. Trial and error, some experience, instinct, all play a part. Images are sometimes in conflict. One might want more blue, but the same could adversely affect another nearby. Part of why I’m here is to make a decision one way or another when that happens. Sometimes an image comes alive on press and gives you something extra you didn’t expect, and generally I would say pictures never look better then when they’re fresh out of the press with the ink still that little bit wet.
The + and - keys along the bottom control the ink flow in narrow channels across the sheet
Magenta ink feeding into the top of the press
How easy or difficult was this particular side? That would be telling. Easy or otherwise it doesn’t pay to use up too much time if you can help it. After I’ve signed off on this one it continues to run for about 15 hours before the next goes on. The book has 240 pages, so that’s 10 sides of 24 at a time, each taking 15 hours. 10 x 15 = 150 hours, for the printing. Several stages follow, before we have a bound book.
The press minder will check fresh sheets regularly against the approved ‘pass sheet’ to keep consistency throughout the run
Some of the printed stacks of one of the 24 page sides
Having finished at a fairly civilised hour I’m rewarded for my endeavours with the promise of a 6 a.m. text with the schedule for Day 2. The night shift has run to timetable so I’m back in the press room for 7:30. A colleague was away on a pass this week too. He got a 4 a.m. call to be in a factory alongside an Autobahn, so I should count myself lucky. It is raining though. Another job has finished (apparently there are other publishers in the world) which frees up a second machine for our book. I do two passes back to back. So that’s 72 pages passed, and the feeling we’re properly underway. Breakfast.
The rest of the morning sees those last corrected pages come in. We’d had to make sure we didn’t make the printing plates for any of those pages, and had changed the running order to keep things moving. With that sorted I can jump in the car to see the jacket on press at another site. I return to mixed news. I wont have a further pass around 10 p.m., as we’d planned. The flip side is that I can have wine with my dinner and not worry about eyesight impairment. However another early start is promised.
My lift duly arrives at 7:30 on Day 3 and again I’ve passed two sides before the start of office hours. Are you keeping score? That makes 5 (x 24 = 120 pages). We’ve reached the half way point. That’ll do. I have to get back to London so I leave the remainder in their capable hands. By this stage they know the look and feel of what I’m after, and are probably keen to get me out from under their feet. Before I finally hit the road there’s a meeting about future plans, theirs and ours. What we need from them, what they can do for us.
I flip between looking forward to and dreading the arrival of the first finished copies of any new book. In the period between the press pass and the arrival of the telltale cardboard box I prefer to say very little about how it went and what I reckon people might make of the outcome. ‘Fine’ tends to be my stock reply to expectant enquiries. This is code for ‘I’ll leave you to make up your own mind’. So?
Oceans by Paul Rose and Ann Laking, 240pp, 275 x 215mm Hardback. Publishes October 2nd, 2008.
David - Production