Well, nobody can accuse book designers of price fixing.

revised price list

Tom Christensen did an informal survey of four book designers to find out how much they’d charge for a hypothetical job.

I was trying to determine a reasonable price for a 320-page hardcover collected poems, interior and cover/jacket design. . . .

According to the 2001 edition of the Graphic Artists Guild handbook of Pricing and Ethics, for an average poetry book a designer might charge $7,500 to $15,000 to design and set the interior plus $1000–$2000 for the jacket. That gives a total range of $8500–17,000. Those figures are seven years old, but several people say the prices in this publication skew high.

Yes, in my experience, they do.

The results? Each different, like a snowflake: $3,100, $8,000, $8,800, and $12,800. See Tom’s post for each designer’s breakdown of charges: rightreading: Book design fees.

Photo: price list by Nick Sherman; some rights reserved.

A PSA to U.S. publishers that do not have legal departments

(and to anyone else in the United States who hires freelance designers):

If the designer of your book’s jacket or interior is not an employee of your company, rather than an independent contractor, and if you do not have a written contract that expressly says that the design work was done “for hire,” then you do not own the design.

This means that if you or anyone else wishes to reuse it—say, if you sell paperback or foreign rights to another publisher—you can’t just send along the layout files. You do not own them. They do not belong to you. You must negotiate a usage fee with the designer. It will probably cost you money.

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The Motherlode of Vintage Bookbinding History

swirly bindings

Earlier this week, Miss Sheila Ryan, archivist extraordinaire, drew my attention to the 2008 winner of the award for Best Online Archival Exhibition, as reported by Kate Theimer at ArchivesNext.com: “Publishers’ Bindings Online, 1815–1930: The Art of Books,” created by the University of Alabama, University Libraries, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries.

It has taken me so long to blog the news because this collection is sick—sick, I tell you: more than five thousand books, in various states of decay. Some are fabulous; some are homely; it would take weeks to look at them all. Every time I thought I had a good selection with which to illustrate this post, I’d find twenty more that I love.

The only problem with this archive? You can’t bookmark specific pages within the collection, as you have to have a valid session ID. And if you let your browser sit idle for too long, your session times out. Maddening! If anyone can find a way around this, please let me know. I’ve been dumping covers into Flickr so I can find them again.

More samples after the jump . . .
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Interview with Peter Mendelsund

book covers by Peter Mendelsund

A lot of great stuff in this interview with Peter Mendelsund by Christopher Tobias at design:related:

I definitely gravitate towards using illustration, in general, more than photography in book jackets; and the more abstract the better. I think this approach leaves more to the reader’s imagination. It’s easier to be evocative without being literal. Though, upon reflection, those geometric jackets were to some extent influenced by the fact that they were all designed in Quark, which, really because of the limitations of the software, one finds oneself designing with the most accessible tools—boxes, circles, in flat colors or simple blends on top of art. It’s more tempting in that environment to simply place a shape on top of art. In PhotoShop, or InDesign, of course, because of the ease of blending layers, compositions tend to be denser, shapes more amorphous, and the final result, well, more photographic. We need software updates here at Knopf.

Cant. Stick. To. Just. One. Quote. . . .
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My friend, the Wizard

DVD covers art directed by Eric Skillman

My friend and fellow club member Eric Skillman, an associate art director at the Criterion Collection, has been interviewed over at WizardUniverse.com. They’re rather in need of a proofreader, but Eric’s intelligence and charm nevertheless come through.

For example I’m looking over the DVD’s on my desk —[Aikira Kurosawa’s] “Drunken Angel”, which is one we did with Jock (The Losers, Green Arrow: Year One, Faker). There’s a scene towards the end of the film where the characters are wresting around and the Matsunaga character knocks over into some cans of paint, and the paint spills in an artful kind of way and what was his black suit gets covered in white paint, so its a sort of a transformative moment where he’s rebelling against the Yakuza influence, which is represented by the snazzy black suit that he’s been wearing and he becomes purified in that scene. We took that and said that sort of scene and idea is what we want to riff off of. We took that to Jock, along with this idea that there’s this sump thing in the middle of the town that’s full of mud and its like this sucking hole that the center of town is being sucked down by the Yakuza influence, so we said maybe give us a backdrop of this muddy, crappy, sumpy grossness then a slosh of white paint with the character sort of crawling through it, and then he took that and abstracted it one step further and did his thing and then that became the cover.

Do freelance artists usually get notes like that?


The Wizard Q&A: Eric Skillman, by David Paggi, posted 2/11/2008.

To see more of Eric’s work (other than at your local video store) and to read a lot more about his design process, see his fine, upstanding blog: Cozy Lummox.

Books on the why/how of book interior design?

Woman consulting a book

Commenter “elle” is trying to find a book that’s “kind of like a manual on how to design interiors.”

Like why you use a space break, why you indent certain amounts, why chapters start new right and things that break down the skeleton of a book. It’s something that is never really taught and you kind of do these things without a reason why, its simply because “you just do.” Do you know why a part opener always starts new right backed blank? I don’t. I just know it does.

Why do we have double breaks? Why does the text start flush left afterwards?

Anyone? Anyone? The usual books I recommend are The Elements of Typographic Style and The Complete Manual of Typography, but neither of these goes into the reasons behind design conventions, as far as I can recall.


Photo: Girl inspector confers with a worker as she makes a a careful check of center wings for C-47 transport planes, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif. Photographed by Alfred T. Palmer. From the Library of Congress’s Flickr project. No known copyright restrictions.

A thin slice of history

image thumbnails from English Literature Flickr set

I was looking for a particular image (which I did not find) on Google Books last week, and I stumbled across this fabulous tome: English Literature: An Illustrated Record in Four Volumes. Volume II: From the Age of Henry VIII to the Age of Milton. Part II, by Richard Garnett and Edmund Gosse (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1905). It has illustrations on nearly every page, most of which are title pages from the books under discussion. Some are gorgeous, some are appalling, nearly all are interesting. And they’re all well within the public domain.
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How stylish are you?

Woman applying lipstick

How do you name your style sheets, those of you who bother to use them at all? Below are some of the most common style names I use for book work, which are cribbed from various sources. I use these same abbreviations to key manuscripts on those rare occasions when I’m copyediting text for someone else to typeset.

Warning: This is supernerdy. Do not click “more” unless you are prepared to be bored out of your skull.
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Is an educated author our best customer?

unhappy author at work on an earlier stage of the book

At the beginning of this week, I spent part of my lunch hour at the cafeteria (aka Whole Foods) casually consulting with a friend of a friend who’s checking the page proofs for her first book. It’s an anthology of articles about filmmaking, and it’s being brought forth by a reputable publisher of scholarly and professional books. Unfortunately for the author, her publisher is determined to produce the book as cheaply as possible: completely generic and poorly thought-out design, executed by apparently quite error-prone compositors in Hong Kong. She loathes the display type, she doubts the wisdom of the layout, she’s unhappy with the cover, . . . and her publisher has been fighting her at every step, since the moment the contract was signed. All in all, she’s not having a very warm and fuzzy experience as a first-time author.

And I’m torn, because she’s right—the interior design is hideous, and a lot of the layout choices just don’t make sense. For instance, perhaps half of the articles are interviews, and they’ve been indented on both sides, for their entire length. This wastes so much space that the body type in the book as a whole has had to be squeezed down quite small in order to make castoff. The design of the epigraphs and head notes is also ill-considered, and the front matter and display type throughout are extremely homely: too many fonts, too many styles, and utterly random indents throughout.

These are problems that a competent book designer/compositor, such as, oh, me or the designer friend through whom I know this person, could fix in one to two hours. I am dead certain that I could make the whole thing look much more inviting and coherent, while sticking to the desired page count, in less time than it will take the distraught author to mark up every single chapter title to be even small caps instead of caps + hideous fake small caps, as my friend and I cautiously recommended.

At the same time, however, looking wincingly at her stack of proofs, covered with Post-Its and liberally scrawled with deletions and additions, wordy corrections using nonstandard proofreading symbols, and requests for global layout changes, I deeply pity and sympathize with her editor and production crew. Continue reading “Is an educated author our best customer?”