Apollo at the Printing Press

So much goes into making a book! This week my editor Steph took a trip to the printing press where the cover for The Hidden Oracle is being prepared. The factory is very close to Camp Half-Blood on Long Island (not kidding) and Steph sent me a report with pictures so I could see the process. Now you can see too! No photos of satyrs or centaurs were included for security reasons.

First the Disney team checked sample print sheets and picked the ones they liked the best. They looked for the right shades of color, the right quality of printing and . . . uh, a bunch of other stuff that authors like me have no clue about. Below, Marybeth from Disney Production and Joanne from the Design Department examine the samples with the press workers. “Make this orange more orange!” says Marybeth. “Make this Apollo more Apollo-y!” demands Joann.

Then the printing gets started! To make the super snazzy cover you see above, the press workers first run plain white sheets through an embossing machine, stamping the logo on with silver foil. This is why the words for the title are shiny and raised. Below is a roll of silver foil and a white sheet just printed. I’m told the naiads at camp like to run around with ribbons of this stamped silver foil wrapped around them like beauty pageant queens, yelling, “I’m Miss Universe!” but I cannot vouch for that.

Next the color is applied to the page. Because Apollo is so special, the press workers created a unique orange yellow color just for his cover — a color NEVER SEEN BEFORE and definitely NOT FOUND IN NATURE!  (Or if that’s not true, don’t tell Apollo.)  Here is Apollo orange, below. In press shop speak, it is described as “somewhere between color 803 and color 804.” Apollo appreciates the poetry of that description.

Three jackets fit on one sheet of paper. Here they are coming off the machine:

Who is that handsome devil in the sunglasses? Oh wait! That’s me. Yes, just for this book, Steph asked me to make an author photo that would give me more of an “Apollo cool” vibe, so I went with the Hawaiian shirt and the sunglasses. This photo was taken in Boston during the winter, so that’s not really a smile. My face is simply frozen.

Anyway, the color can change from page to page, so the workers have to monitor each sheet and adjust the color settings as they go to make sure each cover is up to snuff. Have you ever come across a weird-looking copy where the writing doesn’t match the embossing or the image is a little skewed? This happens whenever the Hermes cabin kids sneak into the printing press and throw firecrackers at the press workers’ feet. Cherish those odd copies. They are special.

Here’s what the printing machine looks like, with rolling plates of the cover image, just like the Treasury uses to make money. So if you think my books give me a license to print money, well, not exactly, but close!

Once the pages are printed in full color, they are laminated, which also has to be carefully monitored, since laying a thin sheet of plastic over the paper can change the way the color looks. Here’s a short video of the laminating machine in action:

And here is Jack, the head pressman at the company, with my intrepid Design supervisor Joann, who has been responsible all my covers with Disney-Hyperion. They look happy and proud of the amazing cover that is even now churning through the presses out on Long Island. Thanks, guys! And Jack — you are named after one of my favorite swords! Cool!

People often wonder why it takes so long to make a book. Fans say, “You finished writing it already? Why can’t I have it NOW? NOW!!!!”

And then, every year, they send me this GIF:

Every year. Like . . . every year. And don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the enthusiasm.

The thing is, the book isn’t in my house. It takes months and months to create. The process you see above? That’s just for the book jacket. It took an entire day to approve the process. And now the covers for the first printing will be running off the presses non-stop until next Tuesday. That’s how many days it takes just for the cover! Then they send the covers to a different factory where the actual pages are printed and bound. Then they have to be boxed and shipped all over the country.

On top of that, there are actually TEN different editions of the first printing. Barnes and Noble has their own exclusive edition. Walmart has one. Target has one, and so on, each with some sort of account exclusive like a map or a piece of art or a special add-on. Each edition has to be printed separately to keep them all straight.

Complicated! I’m glad I’ve got a crack team of folks at Disney to oversee this stuff for me. I had enough trouble running off thirty copies of a worksheet for my fifth period English class. I can’t imagine trying to print millions of copies of a book and deliver them all across the country! But never fear, Disney-Hyperion is on the job. The book will be beautiful. And it will be ready in the stores, new and sparkly and just the right color of Apollo orange, on May 3!

Rick Riordan