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Now, the Twist: How to Make a Good Turnover

Now, the Twist: How to Make a Good Turnover

The Chess GameColin McComb’s Now, the Twist takes a long, hard look at game design.



So we’ve discussed the importance of editors already and why it’s important to make their lives easy. Here’s one great way to do that: make a clean turnover.

It’s much easier to say this than to do this. It’s extra work you don’t necessarily budget ahead of schedule, but it’s also crucial. I don’t just mean a manuscript that is buffed out, shiny, and filled with new-car smell. I mean one that covers the points the editors need covered—or, at least, one that provides them with a good launching pad for moving forward on each of their assigned tasks. For all the work editors put into the job, their lives are made much easier if they have a starting point that lets them build quickly and easily…

First and Foremost

The first step is providing the text they need. This seems obvious, but I’ve heard that some people don’t do it. So, the most important tip: make sure you have written what your contract calls for you to write.

If you’re contracted to write 18,000 words on the martial and marital habits of a reptilian tribe, write those 18,000 words. Don’t write 16,000 and expect to get away with it; your editor will call you up and demand the 2,000 words. Likewise, don’t write 22,000 words and assume that your editor will be happy. This means trimming 4,000 words from the document, and sometimes, that’s more work than writing them.

Some of the words you have written will not be suitable, and you may be called upon to rewrite. This shows your editor is paying attention to what you wrote, so instead of demanding payment for the labor of the extra words, write (new) words cheerfully.

It’s the Little Things

Make sure your turnover complies with your publisher’s style guide. Every publisher has a specific way to present information, intended to retain consistency across their entire product line. The more closely you adhere to their style guide, the more time they have to develop your text and prepare it for printing. (Also, unless the style guide specifically calls for two spaces, only use one space after a period.)

If you have questions or comments for the editor about specific pieces of text, it’s easier and better to put them directly in the body of the work than in an email. This way the question comes at the right time, rather than requiring the editor to seek out the line in its proper context.

Use some identifying mark so that your editor can search for each instance where you have a comment. My personal method looks approximately like this: “(([EDITOR NAME]: Here is my question, relating to this stuff)).” I also highlight the callout. Whatever your style, use something that stands out, attracts attention, and is an easily searchable string. It must be something that isn’t common to the rest of your text; you don’t want your callouts going to print.

Here’s an important thing to remember: clean text. By this, I mean you not only run your grammar and spellchecker, but you go back and re-read your text. I guarantee you will find errors. My personal bugbear is repetition. When I’m writing quickly, words or phrases suggest themselves, and then they suggest themselves again. And again and again. If you spend enough time writing, you’ll figure out what your own problems are, and you can look for these when you read your turnover.

Seriously. Look again.

Suddenly I See

If you’re required to do an art order, take some time with it. Allocate at least a day to go through your text and pull some evocative images from your writing. If you can’t picture anything for a suitable image, there’s probably something wrong with what you’ve turned over. Remember, your work is intended to spark the imagination of your readers, and if you can’t even spark your own, you need a rewrite.

I’ve found that jotting down art notes while writing is helpful although you don’t want to get too detailed as you make your first pass of writing—it detracts from the flow of putting words down on paper. Still, when you get to it later, these notes will prove valuable. Your art order should include the optimal size of your illustration, the focal point, and any details crucial to understanding your text.

You can be extremely precise with what you want from the illustration, or you can trust your artist to be professional. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with people like Tony DiTerlizzi, so trusting my artist was easy. In most cases, your publisher works with professional, trained artists, so you should learn to trust them as well.

Equally important is a good map order. Making a good map order isn’t just drawing a couple of lines, throwing some numbers on it, and calling it a day. My method is to pencil in the map, mark it over with pen, erase the extraneous pencil, and then scan the map so I can clean it up digitally. Other people have more success with mapping programs or freehanding with a stylus. Whatever your method, you want your map to be clean and legible enough that your cartographer isn’t sending you messages asking what these spare lines are and how they fit into the rest of the area. Make sure every area you have in your text is shown on the map, and make sure every area shown on the map has at least one small blurb in the text. Yes, this is something else I learned the hard way.

If you’re looking for more tips on a good map turnover, check out this link from Sean K. Reynolds.

Finally, you want your file names to be consistent. If your publisher has a specific file name to use, use those. Otherwise, use names that describe the work you’re sending in. For instance, if you were working on Angry Kobold’s Revenge with a number of other contributors, you’d want a name that describes your portion and your contributions. For example:

Text turnover: AKR-Ch5-ColinM-Text

Art order: AKR-Ch5-ColinM-Art

Map order: AKR-Ch5-ColinM-Map

This helps your editor find, categorize, and file your work for easy access.

As usual, you can dig much deeper into each of these topics. Feel free to drop your questions and comments down below.

10 thoughts on “Now, the Twist: How to Make a Good Turnover”

  1. Another excellent piece! As a freelance writer and illustrator, I found this one particularly informative on many levels.

    Looking forward to the next installment as always!

  2. On some level, it amuses me that Colin wrote this particular piece.

    On another level, it’s clearly something every freelancer — including me — needs to read before making a turning. Man, I gotta do better on my map turnovers.

  3. This is good stuff. With a little massaging it applies just as well to illustrators: make sure you do everything to spec, be prepared to make different formats an option, be on time, be ready for last minute adjustments.

    A good, well written art order is priceless.

  4. Repetition is a big one in a lot of the stuff I’ve been editing lately. Overuse of the word “great” to mean “big” has moved to the top of my pet peeve list. Great doors, great pit, great hall, great everything. I’ve started searching files for that word and replacing it when it shows up more than once every few paragraphs.

  5. @Marc – Thanks again! A lot of the time when I’m writing these, I think, “But is this common knowledge or is this something that more people should know?” It’s only when I think back to when I was first working in the industry that I realize, “No, I didn’t know this,” and I’m glad it’s helpful.

    @Wolf – Perhaps I should have appended on the front: “As usual, this is something I have learned the hard way.*
    *and still work to put into practice”
    —but I’m glad to know that it’s not just me. Maybe next column should just be a checklist. :)

    @Jeff – As an illustrator, what do you like to see in an art order? Do you prefer reams of detail, or do you prefer leeway in your art?

    @Ray – You ought to replace “great” with “awesome” and send it back.

  6. I know this wasn’t directed at me, but as a fellow illustrator, I have an opinion :)

    I like a “medium” amount of detail in an art order. By that, I mean enough detail to get my mind thinking along the same lines as the author / designer BUT not so much that it is overwhelming or stifles my creativity.

    In short, I like to know I illustrating what the designer wants but I still want the freedom to do create something I am happy with.

  7. I’d like to take a second to plug a great website for map-making. Check out the Cartographer’s Guild (www.cartographersguild.com/). It’s a great forum with a lot of helpful people, and some great mapmaking tutorials.

  8. Great stuff again, Colin!

    For my current project, I had to have all the art briefs in right after the detailed outline and before serious work on text began. I was a bit stressed at first, just knowing that I’d kick myself later when something cooler came up, but the experience was excellent for solidifying the project in my head.

  9. Re: Colin and Ray, I’m trademarking “Awesome Dawizard” for my new role-playing game. Send me a nickel each for using said TM, please. ;)

    Good post, Colin; very good column with important info (that too easily leaks from my brain too, the longer I get away from being the editor of said turnovers).

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