Alternate Facts about book design, topography typography, and printing

While searching for something completely different (isn’t that always the best way to find things?), I just stumbled across this hilarious three-year-old post by Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light: Interesting misinformation.

They call themselves Back Yard Publisher, but I prefer the page’s title tag: Publishing Your Manuescript. Their motto is good, too: Remember! There’s A Publisher in You’re Own Back Yard.

But wait—it gets better:

BYP’s biggest contribution to our understanding of movable lead type is the Alternate Fact that lead was wholly inadequate to the task:

Letter press printing is the original method of transferring ink to paper which was the predominant method of printing until the last thirty to fifty years. In this method ink is rolled on the face of the type, then a piece of paper is pressed into the wet ink and transferred to the paper. Obviously the method worked very well, although the pressure necessary to transfer the ink to the paper created many problems by smashing the soft lead type and making it useless. Letter press is seldom used today.

And no wonder. This unfortunate property of lead type also affected typography:

Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type in 1440 and every since that time there has been a struggle between topographers, the people who design the type and the printers or use it.

Typographers have been concerned with how the type appeared on the page and how easily it could be read. …

Printers, on the other hand, have had to deal with a different set of problems, one of the biggest was the smashing and destruction of their precious type. This was especially true when one line of type extended beyond the normal ends of the rows of type. To prevent this destruction of the type the printer simply put some of the spacing he would normally have at the end of the lines between the words (called word spacing) or between the letters (called letter spacing) thus, solving his problem. When this happened we then had a justified page.

This is the only reason there ever was a justified page; …

Which makes the carefully justified lettering in some medieval manuscripts a complete mystery.

It’s a howl. How did I miss this when it was first posted?

6 thoughts on “Alternate Facts about book design, topography typography, and printing

  1. HA!

    I laughed out loud and startled VERY SERIOUS engineers walking by.

    What a hoot. Thanks for posting…

  2. OMG you learn something new every day. FOR EXAMPLE: the spacing between letters is called LETTER SPACING. Thank God for Web sites like this that throw open the doors of jargon and explain them to ordinary people! :-P :-P

  3. In the News: The Chicago Manual of Style Online

    The online publication of The Chicago Manual of Style sparked pre-release feature stories in several publications including the New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education, heralding the transformation of a venerable reference work into a digi…

  4. Did you catch the subtitle of his book? “A practical guide to getting your manuscript earning big money.”

    I’m glad I read it though. So many things about paper, binding and cover design I never knew. I bet not one of the publishers or printers I’ve worked with over the years ever knew this stuff, either. Sheesh. How is it possible to get so much so wrong?

  5. I’ve designed a few book covers but NOW I SEE I’ve been wasting my time and the publisher’s money. Note that the THIRD choice, after a no-charge cover and designing it yourself, is the professional designer:

    The design of your cover can be accomplished in one of three ways. 1. Back Yard Publisher will design a cover which will require your approval. There is no charge for this service. 2. You can design your own cover. Artwork can be scanned and included at no additional cost. 3. You can have a cover professionally designed. Back Yard publisher will help you locate a professional designer. All agreements and fees are the responsibility of the author. Most professional designers charge fees starting at $100.00 and go up from there. Note: White ink cannot be printed on colored paper to get white lettering. You must print on white paper to get white lettering or artwork on your cover. If you print with white ink on a red paper you will get a pink letter rather then the white lettering.
  6. I found another one, no where nearly as good as yours, but interesting: BookMark Self Publishing

    Where you’re find such goodies as, “Any files produced in RGB (red, green, black) format will…” and this, “How much “trim” should I have on my covers? Please avoid placing any important elements of your cover design within 1/8” of the edges — as this will accentuate any discrepancies in trimming alignment.”

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