Pinch on pages

Hawthorne page spreads

Pinch, a design office in Portland, Oregon, have* shared a summary of their typographic standards for Hawthorne Books, a literary press also in Portland. And while I very much like the house design they’ve come up with, I have a few quibbles with their write-up of same.

Pages are expensive, and here is where working with smaller press runs is helpful. Random House, for example, would have a big problem with running this little content on a two-page spread, because they are budgeting their books to the fraction of a penny—a meaningful amount when you’re printing a half-million copies. At 5,000 copies? Not so much, and frankly, this material—dedication, acknowledgements, epigrams—is important to the writer. To isolate it, to give it the weight it deserves, is again a function of respect to both writer and reader.

Now, I’ve never worked for Random House, but we had some pretty big print runs on some of the things I worked on at St. Martin’s. And I can tell you that the default front-matter pagination was just as airy and light as what’s shown in the Hawthorne spreads. For example, just to pull a random book from my sample shelf, in Ben Bova’s Sam Gunn Omnibus, we have

  1. half-title
  2. ad card
  3. title
  4. copyright
  5. copyright acknowledgments
  6. blank
  7. dedication
  8. blank 9–10. TOC
  9. epigraph
  10. blank
  11. author’s preface
  12. blank
  13. bastard title
  14. blank
  15. chapter opener

Now, it’s true, we didn’t often have that many pages of front matter, but the house preference was to place dedication, acknowledgments, and epigraphs on recto pages, faced with blanks where necessary, and to include a bastard title. If I needed to move or delete one of these elements, I would clear it with the production editors.

Meanwhile, among a random sampling of four Random House books from the shelf next to my sofa, three include all the trimmings; only one omits the bastard title. So while there’s a lot that can be lamented about cost-cutting at large publishing houses, I don’t think this particular complaint holds up.

Moving on . . .

There is a custom, in traditional book design, to drop page numbers and folio lines on the first and last pages of a chapter. We never understood why that custom existed; here, the numbers and folios exist so long as there is content on a page, and serve to define the leftmost margin; we have also swapped their traditional positions, so that the title of the book is in the recto and author is on the verso (see next page); this provides a coherent hierarchy from book title to chapter title (or number) and is useful if the book is used in a context where portions of it may be photocopied.

Again, maybe I’m just weird, but whether I include the page number on a chapter opener depends on the nature of the book, and the overall design. I guess I drop them more often than I include them, but it’s not as important in a novel, where nobody’s going to be looking stuff up in a TOC. And I’ve never heard of omitting the folio on the last page of a chapter, unless it’s blank and you’re starting each chapter on a new recto page.

Re running heads, the style at Tor/Forge for single-author works was title recto, author verso. I don’t think that’s at all uncommon.

Because a range-left text block is by nature asymmetrical, there was no particular reason to lay out the pages symmetrically. We chose to hang the text block from a larger than average sink that shows a clear hierarchy between the text and the governing folio. And leaves plenty of room for the reader’s thumbs on the sides and tail.

I would definitely not characterize this foot margin as affording “plenty of room for the reader’s thumbs”:

Hawthorne page spread

I like a big sink and all, but I’m pretty sure I’d find holding this book irritating.

Another thing that comes to mind, looking at this standardized design, is, “What would all of Tom’s ‘sensitivity to content’ people say to this? Because those comments on his blog have been on my mind a lot, bugging me for reasons I can’t entirely articulate. I know that one part of it is, “So, do you feel that a publisher’s having a consistent template for all its books, as Hawthorne does, and as Penguin developed under Tschichold, and as many European publishers do, is being insensitive to content?” Because Pinch clearly see it another way:

When we started working for Hawthorne, we decided we wanted to develop a set of standards for how their books were typeset, for several reasons. One was brand: a Hawthorne book, we reasoned, represented a certain set of values, a consistent, coherent approach to content. A good, strong set of standards would ensure that the typography would serve the content and not be tempted into decoration or self-expression.

And, as they go on to say, standardized design is more economical, especially for small publishers. I think more presses should be doing it, even though it would mean less work for me and my friends. And as further proof of Hawthorne’s being ahead of the curve, according to their website they put the money that they (I hope) save on design into the stuff that (I believe) is going to become increasingly important:

All of our titles are published as affordable original trade paperbacks but feature details not typically found even in case bound titles from bigger houses: acid-free papers; sewn bindings that will not crack; heavy, laminated covers with double-scored French flaps that function as built-in bookmarks.

Go on with your bad selves.

What do you make of all this?

(Via i love typography)


Bonus: I enjoyed reading Pinch’s Desiderata and jobs pages. Perhaps you will, too.

* The UK usage on group nouns has been growing on me. [back to top]

3 Responses

  1. xensen
    xensen February 9, 2009 at 2:47 am |

    I’m all for standards, but not so keen on keeping to a strict template that is applied from book to book like industrial products being stamped out on a conveyor belt. Not that that approach can’t produce good results, just that to me it takes some of the fun out of the process. Maybe how appropriate an approach it is depends on how narrow and consistent the editorial focus of the press is.

    I’m not sure it’s a good idea for most publishers to think about book design as a vehicle for press branding, unless they are textbook publishers or the like. I admit I wish the word “branding” had never left the cattle ranch.

    On the spread shown, the big sink is nice enough but then to go so deep with the text block offends my eye — I’d want to turn the book upside down. But probably many people would not be bothered by this. In a way it’s like reading in a browser, where all the navigation crap at the top makes you start down a ways, and then the text runs off the bottom.

    For RHs, title recto / author verso is common but not one of the most helpful arrangements, since most readers know what book they’re reading and who the author is. This is a case where I think the content of the book does come into play. For some books it might be more helpful to show part title / chapter title, or other kinds of arrangements.

    The comments on that blog post took me back a bit as well. They weren’t what I was expecting, which I think was my fault for not posing the question very well. I’m glad to hear people champion design that responds to content, because that is certainly a good thing. But it’s also kind of an easy thing to say, and it would be nice to have more particulars about what that entails, exactly.

  2. Adam McIsaac
    Adam McIsaac February 9, 2009 at 1:54 pm |

    Dear India –

    Thanks for your thoughtful write-up on our write-up. I suspect that you may be the first person who has actually read it since I wrote it, which makes me feel a little less lonely.

    I think you’re materially right on all of your comments. The content on our site is geared toward client types and as such contains certain amounts of bluster that, now that I hear them echoed back from a pro, make me cringe maybe a little.

    I stand by the sentiment, though. A random sampling of one’s own library may not turn up much to be outraged about, but I still get hella irritated when I pick up a casebound book at Powell’s to find the same bookblock, perfect-binding and all, that I will enjoy in the trade paperback edition six months hence. I get irritated a lot.

    Hawthorne live in a strange zone between casebound and paperback: in designing for the latter, we were determined not to give up any of the things we loved about the former. So we bind in wraps, because we can’t afford a case; but we can afford to sew, which is probably more important anyway. And so on.

    Regarding the standards and Tom’s comment above: we put standards in place for our client’s economy and for our own convenience, as we don’t use an outside compositor and the nominal fees we charge Hawthorne would be rendered even more so by adding text design approval to the process. Brand came into it by perhaps the third season, when it became clear the press was going to be around for awhile. But: I’m on Tschichold’s side on this one.

    Although, as an older fart, I don’t like the term “branding”, either, I have to respectfully disagree that text design shouldn’t be part of it, especially for a smaller concern like Hawthorne, which survives by building a community around itself. We approach our work with our eye as firmly fixed on Parnassus as the next guy, but for a publisher to survive, she has to sell books. One of the ways that we do that is by building relationships with our buyers — by consistency of repertoire, editing, and experience. That sounds like marketing crap — and it is, it is! — but think about the feelings you may have toward Penguin versus those, if any, you may have toward Random House. Penguin have a — if you’ll pardon the expression — strong brand, and have had for a very long time. RH doesn’t.

    I fell in love with Wendell Berry’s works through his relationship with Counterpoint, which published his paperbacks. Lovely setting of Sabon (Tschichold, again), and although the covers were nothing to write home about, there was an underlying dignity to the book as object which made me feel as if someone — a real person — was looking after the details. That’s the kind of experience I’m trying to give to Hawthorne’s readers.

    And trying. Seven years later, we’re still not there. We’ll probably refresh the text setting in the next season; I’m not as chuffed about Paperback as I was in 2004. I’m not giving up my rag, though.

    As far as the sink goes: shoot me your snail-mail address offline, I’ll send you one of Hawthorne’s books, and you can see for yourself. I’d be happy — and flattered — to have your unvarnished opinion. Thanks again.

    All best,

    ABMcI

  3. India
    India February 9, 2009 at 8:04 pm |

    Hi, Adam. Thanks for commenting!

    I can’t be the only person who’s read that page, because I found it through iLT. Are you suggesting that Mr. Boardley posts links to things he hasn’t read? Heavens!

    Even though I’m far, far from a pro, I do know what you mean about disappointing production values. Just this weekend, I broke in a new Chronicle cookbook—and I use that idiom literally: the spine, perfectly square, gave a loud crunch as I spread the book open to the desired recipe. It’s a sewn binding, sure, but it’s obviously not going to last. Meanwhile, I was looking at a Japanese book the other day, and it had the most beautifully rounded, indestructible spine; lovely paper; what looked like sewn headbands; . . . I know, I know, the business is completely different in other countries. But it still makes me sad.

    . . . there was an underlying dignity to the book as object which made me feel as if someone — a real person — was looking after the details. That’s the kind of experience I’m trying to give to Hawthorne’s readers.

    Yes, I think that comes through very strongly. If it didn’t, your design standards wouldn’t have been worth a moment’s perusal.

    But do tell me more about Paperback! I’ve been interested in it for some time, but I’ve never gotten to play with it.

    This is the reason fonts get whored around illegally so much, I decided the other day, when through no fault of my own I got to paw through somebody else’s extremely large and exciting type library. I greatly respect type designers and want them to get paid, but there’s no way I can tell if a typeface is worth investing hundreds of dollars in until I’ve tried to actually set a book in it. Looking at a specimen tells me what it looks like, but it doesn’t tell me what it’s like to work with—there are so many that look gorgeous on paper or onscreen but that are just too tiresome to wrestle on a real project. So I will probably never buy Paperback unless some employer or client has a copy I can test-drive first. And that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

    Sigh.

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