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What Authors Can Learn From Accountants and Payroll Managers

Scribes would do well to take a page from payroll and accounting folks.
Jan | 31 | 2024
  Jan | 31 | 2024
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BY Phil Simon
  Phil Simon

What Authors Can Learn From Accountants and Payroll Managers

Scribes would do well to take a page from payroll and accounting folks.
Phil Simon
Jan | 31 | 2024

What Authors Can Learn From Accountants and Payroll Managers

TL;DR: Scribes would do well to take a page from payroll and accounting folks.
Phil Simon
Jan | 31 | 2024

Accountants and payroll professionals worth their salt may come off as rigid, meticulous, and excessively detail-oriented in the workplace. You might even use the word prosaic.

To that, I say, “Good.” These traits are occupational features, not bugs. The last thing you want is a big-picture, overly, er, creative person responsible for overseeing your organization’s bank accounts or accounts receivable department. Let the chief marketing officer think about pie-in-the-sky ideas. “I don’t care if I get paid on Friday,” said no employee or vendor ever.

Not coincidentally, numbers-oriented folks tend to strictly abide by their organizations’ internal processes—or quickly find themselves switching careers or employers. To wit, the accountant who closes the firm’s quarterly or annual books a few days too early risks filing inaccurate state and federal financial reports. In a publicly traded company, the CFO may be headed to the clink. The payroll manager who calculates employee taxes without first figuring out overtime will earn the ire of workers, union officials, and finance folks. Make no mistake: Order matters. Big time.

Publishing Parallels

What do these structured roles have to do with writing and publishing a non-fiction book?

After all, the latter may strike you as an inherently creative endeavor—and, indeed, it is. A fair degree of imagination undergirds all elements in a book: its subject, theme, thesis, title, subtitle, table of contents, case studies, academic research cited, and choice of interviewees. Even writing a highly templated book involves hundreds of individual choices. (As the author of two For Dummies guides, I should know.) Brass tacks: Your frontal lobe is in for one hell of a workout.

There comes a time, though, when all authors need to turn off the “What if?” parts of their brains. (Yes, even you.) After completing the ideation, research, writing, and editing stages, it’s paramount that writers adhere to a specific, regimented process. The closer they abide by it, the fewer problems they’ll experience—and the less severe those issues will be.

Changes and Process

To state the obvious, not all changes are created equal. Here I’m referring to tweaks that authors want to make after signing off on their final manuscripts. I’m excluding high-level author ambivalence about the book’s topic, title, and the like. (You’re nowhere near the design phase at this point.)

Over the years, I’ve worked with my fair share of acquisitions editors and designers. They’ve told me about many of the alerations that the authors wanted to make after the interior designer had laid out the book, including:

  1. Fixing late-stage typos that somehow snuck through or swapping out an eight-letter adverb for a six-character replacement. (These pose no problem.)
  2. At the other end of the spectrum, the author decides to rework all of the existing figures, add a few new ones, and lose some altogether.
  3. In a similar vein, the author falls in love with a new body font. When it comes to swapping out typefaces, Adobe InDesign is not Microsoft Word. I’m no designer, but even I know that slightly different kernings will introduce new orphans and widows into the galley, especially in a 250-page book.

During the galley review stage, the last two are a recipe for disaster. First-time scribes typically don’t realize the impact of even ostensibly minor changes to font sizes and weights.

And then there was the author who wanted to make small changes to existing fonts after the indexer had finished her job. Needless to say, this would wreak havoc with the existing index.

Even if you’re only releasing a paperback, expect flies in the soup from moderate changes. Trust me. Add in ebook and audiobook versions, and even one simple fix really means three—from probably three different people to boot.

Even within a single format, making major changes late in the process will significantly complicate matters.

What Authors Need to Know

Ideally, you have worked with your publisher, editor, or publishing coach to craft a solid project plan. As such, as you approach your book’s publication date, you won’t need to rewrite your manuscript or make any structural changes. (Of course, sometimes theory and practice collide; the world shifts, and a major or full rewrite is in order. I’ll cover that topic in a future post.)

By the time your book enters the design phase, all changes should be cosmetic. The time for major surgery has long passed.

Regardless of whether you work with Racket or not, do yourself a favor: Make absolutely certain that you’re comfortable with key aesthetic elements before your book’s design begins. Otherwise, you’re inviting superfluous problems, stress, and delays—not to mention thousands of dollars in extra costs.

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