We couldn’t help publishing a book to celebrate our 20th birthday, but were determined it should be a book that deserved to be published and belonged firmly in the book trade. We developed the idea for A Book is a Book through conversations with publishers, writers and editors – many of whom are graduates of the course.

We were thrilled that Jenny Bornholdt agreed to write the book and that Gecko Press wanted to co-publish it, which will give it a life in New Zealand bookshops and internationally. Putting this book together was a fabulous collaboration, which we hope reflects the publishing course’s bond with the industry.


A book is an idea

Every book starts with an idea. Our idea was to publish a children’s book about books and publishing – to share our love of publishing and inspire others. Plus, 2013 marked the Whitireia Publishing Programme’s 20th birthday, and what better way to celebrate than with a book?

But an idea is not yet a book  …


Concepts and Conversations

A book is a conversation

To turn an idea into a book, you need to pin down some specifics:

  • What is the book about?
  • Who is it for?

These questions then drive new questions:

  • Who is the best person to write it?
  • Who is the best person to illustrate it?
  • What is the best format for the material?

And, of course:

  • Is the idea any good?

To help us make sure the idea was a good one and to make it better, we bounced it off people in the know – publishers, editors and writers. We also researched whether there were any other books along the lines of our idea. Among others, we found these books:

Eventually, we whittled our initial idea into something we could work with. Our book would ask and answer the question ‘What is a book?’ from the point of view of children, and based on their own words.


A book is its author

Most of us can write a sentence, but that doesn’t mean we can write a book. We needed an author – an experienced, talented writer who would like our idea, and then make it their own.

We were thrilled when Jenny Bornholdt said yes. And it was Jenny who suggested that Sarah Wilkins could be a good illustrator.


Plots and plans

A book needs a shape

Once you’ve decided to publish a book, and what the book will be about, you need to consider the book as an object and answer yet another question:

  • What is the best format for the content?


The choices are practically endless. Our book was going to be a print book, not an ebook, so we had to pin down the book’s dimensions: whether it would be paperback or hardback (with flaps? A dust jacket? Foil, gloss, or indented cover lettering?); what type and weight of paper to use – the list goes on. Even choosing the paper colour can be a weighty decision – you didn’t think white paper just came in one shade, did you?

Each choice can have multiple consequences for the book. For example, printing overseas in China is more economical, particularly for hardcover and/or illustrated books – but that comes at a time cost of an extra three months of waiting for the books to print and ship.


A book needs a publishing process

With idea, author and illustrator in hand, it was time to pin down the details – to come to agreements on who would do what, when, and where. Here are some of the key steps:

  • Contract: It’s important that publishers set up formal contracts with authors, illustrators and others involved in the process. A contract outlines two vital aspects of the publishing process: the money and the copyright.
  • Briefing contractors: One of the things that make a publisher a publisher is that they pay for the book. They are taking the risk of putting their time and money into this publication because they think it will be successful or profitable or world-stoppingly brilliant. This risk gives them the right and responsibility to brief – that is, tell everyone what to do, by when, and for what financial reward (as specified in the contract).
  • Scheduling: While the contracts and briefs will both introduce the book’s schedule to the various people working on it, it’s the publisher’s responsibility to make sure everyone stays aware of what needs to be done, and where. One thing that can help is …
  • Meeting over coffee or whatever other beverage wets your whistle. Never underestimate the importance of this step. This business is about talking over ideas, making plans, discussing detail, and making sure that any one project has many pairs of eyes watching over it. Conversations at the outset and through the publishing process keep everyone on track and on time, ensuring everyone understands what needs to be done and is heading in the same direction.


Samples and Drafts

Publishers focus on quality, and part of getting quality is paying close attention and checking everything along with way. With this book, we saw four drafts before the manuscript was finalised.

Similarly, we saw drafts of the illustrations. Sarah took some sample text and drew these four illustrations showing the style and different colour treatments:


Gorgeous! We agreed on this look and feel and a colour palette.



Sarah then started to think about a rough sketch of every illustration in the book. For her to be able to do this, we had to know exactly what text would fall (and where) on each page, so her illustrations could work in harmony with the text, the shape of the page, and the flow of the book. The book designer produced this rough layout of the book, showing approximately where illustrations would fall.

We also looked at the layout in thumbnail form so we could get a sense of the flow and rhythm of the book to make sure we had a balance of larger and smaller illustrations, and double-page spreads and single pages.

Sarah then drew a rough black-and-white sketch for every page of the book. Click here to view a PDF of the full draft layout with Sarah’s initial illustrations.


Developing the artwork

These photos show some stages in Sarah’s illustration work.

Sarah offered us several options for some images.

Do you like this tired writer?


Or this one?

book 21

Sometimes we had to make heart-breaking choices, such as losing this picture (with a special request that the rabbit slippers make a new appearance elsewhere).


Or this one, because we just had too many gardens!


Jane asked how it would work if the boy on the scary page was smiling instead:

Eventually, Sarah’s final drafts arrived in our inbox. This was the time to make sure the details were all perfect. We weren’t shy about suggesting an occasional anatomical change – like tweaking the angle of these children’s legs:

And we checked out the expressions on all the faces. The boy on the scary page had been made a hero with that smile. The dad giving a horsey-ride gazed yearningly at the dog running free on the next page.


Cover Stories

Deciding on the cover

As with the interior illustrations, the first thing that happened with the cover is that Sarah created a series of roughs based on our brief. The cover had to be appealing in itself, but also accurately represent the book as a whole.

We wanted the cover to tell or imply a story – we loved the interrupted bicycle journey, the big book in the landscape.

These seemed to say, Something has just happened here. A wonderful and surprising discovery has just been made.

When we had given her our feedback, Sarah drew a colour rough. One of the skills publishers, illustrators and designers develop is being able to look at a rough and ‘get’ how this will turn out in finished artwork or book. You learn how to look at what matters and ignore what can change or isn’t relevant. Here is the full colour cover rough for the wraparound dust jacket:


These photos show stages in Sarah’s illustration work as she developed the artwork for the jacket and case.




Before Sarah completed the final artwork, the designer roughed out a full cover with text and showing ‘bleeds’ (where the illustration has to go off the edge of the page so that when the printer trims the page, there are no ugly bare paper edges if the trim goes slightly awry!). The illustrator follows these guidelines to make sure the images will be well placed once the cover is folded and trimmed.



Sending the book to press

Checking, checking and checking again

In publishing, it’s always best to assume that something might have gone wrong in-between – in between the editor and the typesetter, the storyboard and the layout, or even just in moving files from one computer to another.

Publishers carefully check proofs – full-sized printouts of the book – to make sure everything has come out as it should before the book is sent to the printer. And, then, before the printer prints the book, they send us another set of proofs … just in case.

Checking book book proofs

Checking book book proofs


The waiting game

The reason for all the checking is that once you’ve signed off on the print job – it’s gone. Any mistakes? Well, if you’re printing overseas, you’ll have twelve long weeks to think about them!


Boxes of books!

Whether from overseas or a local printer, your books will eventually arrive . . .


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Whitireia Publishing
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