How to publish a book: Developing

I’m a publisher at Cambridge University Press and I’ve written a blog post on the traditional process of publishing a book. I’ve split this blog post into three parts – planning, designing and developing. This is part three.

Developing a book

Once the planning and designing phases are complete, we then move on to actually developing the book – writing, editing and layout. Depending on the amount of work spent on the earlier phases, this could be a relatively straightforward process.


After developing a detailed book-plan and, if needed, a writing template it’s now over to the author to work their magic and write a manuscript. Note – if this is a creative work, such as a novel or collection of poems, then the manuscript is the first thing that gets written, particularly in the case of self-publishers. 

There are many books and blog posts written about the craft of writing (and I may add my two cents on the matter in another blog post), but the main thing to be aware of, particularly when writing educational material, is try to track the number of agreed pages as closely as possible. It’s a difficult task for an editor to trim content while keeping meaning. The second issue, and perhaps more difficult to get right, is to ensure you write at the language of the learner. A primary school reader will have a very different grasp of the English language to a working professional. The author must be aware of word usage and line length and pitch their writing to the correct level. This is something an editor can assist with fixing but it much easier to get this correctly done during the writing process. 

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How to publish a book: Designing

I’m a publisher at Cambridge University Press and I’ve written a blog post on the traditional process of publishing a book. I’ve split this blog post into three parts – planning, designing and developing. This is part two.

Designing a book

There are books devoted to book design, and I’m not about to write another. Also, as a non-designer, this short introduction to designing a book is very un-designery with a focus more on product design. 

Now that’s out the way, let’s look at how we use a book design, or design spec as we call it in the publishing industry, and at what point it feeds into the book publishing process. The spec provides all the information needed on the final layout of the book – the colours used, the font sizes, the font type, paragraph styles and character styles. The publisher would generally provide a detailed brief to the designer on the intended target market for the book, suggestions on colour and font use, and all components needed in the book. The spec is also where the publisher develops out all the book’s features. For example, if you need an activity box, a table showing currency or some way to display dialogue or poetry, this is all designed as part of the spec. It is good to be as specific as possible with these components as it is a hassle to go back to a designer for a new feature once the spec design process is over. I’ll go into the details around textbook components in another post but see sample styles for various features in the gallery below. This type of detail is less relevant for novel publishing as opposed to publishing educational or children’s books.

There are three primary audiences for a design spec – the publishing team (publisher, author and editor), the typesetter and then finally the reader. 

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How to publish a book: Planning

I’m a publisher at Cambridge University Press. As the oldest publishing house in the world (in operation since 1534), Cambridge knows how to make a book. And a lot of people want to write and publish a book. I often get asked about the steps involved, so here goes. The process remains roughly the same if you are publishing a bible, a textbook or a poetry collection, but I will use examples from educational book publishing. This would be considered a traditional publishing process. Even if you are self-publishing your work, you’d generally need to complete the same steps, although with the help of online services some of these tasks can be automated or consolidated.

I’ve split this blog post into three parts – planning, designing and developing.

Planning a book

The more work you do upfront in planning your book, the easier the process is later down the line. One of the first decisions that get made is around the format, presentation and the number of pages. Most people know paper sizes based around the pages of the office printer, the standard A4 (doubling to A3 and halving to A5) or US-letter. There are, however, a lot of other options such as truncated A4 and Narrow Crown, which we use in publishing. The decision on paper size (or trim size in publishing parlance) directly relates to printing costs. Specific formats can be printed more efficiently and more economically. At the same time, the type of book you are publishing influences the size of the page. Think about a textbook and its diagrams and boxes in the margin vs a book of poems – different paper sizes for various purposes. There is a whole lot more that goes into printing, but from a publisher’s point of view, you need to know what size you are developing a book for as this affects how much space per page you have for content.

The second choice to be made is around the presentation of your book. Whether your book is black and white or in colour and what it will look like to the reader. Again this has cost-implications for printing your book. But this decision is led by the purpose of your book. Think again about the textbook and the poetry collection and which type of book would benefit from full-colour. While you may not have a design for your book yet, you should be able to estimate the font-size and font-type based on your target audience. For example, a reading book for a primary school learner will have a much larger font in comparison to a training manual for a professional in the workplace. Decisions around presentation will directly influence your estimated number of pages.

Lastly, decide how many pages you want your book to be. Publishers, so fond of acronyms and jargon, call this the extent of the book. Generally, we try to get this number as close as possible to 16-page sections, i.e. divide your total extent by 16, and if you get a whole number, you are good to go. This is the most economical way to print a book due to the size of the paper used by commercial printers. I’ll write more on this at a later point, and also touch on paper weight, binding, printable extents and other intricacies of commercial printing. If your book is only going to be available digitally then this doesn’t concern you – full-colour and reflowable to screen size will be standard for most e-books.

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Cambridge in South Africa – supporting education during the national school shutdown

In order to support schools, teachers and learners during the current crisis, Cambridge University Press South Africa is providing free access to a range of CAPS-approved Study & Master e-textbooks and selected resource materials via the Cambridge Elevate and Cambridge HOTmaths digital learning platforms.

  • Access Study & Master CAPS-approved Learner’s Books for the Foundation, Intermediate, Senior and FET Phases
  • Access Study & Master Maths Online CAPS for Intermediate and Senior Phases

More information here …

SONA and digital learning in South Africa

With 40% of South Africa’s 20.4 million young people (between the ages of 15 to 34) currently unemployed, this poses one of the most significant challenges to the country. At the same time, businesses find it challenging to find employees with the requisite skills. In the 2019 ICT Skills Survey, despite the high overall unemployment rate, the category of Critical Skills Visa as a recruitment source is growing. This means that the local workforce can’t adequately fill the ICT-related vacancies and enterprises are recruiting these abroad. 

Over the years, this survey has repeatedly highlighted the poor state of education in South Africa and in particular the meagre number of learners achieving competence in STEM subjects. Many initiatives are attempting to address this issue. Still, they tend to be in relatively small pockets and are not resolving the underlying lack of appropriate curriculum, relevant teaching materials and skilled teachers. 

President Ramaphosa addressed this in last week’s State of the Nation (SONA) address, promising to build cutting-edge solutions to reskill these unemployed youth, “to increase their employability and match themselves to (available) opportunities … fundamentally changing how we prepare young people for the future of work, providing shorter and more flexible courses in specific skills that employers in fast-growing sectors need”.

Mobile Learning in South Africa

How might this look?

Like in the rest of the world, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is hyped in South Africa. It is, however, a useful frame to look at the future of work Ramaphosa speaks of, and the skills required.

Although many organisations and people believe the 4IR could create new jobs and business opportunities, seizing these opportunities would require new approaches to education and workplace skills development. There is an awareness that to grasp the opportunities fully, parties need to work together across business, academia and civil society. Taking cognisance of this, in April 2019 President Ramaphosa established the Presidential Committee on 4IR which will assist the government in taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the digital industrial revolution. The task of the Commission, which will be chaired by the President, is to identify relevant policies, strategies and action plans that will position South Africa as a competitive global player.

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