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This page is about ways of producing camera-ready copy for books during the few years of massive changes in publishing technology. This was in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Although authors were encouraged to produce their own camera-ready copy, there were no suitable home computers for the mass market. So most authors had to rely on the sorts of typewriters that are now museum pieces. Our experience was a little different. Read on ...
My first experience of producing camera-ready copy for a book is tied up with one of the first personal computers for the mass home market. Arguably it was by far the most popular, probably because it was commissioned by the BBC to accompany its new series of programmes on computing. It was known as the BBC Microcomputer or just the BBC Micro.
'Micro' was an apt description at the time, but the computer was too large to be used as a laptop and it needed a separate monitor.
It came onto the market in the early 1980s and is now a museum-piece.
While the BBC Microcomputer was being developed, my husband and I were asked by Prentice Hall Publishers to produce a book to accompany it. The book was called Basic Programming on the BBC Microcomputer.
I was so entranced by IBM's text editing system that I really wanted to use the most up-to-date technology for drafting and finalising the manuscript.
However, at the start of our writing, the BBC Micro itself was still under development. So we couldn't use it for our writing. (We used a mock up in the developer's offices for testing and checking what we were writing.)
So we had to improvise word processing. We were probably among the earliest in the world to write a book on a computer.
For writing the drafts of the book, my husband soldered together a simple computer from a kit plus various bits and pieces. It had 32K of memory. (Yes, only 32K! These were the early days of computing and everything was very basic indeed.) The kit computer was the best available for our purposes at the time! There seemed to be wires everywhere.
Our separate monitor was tiny. The typeface was green, made up of dots, and the background was black.
My husband found a 2K word processing software package called Naspen that would work on the home-made computer. The output took ages to save onto what was the only option - audio cassette tape on an audio cassette recorder.
Our draft printouts were on a dot-matrix printer. Its typeface was made up of a small number of dots, hence the name. The printouts were legible but too crude for camera-ready copy for a book.
Paper for a dot-matrix printer came in long lengths with holes at the edges to fit the sprockets on the printer rollers. There were perforations for tearing the final printout into sheets if required.
There was no facility for diagrams or pictures. We just had to mark where we wanted them to go.
We were determined that our camera-ready copy for publication would look as professional as the technology would allow. So we used golf balls on a proportional spacing electric typewriter. This of course was designed for a typist to sit at, whereas we needed it to run from a computer.
So my husband made an electro-mechanical device, ran from the computer, that sat on the keyboard and pressed the appropriate keys. We called the result our 'thunderer' because it made such a noise.
Obtaining a good text printout did not take care of diagrams or different font sizes for headings.
So the final printout had to be cut-and-stuck to fit, with spaces left for headings, diagrams and drawings.
The diagrams and drawings were produced on separate sheets. We then cut and stuck them in position, again using the drawing board to line them up.
The sticking was with a few dobs from a glue pen. These attached the pieces of paper loosely, so that they could be removed and re-stuck differently if necessary.
The resulting pages were still not suitable for camera-ready copy as they were fragile and would show shadows from the edges of the cut-and-stuck sections.
So every cut-and-stuck page was carefully photocopied on a good photocopier and the shadows were masked out with Snowpake or Tipp-ex fluid. Both had brushes attached inside their tops. When a top was removed, its brush was ready loaded with the white masking liquid.
The result was reasonably robust camera-ready copy for the publisher.
The pictures show a sample double page spread from the published book.
Now in the light of modern technology, the pages look a very amateur production, particularly in view of the time and effort that went into producing them.
Nevertheless it was at the cutting edge of authors' camera-ready copy production in the early 1980s and the book was extremely well-received. It went to eight British printings and was translated into several languages.
Incidentally the book was very much a family effort. Our son helped with the programming and our daughter drew the pictures which fronted the first page of every chapter. We went on to produce further books.