Understanding the Industry: Book Production Consultant

By   Hannah Bickerton 5 min read

David Brimble is a freelance book production consultant. Before going freelance in 2012 he worked for Hodder & Stoughton, BBC Books and Ebury, helping to produce image-led books across a range of genres. We chat to David about what it means to work in book production.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I went freelance when I re-located from London to Bristol in 2012. These days I work from home and collaborate with clients across the world. In the last year I have worked with one client in San Francisco and another a two-minute walk from my house.

Before taking the freelance leap I worked in production roles for big publishers including Hodder & Stoughton, BBC Books and Ebury (Random House). I specialised in image-led books across a range of genres including Wildlife and Natural History, Photography, Food and Art History. Thanks to the wonders of remote-working tech I can help self-publishers achieve a bespoke book of the same level of quality you would get from a traditional publisher.

Who can I help?

Most of my freelance projects have been collaborations with self-publishing visual artists. Photographers, illustrators, designers, publishers and others (including whitefox) have asked me for production support to augment their work on content and layout.

What are the benefits of having a book production specialist?

However I deliver my input the intention is always to enable the client to get the best quality and most cost-effective result in the finished product. It’s also part of the service to ensure a project runs smoothly throughout what can be a complex and challenging process. I’ve never had a first-time self-publisher tell me their project took less time or was easier than they thought.

My involvement can be small or large scale. Sometimes it’s just a phone consultation on a specific aspect of the book production process. In other cases I operate in a more hands-on manner as a project manager, which can keep me involved over a number of months.

In such cases I would spare the client various aspects of the workload, freeing them to focus on crafting the material.

How does a book production project begin?

When I am involved from an early stage – before the design commences – I start with a planning stage, developing the specification of the book and putting together the financials, the overall costs and profit and loss analysis. I provide a sound financial footing, working out the best combination of book specification, print volume and selling price. This ensures you know your funding target and can accurately forecast your return. The creative and the business side of things therefore progress simultaneously and I get involved in both.

I identify and engage suitable printers and other suppliers. I also source paper and materials options and provide practical and technical support to others involved in getting the text, images and design ready to go into print. This all happens against a backdrop of an agreed timeline so in numerous ways I try to keep everything on track and resolve any issues or changes of plan along the way.

Tell us a bit about your products.

As well as being directly involved in specific projects I look for ways to package my knowledge and experience in different ways. I recently launched a (currently free) downloadable guide aimed at visual artists and designers. Getting colour to transfer from screens into print to everyone’s satisfaction is an important requirement of any illustrated book project. It’s not something that happens faithfully without the right processes in place.

Production expertise connects image creators and designers with the worlds of pre-press and printing in this and other respects, ensuring the work is handled properly so the outcome meets expectations.

I have plans for further products to ease and improve various aspects of the process, such as requesting pricing from printers or placing purchase orders in the right level of detail. I have also made a start on writing an eBook intending to school non-specialists in the dark arts of book production.

What resources and skills do you use in your freelance work?

I tend to keep to pretty normal office hours and I try and break a typical working day into segments. I make a gentle start catching up with emails and updating my planning with anything important which arises from that. I use a combination of the iOS Reminders app and the project management tool Trello for daily and longer-term lists and planning and for the nuts and bolts of ongoing projects. I’ll respond to anything urgent right away but otherwise try not to let my inbox dictate my working day.

I reckon the time slot where my focus is at its best runs from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. I pause or log out of my email altogether and focus on chunks of ‘deep work’.

That might be some writing in the form of a memo to a client, the aforementioned eBook or other kinds of detailed production work. If I am putting together a full specification as a basis for costing a new project, analysing print pricing or drawing up a project schedule it’s for the best if I avoid multi-tasking.

Complete focus helps me get things done in much less time and I find this the best route to feeling I’ve had a productive day. When I’m struggling with concentration I sometimes use a ‘Pomodoro’ app such as ‘Be Focused’. I find it really effective in keeping attention on one weighty task at a time.

The latter part of the day I keep for less taxing work such as minor admin, catching up with reading or a bit of a walk to clear the mind and have a think. This portion of the day is often soundtracked by podcasts.

Without so much day-to-day contact with colleagues I use podcasts a lot as a way of keeping connected to the outside world. As a publishing outlier my definition of what is ‘work-related’ is now much broader. I have various faves in the realms of books and self-publishing but I drift into adjacent territory like photography, marketing and much more besides.

I see this part of the day as partly a replacement for the daily commute which, for all its public transport horror, was at least a time to drift out of work mode while also securing some valuable personal and professional development time.

You can find out more about David and his work by visiting his website, Instagram and Facebook pages.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.