We spoke to production specialist David Brimble about his vast experience producing books in-house and on a freelance basis, his work on BBC’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year books and his love for visiting printers who are passionate about what they do.
1. How did your time working for publishers shape your approach as a freelance production specialist?
In lots of ways. Production is ultimately about the finished result, but to achieve that its best to be involved from the very beginning. Wherever I worked in- house there was a process of developing and costing a book specification as part of the commissioning stage. Sometimes quite small changes in format or materials can make a big difference to the cost and the prospect of a book being profitable. Working with self-publishers as a freelance its crucial to make sure the spec of the book is in line with the volume they are comfortable trying to sell and the price at which they want to sell it. Unless money is no object for you then a proper detailing of all the costs, and presenting options, is essential to seeing where you are with respect to profit and loss. I start every project with that, trying to establish a healthy bottom line, and that approach comes directly from my time within publishing. Lots of knowledge of print comes into that process, but its essentially about doing things in a business-like fashion, and getting the right ground work done.
Within publishing production is partly a project management role, always working to ensure the content comes together in a way which works well for the pre-press and print production to come. After that initial feasibility stage I think its crucial to get involved with designers and photographers and to coach them here and there on ways of working which will ensure the best quality printed result, and help the work progress in the smoothest way possible. Every issue or problem of past projects is in some way reflected in how and where I do that, and no two projects are alike. With colour illustrated books especially its really important to keep close to things as they progress, as its always more stressful and expensive to try and deal with any issues later on.
2. What has been your most rewarding project to date, in-house or freelance?
That would have to be Wildlife Photographer of the Year, when I was at BBC Books. It was an annual publication I produced five times. It was a privilege to work with award-winning photos, and to keep everything confidential while putting it together before the winners had been made public. Copies of the books were always distributed for the first time at the end of the awards dinner, which was always a pretty exciting moment. Getting the images just right in print, but also colour matched to the exhibition displays and other merchandise was an extra level of challenge, and I learned a huge amount about managing colour images by working on that book. There were always co-editions in other languages needed too, so it was a project with a number of elements to it.
3. We think that publishing is becoming much more accessible to authors as well as freelancers. Do you feel that the necessity of living in London or another publishing capital has diminished?
Yes, although having moved from London to Bristol a few years ago I would have to say that! London will always be a major source of clients and contacts, but I can get the vast majority of my work done from home. Publishers are still very reluctant to use production freelancers not based in their offices, but I work with clients and as part of remote-working teams with very few problems, so I think that argument is weakening. Face to face is very important of course, but its not everything, in my view.
4. How important is it to have a good, trusted list of contacts, doing what you do? How did you build your network?
Publishing has used freelance editors, designers and others for as long as I worked in it, and well before, and plenty or former in-house colleagues went freelance during that time and since, so its just a matter of keeping in touch with the people you rated the highest and worked with the best, across a range of skills. Sometimes you work with those people again, and otherwise you refer people you know to others, and hope they do the same for you.
As far as printers and other suppliers go its pretty much the same. I have suppliers I know from experience are good options for given types of project, throughout the world. I also bother former colleagues who are still in-house, to find out who they currently rate. Since I went freelance I have investigated and visited different types of printer, people who do more commercial print rather than book printing, to see what avenues might exist for me a step away from publishing work, to broaden things out a bit.
I use Twitter and other social media and that helps me keep up with trade news and to make new acquaintances. I can’t claim to being the best networker but I meet new people as often as I can. It’s far more beneficial than cold-calling, or emailing people you’d like to work for. A really good referral or suggestion can sometimes come from the least expected source. I no longer pre-judge the likely value of any meeting I have.
5. What aspect of book production do you enjoy the most?
I really enjoy visiting printers, either just to have a nose or to see a job on press. It’s always great to get away from a screen and actually see print work being done, and generally people who work in print are hugely enthusiastic about it. It’s an industry with a lot of clever technology but also with great skill and craft. There is always something new to see and learn about.