Head First Production Workflow and Word List

Head First Production Workflow

For the art library and a guide to getting started writing a Head First book, see https://github.com/oreillymedia/headfirst-author-materials. Your editor can set you up with access. Some style guide materials for the 2021 redesign are available at https://oreil.ly/hfstyle_2021.

Head First books are unique in many ways, including the production process. For one, Head First books do not receive a copyedit, but undergo a robust proofread with a brief review period by the author. Please note that authors will have only two review periods for Head First books (QC1 and QC2).

Initial QA/intake (~1–3 days)

Production editor takes a look at the InDesign files submitted to production and confirms we have all required fonts and graphics. Any problems due to missing links or incorrect fonts will be resolved at this point, prior to QC1 and proofread. It’s important that authors don’t make any changes to the files during this time (or at any time during production unless scheduled with the production editor).

QC1 (Quality Check #1)/proofread/index (~8–10 days)

The production editor generates a PDF of the book and sends it to the author as well as a proofreader. We also hire an indexer, who will write an index using tags embedded directly into the source files. The author and proofreader review the book and make comments on the PDF. At this time, the author should confirm that any cross-references to other pages are accurate and final.

QC1 Author Review (~3 days)

There is a brief period after QC1 review where the author reviews the proofreader's edits. This is the author's chance to reply to all queries and help guide any global changes that should or should not be made. The author should also finalize all running headers (if left blank when submitted to production). After the QC1 review period ends, the production editor enters the proofreader’s and author’s edits into the source files and sends the draft index to the author for review.

Index review and QC1 Edits Entered (~8 days)

The production editor sends a draft PDF of the index to the author for review. At this time, the production editor enters QC1 edits (from the author and proofreader) into the source files.

QC2 (Quality Check #2) (~4 days)

The edits from QC1 have been made to the files, and the production editor generates a new PDF. The QC2 PDF goes only to the author, but the production editor also does their own final review of the book at this time. The indexer works in the source files to make the edits that the author has requested.

QC2 Edits Entered (~3 days)

The production editor enters all final edits from the QC2 review (their own and the author's). All layouts are final at this stage, so the production editor can manually generate the TOC based on each chapter's headers.

OTD (“Out the Door”) (~1–2 days)

The production editor sends the book to a colleague for a final internal review. Nothing substantial can be changed without missing the scheduled print date.

FTP (Files to Printer)

Once the final files have been approved, we send everything to the printer!


The production editor takes care of post-production, which involves requesting final ebook formats (.epub and .mobi) for distribution to the necessary channels. The production editor also sends the author a final email with instructions detailing how authors can use the Errata Portal and stay up-to-date with their books. Once this email goes out, production is officially finished! In general, printed books are available in stores ~15 business days after the FTP date.

Head First Style Sheet Conventions


Should end with a period if they contain one or more complete sentences. Otherwise, if it's a phrase or fragment, no period. Watch out for two periods at the end of a sentence in these. (It's hard to see periods in the Skippy Sharp font onscreen, so authors often add an extra by mistake.) Never put text in annotations in black (it should always be 61% gray). To emphasize words, use hand-drawn underlines with the pencil tool.


Single and double quotation marks in code should be straight, not curly. You can find the correct characters in the Type → Glyphs window.

Crossword Puzzles

To create Crossword Puzzles, authors will use https://crosswordhobbyist.com/. Your Editor will get you set up with an account.

A note on timing: Creation of Crossword Puzzles should happen toward the end of book development, once your Head First book is nearly complete (the chapters need to be nearly complete so that authors can figure out the words and clues for the crossword puzzle). This should be done ~2 months prior to submitting the book to production (or around the time the final round of tech review is being done).

General steps are as follows:

  • Editor requests author alias to be created for https://crosswordhobbyist.com.

  • Author is given access to the account

  • Author creates crossword

  • Author selects the “make printable” option and signs in

  • Author saves image files of the crossword, including: empty crossword with clues, and completed/solved crossword (see Tips below)

  • Author inserts the image files of the crosswords into the indd files of their Head First book

Tips for generating crosswords:

  • You can get both versions of the puzzle (blank and answer key) by exporting the PDF twice; there's a way to toggle between Hide Answers and Show Answers, so simply toggle and hit the "Save as PDF" button when the website UI shows the version you're looking for.

  • There are no font options, but you can change the size of grid, background color, and shift things around the grid (space allowing).

  • One neat feature is that if you make a list of terms, crosswordify them, and realize you left one out or made a typo, you can hit "Un-Arrange" to migrate your word list back to the list on the left so you can edit and then re-crosswordify them.


If you have lots of questions, make sure you check to see if everything fits on just one page when you "print" it to PDF (if it's more than one page, a scrollbar appears). If it goes over, make sure you've got it set up (in the File > Page Setup menu) to use the LEGAL size (the default size is US LETTER). If it still goes over, remove some questions and solutions.

Dotted lines in exercises

  • Blank lines should be: 100% Black and dotted.

  • You can change the annotations used as solution text to have a Leading of 16pt to make them look less like annotations. Leading is the same as line spacing. To change it, look for the top right-hand option in the two column dropdowns in the Character palette (the A above another A with a vertical double-headed arrow next to the bottom A).

  • Then make sure your dotted lines are just beneath each line of text. You may or may not want to repeat the blanks in the solution. Sometimes they're useful, other times, they make it harder to see what's going on (if there are a lot of annotations, for instance).

  • [NB British authors: a blank is not a space (as we are used to), but a dotted line denoting a blank space above it for the learner to write in. If your editor asks for blanks, put in some dotted lines!]


  • Usually should be on recto pages, and whenever possible we put solutions on the following verso page. (We really, really try to avoid putting the solutions in upside-down text at the bottom of the exercise.)

  • If answers are not on the following page, exercise should have the text "Answers on page xx", and the exercise solution should have the text "From page xx". Instructions should usually be duplicated on solutions page.

  • The "Answers on page xx" element is included in the exercises library included with the template [hf_exercises.indl]

Fireside Chats

Headers for the two "characters" talking should appear on both pages if chat covers a full spread.

Hand-drawn underlines

Should match the shade of black used in the text—e.g., underlines in annotations should be 61% gray, and those in sidebars should be 100% black.


Standard heads at the top of the page should be sentence capped. In other words, only the first word is capitalized. All other words are lowercase.

Page-Goal Headers

  • On the top of every verso page. Always contain custom text that summarizes what the page is about. When possible, should not duplicate the text of any Heads on the page. Alternately shaded black and gray to highlight.

  • Should be done absolute last thing when all the pagination is correct. Because they're page template items and are aligned using the spine, this can cause "unlocked" headers (e.g. those that have been altered by the author) to "ghost" behind the chapter title on recto pages.


I've added information on screenshots to the Authors subdomain. Those of you who need to take screenshots should check it out, there are some useful shortcuts up there.


Use the character style Emphasic_Italics, not Code. (Note from Sanders: Yes, I know this a departure from the past, but it's consistent with styles in all O'Reilly's other book series, it makes it easier to fit long URLs on one line, and I think it looks prettier. So I'm going to bat for this one.) [Same goes for pathnames, filenames, and directories.]

Head First Word List

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | XYZ |