D&D Archives07/13/2003


Copyfitting Design Notes
By Kim Mohan



When the design and editing phases of a product are finished, the manuscript goes to a managing editor to get its final preparation for being typeset.

In my role as managing editor for the revised D&D core rulebooks, one of the most important jobs I performed was copyfitting -- the art/science of creating a book that contains all the information that needs to be in it and takes up the exact number of pages the book is meant to have. The designers and editors try to be careful about producing a manuscript that contains more or less the "right" number of words, and under normal circumstances it's not too difficult to make a book fit its page count properly: I dump the manuscript into a layout based on the same page design the finished books will use, so I can tell with a high degree of precision how many pages the text takes up. After factoring in the space needed for maps, diagrams, and illustrations, I know whether the book uses all the pages it's supposed to use. If the contents add up to more than the page count, we start looking for ways to trim the text. If the book looks like it's running short, we figure out how to stretch it, which could involve crafting some new text. The goal is to turn over just the right amount of text to the graphic production specialists.

Getting the version 3.5 books to come out to the right number of pages turned out to be not unlike trying to put 10 pounds of stuff in the proverbial 5-pound bag. Even though each book is 320 pages, significantly bigger than its predecessor, we still had a tough time cramming everything we wanted to say into that much space. The Dungeon Master's Guide was the toughest of the three, because the manuscript that came to me was several thousand words longer than the available page space would hold. How did we deal with the problem?

First, I went to David Noonan, and we identified a few "variant" sidebars that we could probably get along without. Fortunately, these were not painful cuts to make, and they didn't impact any of the rest of the book. (I remember Dave saying something like, "We knew all this stuff wasn't going to get in anyway.") The manuscript had a section in Chapter 3 about the other planes of existence, as well as a section in Chapter 5 about the D&D cosmology. I was able to save a few pages' worth of room by moving the Chapter 3 stuff to Chapter 5 and consolidating the two pieces of information.

By nipping and clipping and trimming wherever we could, we got the Dungeon Master's Guide to fit without touching the "meat" of the book -- we never considered cutting back on the number of new prestige classes, for instance, nor did we even dream of pulling out some magic items to save a little space. Then, after we had whittled the text down as much as possible, we got the fit to work out by electing to reprint only some of the illustrations that the original book contained. As a result, the new DMG is jam-packed with new and refurbished rules and advice; it has 64 more pages than the original, but I'd guess that new information takes up something like 90 or 100 pages of the book.

Copyfitting the Monster Manual was two jobs in one. The book is lavishly illustrated, of course -- but the last 52 pages (Chapters 2 through 7) don't have any art. It was quite a challenge to get each of those five chapters to fit neatly into a certain number of pages, but it worked out: Chapter 2 takes up exactly 18 pages, Chapter 3 is exactly 6 pages, and so on.

The second Monster Manual copyfitting job was figuring how Chapter 1: Monsters A to Z was going to fit in the 260 pages of the book that are available for it (not counting the last 52 and the first 8). This chapter contains 201 illustrations of monsters plus about 215 pages of text, meaning that, on average, each illustration ended up occupying a little less than 1/4 page. The numbers seemed to indicate that we could get all the text in the book without having to reduce any illustrations to the size of a postage stamp (which we wouldn't have done anyway), and that's pretty much the way it turned out.

The Player's Handbook went together a little more easily than either of the other two books, partly because it's structurally identical to the original book (same number of chapters, same chapter titles) and partly because it's "only" 32 pages larger than its predecessor. We did have a problem that popped up late in the game, though: When I turned over Chapter 10 of the book for typesetting, the text was thoroughly edited and very tightly composed -- no "fluff," as we say. I figured that text would fill exactly 12 pages with no illustrations, and that's just the way it looked when the typesetters put the text into their layout. Then I realized that I had forgotten to account for a diagram that needed to appear on page 176 -- so it suddenly became necessary to find about three dozen "expendable" lines of text in that chapter to make room for the diagram. I asked Andy Collins to take a look at the material and try to locate some places where we could trim a few words or a sentence without doing damage to the content -- and he managed to find exactly the right number of lines. It's one of the maxims of the editing profession that any piece of text can be made shorter if necessary, and I guess Andy proved the truth of that saying . . . but I think it would have been downright impossible to make room for two diagrams!

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