Last edited 27 Oct 2020

Main author

Alex Harvie Other Consultant Website

Construction industry publishing



Construction industry publishing ranges from technical manuals to high production value books which aim to enhance a company’s reputation.

A company may decide to publish a book when:

Initial brief

As with any creative project, the initial brief needs to be well considered in order to reduce problems later on. The questions which follow are not exhaustive, and it may not be possible to answer every one at the outset.

Who is the audience?

It is essential to decide who the company is trying to communicate with. It could be:

Define the audience as clearly as possible. Trying to serve multiple audiences leads to confused, unsatisfactory communication because each group’s information needs are specific; for example no company would expect to present information in the same way to a specialist peer in their industry as they would to a potential client.

Once the audience has been identified it is possible to define an appropriate tone of voice, content and design approach, as well as the publication route best suited to the project.

What is the publication for?

  • What does the publication hope to achieve?
  • How will it be used?
  • How long will it be required?
  • When will the information be updated?

There is no bigger waste than spending a large sum of money on a publication which is out of date before it has earned its value. Given the time and money involved in the production of a book, it is important to be clear about the return that the company will get on such a significant investment.

How a company calculates this return depends on the reason for the project. It might be in terms of deals won on the back of the book’s production, or it might be a perceptual shift in terms of how the company’s philosophy is articulated in the broader market. Whatever the parameters, it is important for the company to have discussed the project’s criteria for success at the outset.

What is the content?

  • What does the book have to say?
  • Is there anything new in the material?
  • Is there an interesting way of structuring the content, for example by breaking it down according to theme or a linking concept?

It is important to develop an interesting premise to grab the reader’s attention and encourage them to follow the argument from first principle to latest innovation. However, while the best books may have some innovative qualities, a first time or non-expert editorial team should avoid trying to be too clever. Even the most erudite reader will find it hard to follow a book which breaks editorial rules.

A good book manages to transfer information on a number of levels:

  • Through a clear and open structure.
  • Through a design which is consistent and which works from its concept through to its detail.
  • Through its pacing (this is the speed with which pages get turned: a high volume of images and the pace is generally quicker, more text or diagrams and the pace at which the book is read slows.)
  • Through text fragments such as captions which should be consistent.
  • Through longer prose.

Consider how people really engage with books. Many people (particularly highly visual people) tend to read in a non-linear way. Some flick through images, others start at the back of a book. Some readers start a book by looking through the index. Few sit down first time and read a book from first to last page.

What is the budget?

The company needs to be very clear about how much money it is prepared to spend. The cost of different approaches to publishing varies significantly.

The company should also consider what images/photography might be required. Contracts with existing photographers should be checked and discussions held on prices for using imagery at the outset. Photography fees can be a significant element of a publishing project.

What is the timescale?

Commercial publishers quote a minimum of nine months to produce a book, and many say between twelve and eighteen months. This timescale allows for the concept to be refined and developed and for design work to be undertaken in a proper way. It also allows the book to be pre-sold at seasonal book fairs (such as The London Book Fair in the spring and Frankfurt Book Fair in the autumn). The pre-negotiation of sales is an important part in the publisher’s work and without it, commercial risk is increased.

If the company requires a book faster than this, a publisher may still be willing to consider the project. However the publication will disrupt the publisher’s cycle of work and, inevitably, will cost more to produce, so it will come down to the book’s particular merits and the deal which is struck. A company with a limited timescale might find it better to consider self-publishing as a means of controlling timescales.

Printing itself is a relatively quick process (it can take about three weeks depending on the binding and printing details); generally it is the associated research and design work which takes the time with book publishing, and if a company is prepared to give the creation of the book priority within its own schedules it will be able to speed up many elements of the process.

Refine the brief by researching the market

Another key element of this initial thinking is to research the market by browsing the shelves of specialist book shops and searching on the internet. When interesting books have been gathered they should be analysed systematically as a group in order to refine the initial brief.


  • Which book is the best suited to the project under consideration?
  • Does it come close to the feel and style the company would like?
  • What is the ratio of text to images?


  • Do any of them have an interesting combination of drawings and diagrams? What makes them work well – design and layout or the way the information has been analysed?
  • If the book is to use photography, which examples work well? What is the style and approach of these photographs?


  • How up to date does the information feel?
  • How does the information grab attention?
  • Do any of the books have a particularly accessible structure?
  • Are any of them particularly easy to navigate? How do they achieve this - chapter headings, topics, colours on the pages?


  • Look at the feel of the paper, the text and colours.
  • Look at the formats of the books. What size are they? What works well and less well about the different sizes?
  • Try reading the books with and without a desk. How do they feel in the hand?
  • Look at the covers. Are they hardback or soft?
  • Look at the binding. Do the pages open easily so photographs and images can be seen right to the join?


This information should help build up a clear picture of the kind of book the company would like to create.

The publishing process

While books about the construction industry vary widely in content, tone and design; from philosophic treatises to catalogues of new work; how they come into existence is limited to two methods:

  1. Commercial publishing – a proposal is accepted by a publisher who then manages the book’s publication.
  2. Self publishing – a company decides to create a book in house and undertakes the necessary research, writing and design work themselves.

Commercial publishing

Commercially-published books are usually instigated when a company suggests an idea which the publisher deems to be financially viable. Sometimes a publisher will approach a company with an idea.

The traditional roles are that the publisher undertakes the design, production and distribution while the company provides the content. The company is often now asked to support marketing efforts by holding an event and providing mailing lists, but the publisher usually controls the marketing strategy.

Commercial publishing for the construction industry has a number of particular characteristics not found in other areas of publishing:

  1. Specialist book shops.
  2. Booksellers over the internet.
  3. Specialist private libraries in some larger companies and trades associations.
  4. University libraries.
  5. Some larger public libraries.
  1. Some publishers limit the range of their list to books on well-known companies and common topics and theories, as far as possible guaranteeing a return on their investment.
  2. Other publishers subsidise their construction lists with revenue from other more commercial areas of their business. They do this because of the kudos associated with architectural publications.
  3. Some publishers ask for a contribution towards the production costs of the book. This is frowned upon in other sectors of the industry where it is called ‘vanity publishing’. The stigma means that even though the biggest publishing houses are known to ask for contributions, few admit to the fact.
  4. Publishers expect companies to provide photography and imagery related to their work. Costs of securing photography rights or paying to have drawings re-sized or digitised can be significant and should be factored in at the beginning of the project.
  • The brand of some commercial publishers dominates their books - Some of the best-known publishers have distinctive brands which some feel tend to dominate their books. While there can be a benefit from being associated with these big-name publishers, a company should consider the position of their own brand in the equation.
  • Publishers can change - Commissioning editors have a big influence on the body of work that they represent. Personnel can change, and with new people come new styles and approaches, so it is important to like a publisher’s current list, and if possible to find out what titles are planned for the next season, rather than simply going on past reputation.
  • Contract - The contract will list the royalty rates to which the company (or named author of the book) will be entitled. The publisher may hold back a significant amount to offset real or calculated costs. If the company is offering significant elements as part of the deal these should be listed (and if possible quantified) in the contract.


An important consideration for a company thinking of approaching a publisher is to decide whether it is the right time to place a book in the commercial realm. Some publishers feel companies rush the publication of their first book and that this makes it difficult further down the line when the company is ready to have more significant books published on their work. Once a book is in the marketplace it can’t be retracted. A company in its early years might be better to first try the self-publishing route described in the next section, limiting distribution until it is time to make a lasting statement.

The publishing process for commercial books

  1. The company approaches a publisher with a proposal; this should include an indication of (international) press interest and the company philosophy.
  2. The publisher appoints a commissioning editor to the project to define the book's parameters in terms of content, scope and production specification, as well as to develop the design and texts.
  3. The publication is handed over to a project editor who will see it through layouts, proofing, indexing, production and publication.
  4. The publisher handles distribution and marketing. Commercial publishers are also increasingly keen to use the company’s own PR mechanism, contacts and client lists to get the book the widest possible exposure.

Self publishing

Methods of self-publishing range from books produced entirely in-house, in which every task, from design and writing to photography, is undertaken by an internal team; to books which draw on the expertise of external agencies. Self-published books are not technically ‘published’ unless an ISBN is purchased and the book registered.

The internet in particular has opened up the mechanics of self-publishing so it is now possible to produce a simple book relatively cheaply. Some internet publishers even offer templates into which the user can load text and images on-line, removing some of the technical work of deciding how to layout the page (although this can look over standardised when applied to an entire book). Alternatively the book can be designed and sent as a file over the internet in a wide range of formats.

Key characteristics of self publishing:

  1. There is great flexibility in terms of cost control - The company can decide from the outset how much to spend on design, paper and printing as well as marketing. It is for the company to control the budget.
  2. All tasks can be undertaken in-house or through external specialists - Self-publishing requires the company to take on the role of publisher as well as client. Managing the publication process and keeping the book true to its initial concept through each of the stages of its development is a skilled and time-consuming task and should not be underestimated.

Specialist skills required for self publishing

  • Design - A book’s design ranges from choices about paper and production to layout, colour, style and typography. A beautifully designed book conveys as much as a poorly designed one about a company’s approach and thinking.
  • Photography and image production - The images are of fundamental importance to the style and approach of the book. The company has the choice of whether to use existing material or to commission new photography, diagrams and charts.
  • Editorial input - The conceptual structure of a book is as important as its visual layout in terms of what it communicates about a company. Experienced editors contribute to the development of a book in a number of ways:
  1. Contributing to design-related issues such as the book’s pacing.
  2. Shaping the text to complement the developing design.
  3. Writing and managing the consistency of text fragments (captions, headlines, pull-out text) to fit within the design.
  4. Removing widows (lone words at the ends of lines) and finessing how the text sits within the layout.
  5. Editors often set up and manage a project, ensuring deadlines are met.
  6. Editors are often responsible for finding and managing members of an editorial team to facilitate specialist areas of the book production (freelance writers, indexing, proofing).
  • A writer – some companies ask a well-known figure to contribute to their book, others ask their partners to write text or seek input from writers with specialist knowledge. Most employ a freelance writer to produce fluent copy.
  • A proofreader - checking the text for spelling and typographical consistency. Some professional writers and editors offer this service although proof reading is a profession in its own right.
  • An indexer – the need for an index will depend on the extent and style of the book. Creating a coherent, logical and accessible index is a specialist task.
  • PR consultants – the company may decide to put money into the distribution and marketing of the book. PR specialists will have relationships with the trades press and may be better able to get the book reviewed.

Advantages and disadvantages of on-demand printing


  1. On-demand printing offers flexibility in terms of updating. If a company needs a book detailing up-to-date work, then self-publishing with on demand printing may be the best option. Some digitally-printed books can be updated on-line in a matter of minutes, then printed overnight and shipped out in single editions or batches as large as the company requires.
  2. On-demand printing allows a company to produce a limited number of books relatively cheaply.
  3. On-demand printing can look professional when paper and production methods are carefully selected.


  1. On-demand printing does not offer the same range of paper stocks, book formats and production detailing as traditional printing.
  2. On-demand printing only uses digital printing, so its fine detailing is not as good.
  3. Generally on-demand printers charge more per unit than it would cost to print a larger number at a printing house. Remember to factor in postage as this needs to be included with each order and it can add up.

Summary of the publishing process for self-published books

  1. The company develops the concept – sometimes this initial thinking is undertaken with the input of an editor or designer.
  2. The design is created. Although some companies may take this on in-house, many approach a design company.
  3. Images, including photography, plans, diagrams and sketches, are gathered. Technical contractual and permission issues need to be tackled at this stage.
  4. The text is created, either by the company, or with the input of a professional writer. Some companies generate their own text and employ an editor to help pull the content into a coherent written style.
  5. Other work is taken on in-house or outsourced, including proofing, indexing and sourcing and compiling permissions and credits.
  6. Frequently the designer handles the printing; however companies may wish to source independent quotations. Print costs can vary significantly depending on the method chosen (lithographic or digital, see below), the printer’s set up, machinery and location. It can be cheaper to print overseas (although logistical management and delivery times will need to be factored into the project plan).
  7. The company will need to undertake any marketing work required. Self-published books have no publicity mechanism and no distribution network. If a company secures an ISBN and wants to sell through bookshops and libraries then negotiations will need to be handled by the company, as will shipping and the monitoring of stock levels.

Technical issues

This is a summary of a specialist field. A company publishing commercially will be able to rely on their publisher for more information, and self-publishing companies may be able to rely on their designer or printer. However there are some issues which should be considered before embarking on the production of a book.

Intellectual property

  1. Credits and permissions – it is essential to ask permission to use other people’s work. This can range from a polite request to a contract-fulfilling obligation. Replies to these requests should be filed with any related contracts (such as with a design company or editor). Credit should be given to originators of work used in the book, and the terms of the credit agreed in advance.
  2. Copyright – books automatically qualify for copyright protection. However, to help protect the work, the book can carry the © symbol, the name of the copyright owner (an individual or a company) and the year of publication.
  3. Photography contracts – problems can arise when photographers and agencies include clauses in their contracts excluding the use of their images in publications. This can mean a company cannot use images they have commissioned and paid for without paying again. It is not unheard of for these fees to match the proposed budget for the entire book in commercial publishing deals. This issue should be explored at the start of a publishing project.


  1. Photography libraries – a wide range of images is available from photography libraries. The quality varies, as does the deal. Some are free (but require crediting), others will ask for detailed information about the print-run, territories of publication and size the image will be shown to calculate a price for using the photograph.
  2. Drawings and plans – re-sizing can cause problems, requiring drawings to be re-drawn; similarly drawings or sketches could need to be redrawn or digitised. Publishers usually expect companies to fund the cost of this work.


  • The cover – this can be hardback (with or without dust jacket) or soft-back (there can be an option for a folded flap to give the cover additional structure). Remember to consider how the cover and text sheets will work together. An overly-light cover stock might feel flimsy, while one which is too thick will make the book unwieldy, and might result in excessive postage. The printer will advise on what their press can handle and the cost differences. It may be worthwhile asking for a ‘dummy’ (a blank book made up in the selected paper stock with the correct cover) to confirm that the feel and weight of paper is appropriate.
  • Paper stock – it is always useful to see and feel the paper before printing. There is a huge range available. It might be helpful to go back and look at what worked well in the books identified in the research stage.
  • Weight: a book can be undermined by paper which is too light (it might feel cheap unless fragile paper is a deliberate design choice).
  • Finish: digital printing needs a coated paper for the ink to take (see printing processes below) while litho printing offers more flexibility with paper stocks.
  • Ecological paper - the quality of paper stocks and ecological printing processes has improved greatly. Check for part-recycled to 100% recycled, chlorine-free and FSC approved paper– use of this paper can be flagged up in the credits.
  • The spine – when books are stacked up or stored in a shelf, the spine is the only visible surface. Conventions for presenting the title differ. In Britain and the US, titles are usually written top-to-bottom while in continental Europe titles tend to be written the other way round.
  • Binding - There is a range of methods on offer. Where images are printed across the middle of the book, consideration needs to be given to how flat the binding will allow the pages to be opened.
  1. Hardbound books – the best binding is where signatures (bundles of pages) are stitched together and attached to rigid board covers. When the middle of a signature is opened the binding threads are visible.
  2. Soft-bound books have three primary binding methods:
    • Thermally activated (perfect) binding – sections are glued together at the spine with a strong, flexible glue. Sometimes books do not spread wide with this method and can be liable to fall apart with handling and over time.
    • Stitched or sewn binding - constructed in the same way as a hardbound book, except with a soft cover. This is more expensive than perfect binding but is as durable as a hardbound book and allows the pages to be spread wide.
    • Saddle-stitched binding – a set of nested folios is stapled in a magazine-style book. This is only suitable for slim editions.


There are two main methods of printing:

  1. Lithographic printing – a more traditional process by which each colour is printed separately. This method is superior with its fine-line detail and excellent ability to match colour. It is more expensive but the unit price becomes proportionately cheaper with larger quantities.
  2. Digital printing – the ink is squirted onto the paper in a single process. It is cheaper, particularly for short print runs. Many on-demand printing processes use this method to great financial advantage. However its quality is generally poorer and it restricts the paper selection to coated stocks suitable for the ink.

ISBN and legal deposit

An ISBN (International Serial Book Number) is a product number used for ordering and listing books sold through bookshops. Booksellers cannot sell a book without one. An ISBN is not difficult to obtain; the main stumbling block is that ISBNs are only allocated in blocks of ten, limiting their use by individuals. However some internet self-publishers and larger design companies are happy to sell-on individual numbers.

An ISBN requires the publisher (including the self-publisher) to send a copy of the book to the British Library within one month of publication. This gives it an official registration.


Companies in the construction industry need to market their company and communicate their work in a tough, fast-moving professional arena. Like designing a good building, producing a good book is a complex task. As with any specialism, taking advice from the right consultants will produce a better product.

It is worth noting that cutting too many corners shows in the subtle things – a layout which doesn’t flow, images which don’t do a project justice or text which is dull. The general rule with publishing is that you get what you pay for; a beautiful book takes time and energy (and therefore money) to create. The solutions which work so perfectly and seem so simple have usually taken the most time and skill to achieve.

However, the bold and ambitious should not be deterred. Step changes in the technologies associated with publishing have opened up a wide range of options (design packages which are easier than ever to use and print techniques which have moved on immensely over the last ten years).

The way ahead is exciting, and companies which thrive on innovation will find creative new ways of communicating their thinking.

This article was created by --Alex Harvie 16:57, 2 July 2013 (BST)

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