I have been shocked—shocked!—by the amount of interest in this post since it was written up on Kottke.org. Usually when I talk about what I do, people are like, “Uh huh, that sounds really, um, interesting. So, do you design covers, too?” Covers are sexy; everybody notices book covers, even if they don’t read much; no, I don’t do covers. (Well, I’ve done three. One was an unfortunate accident, and the other two are nothing special.) So, yes, all this sudden interest is very interesting to me. Plus—happy graph! Woo!
What’s been even more surprising, though, is that so far no other designers have dropped in to say, “You’re reading the castoff numbers all wrong.” “I can’t believe you used a typeface called fucking ‘Manticore’ for a fucking fantasy book!” “Trim size is actually determined based on X, Y, and Z.” “Quark is the best piece of software in the universe!” And nobody’s said, “But, the process for designing a cookbook/dictionary/art book/computer book is totally different; your half-assed workflow would never work for that.”
I’d like to know more about how others do this stuff. The only formal descriptions I’ve ever read of the process are in Richard Hendel’s On Book Design, about which all I clearly remember is being surprised by how many of the designers profiled in the book claimed to actually read the text they were handling. (As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I skim but make no attempt to read the whole book.) So, if you’re a fellow designer, please put your two cents in. I do subscribe to a lot of design blogs, but rarely do I see anybody else talking about designing book interiors. We can’t all do advertising and jackets and Web sites and packaging, can we?
I’m also very interested in being enlightened by people who know more about the dirty back-room dealings from which all these pesky numbers are generated. I did try to get my head around my colleague Anna Genoese’s breakdown of P&Ls and how books make (or don’t) money, but it doesn’t reveal much about how the decisions affecting my work get made—trim, page count, illustration budget. I could, I suppose, walk into my boss’s office and ask, but where would be the sport in that? Besides, then he might notice that I’ve never worked at a place that has budgets before.
And that’s another thing. My background is working in nonprofits, anarchic independent presses, less-than-two-person staffs, sweatshops. There are more people on just my floor than there have been at any entire company for which I have previously worked (unless you count Tower Books); my immediate colleagues are spread over three floors. My work style was developed in low- or no-budget, short-staffed, short-run, fast-turnaround environments. I know how to do a lot of stuff, quite fast, quite cheap, and quite carefully, but there are gaps in my understanding of how a publishing company works that would no doubt baffle some of the people with whom I now spend my days. But even I don’t know where most of those gaps are until somebody asks me a question and I realize that I have no clue what the answer might be.
So if you have questions, please ask them. And if you have answers, please answer.