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
- ad card
- copyright acknowledgments
- author’s preface
- bastard title
- 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”:
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)
* The UK usage on group nouns has been growing on me. [back to top]