How to write and publish an origami book part 2: Negotiating the contract and writing the book

In the first article we discussed how to go from a book idea to submitting a proposal to a publisher. This article looks at what’s involved, including agreeing a contract and writing the book.

Tasks and roles

First, we’ll consider the tasks and roles needed to publish a book. You may need to fulfil one or more of these roles but it is unlikely that you can fulfil all of these:

  • Writer: writes the content. This may be the writer’s own concept or made to order e.g. from a book packager.

  • Illustrator: draws the diagrams or may put symbols onto photo-diagrams.

  • Photographer: photographs and enhances pictures of origami. May also photograph the folding process for photo-diagrams.

  • Editor: selects and assembles the material; changes it for clarity, brevity, coherence and correctness.

  • Designer: lays out the content using a consistent style. Ideally this is attractive, functional and of suitably high production value.

  • Jacket designer: designs the cover.

  • Proofreader: checks for typographic errors.

  • Indexer: makes the index.

  • Publisher: coordinates the book production. Responsible for ISBN, fulfilling orders (to wholesalers, booksellers and readers) and following the law on libel, copyright and accounting.

  • Printer: prints and binds the book.

  • Marketer: makes potential readers aware of the book.

  • Distributors and retailers: wholesalers sell to retailers who then sell to customers.

  • After sales support: answers questions from readers e.g. clarification of steps, corrections, etc.


Traditionally publishers pay an advance on royalties. Sometimes the advance is paid on publication. Large advances are often used for publicising blockbusting fiction, but for you a modest advance is a sign that the publisher is investing in your book before a copy has been sold. Some books are written for a fixed fee: these are typically commissions from book packagers or commissioning editors.

You must set a realistic deadline for submitting your manuscript. It needn’t be exactly the same as in the proposal as circumstances may have changed, or you now know more about the work involved. If you are late, the publisher’s schedules and teams will be knocked out and time wasted. If you are early, or on time, then you will earn a good reputation for any subsequent books.

Carefully examine the contract, especially your rights. If you are uncomfortable with a clause, ask for an explanation and do not be fobbed off with “it’s a standard clause”. Consult an expert if needed, e.g. in Britain, try the Society of Authors,


Your book sample will set your writing tone and style. My aim was to be approachable and authoritative: friendly but not over-familiar. You could choose five adjectives as ideals to achieve and five to avoid e.g.

Aim to be…

Avoid being…











If you’re not sure, try describing books like yours e.g. what might fit this bill?

Aim to be…

Avoid being…











In general, clear writing uses simple words in short sentences. It avoids the passive voice. You are writing to be understood by the reader. You can address your audience with “you”. Avoid cliches and redundant words. A variety of sentence length and structure can make writing more pleasant to read.

Take time to use the right words. Remove verbiage. Writers sometimes moan about editing and redrafting, but these stages will make your work exceptional. Our minds usually see what they want to see, so leave enough time to revisit your work with fresh eyes. You will spot errors and clumsy writing that were previously invisible.

If you find writing difficult, you could start by writing as if you were speaking to an interested layperson. However, writing is different from speaking: you will need a structure for your ideas so they flow. Consult writing guides for more advice (some are mentioned in the next article).


For diagrams, try integrating the text with the pictures. This means the reader’s eyes don’t need to flick back and forth across the page when reading the text and looking at the picture. In the past the text was on a separate page from the diagrams because the reproduction of diagrams was harder than today. Sometimes it still happens to make translation easier. (By the way, if you are expecting to translate from English to other languages, leave more space than seems necessary as some other languages tend to use more and/or longer words.)

Avoid labelling the diagram and using old-fashioned geometry-style instructions. For example, instead of writing “fold corner A of square ABCD to corner C”, you could use “fold the top left corner to the bottom right corner”. Both of these help the reader by focusing their attention on what’s important (the top left and bottom right corners) without mentioning the irrelevant – why label corners B and D if they’re not referred to?

A layout of flowing diagrams, sometimes called boustrophedon, can be appealing. These diagrams of Robert Neale’s Pinwheel-Ring-Pinwheel are an example where the wide grey line guides the reader’s eyes around the page: left to right, then right to left, then left to right.

Diagrams for Magic Star (Pinwheel-Ring-Pinwheel) by Robert Neale using a flowing layout
Diagrams for Magic Star (Pinwheel-Ring-Pinwheel) by Robert Neale using a flowing layout

However, if the diagrams take more than one page then the “snake” of diagrams might start at the bottom of second page. You cannot guarantee that the diagrams will appear on the facing pages of a double-page spread. This means a simple row and column format (left to right, top to bottom as in English writing) is more flexible and easier to follow, even if it seems pedestrian.

Try to use a whole number of pages for each model to give you flexibility in compiling and ordering diagrams. Do not cram content: use white space to let the diagrams breathe. On the other hand, too much white space may make readers think that you don’t have enough material and are padding it out.


Some simple graphic design principles are:

  • Hierarchy of information. Readers should be able to perceive the relative importance of information.

  • Consistency. Page elements should be in the same position on each page; information of the same importance should have the same style.

  • Alignment. Align objects horizontally and vertically, if appropriate.

  • Focus and contrast. Try to make one object the main focus of a page and lead the viewer’s eye around the page. You could also use two or more objects that contrast in some way to engage the viewer e.g. “odd-one-out”.

Choosing typefaces can cause much debate. Try to avoid personal favourites unless they help achieve your aims. I used a particular script typeface (like handwriting) for its informal yet refined appearance. Using reversed text (white text on black) alluded to the chalk writing on movie clapperboards. The script fonts contrasted with the sans serif body text which is known as a classic British typeface.

Use your program’s styles feature so that all headings have the same format. When using italics, make the size about half a point bigger than non-italic text so that their heights match. Note that italics makes texts narrower, which can be useful if space is tight.

Use high quality fonts instead of cheap or free fonts, which can suffer from problems that might not be immediately obvious e.g. missing glyphs, poor kerning or limited weights. Although derided by some designers, the fonts that come with your operating system are likely to be excellent quality and much cheaper than buying from a foundry. The only drawbacks may be the limited variations of a typeface e.g. regular, bold and italic are available but not bold italic nor semi-bold. Some typefaces e.g. Comic Sans and Copperplate are over-familiar or have a gimmicky nature.

The overall design should meet its audience’s needs. It’s said that skilled designers can make work for people unlike themselves. This means that you might use design ideas that you’re not fond of. For example, I usually don’t like gradient fills, rules, reversed text and drop shadows. However, I used these in Action Modular Origami. Why? They help organise the information and their consistent use means the reader concentrates on what’s important: how to fold the models. However, diagrams of 2D steps don’t have gradient fills as I feel that they can be distracting and may be misleading.

Graphic design often works by evoking memories and feelings in the user of similar material. It also uses viewers’ experiences of other material as a kind of short cut: using familiar film strips (symbolic instead of realistic) solves the problem of showing the same model in different positions. Using the same typeface, or closely related typeface, as British brands like the BBC, John Lewis and Penguin Books, Gill Sans might subconsciously make the viewer transfer these organisations’ values to your work.

It should go without saying that software, including fonts, should be correctly licensed. These costs can be deducted from your book income in your tax return. Adequate for most people’s needs are:


So, you’ve negotiated and signed a contract. You’ve written and submitted the manuscript to the publisher. What’s next? Production, marketing and other considerations that you might not have thought of before.