Designery People, Take Note:

Ampersand Duck has put up a pithy post about planning a printed publication, which is addressed to “aspiring artists and performers”—e.g., your friends and mine, who’re often asking if we can just help them design this little tiny promotional card or booklet or brochure, and then sticking us with an impossible deadline and budget, as well as worthless art and copy. And here is her story of why she was inspired to write the piece.

Sometimes you might get hit with poorly thought-out projects even at your day job, though of course I’ve never encountered such misfortunes myself.

I recommend that you write your own version of Ms. Duck’s how-to to address your own typical quick-and-dirty undertakings, and keep it handy to give to those talented friends when they inevitably ask you for help.

Checking Proofs

How much of a designer’s work consists of actual designing as opposed to meeting, doing paperwork, fiddling with FTP software, watching YouTube, organizing bloated font libraries, etc.? It depends on what kind of design you do, and what kind of place you work, but for most designers I’d guess that designing proper accounts for less than half of their time at work. Maybe less than a third. Of course, designers also tend to be constantly thinking about design, so you could say they’re designing around the clock; but while their heads are doing one thing, their hands are quite likely having to do another much less interesting thing.

For me, the bulk of my job consists of checking proofs. Not proofreading, which we hire someone to do, nor comparing old and new passes of a manuscript to make sure editorial corrections have been made correctly, which the production editor does, but checking for layout errors. There’s plenty of instruction on regular proofreading to be had (I recommend Mark My Words, if you want to go the book route; I’ve never taken a class in it myself, but I know many who’ve done so at NYU and the New School in NYC), but nobody’s ever told me how to check page layouts.

Well, not nobody. On my first or second day at this job, my teammate gave me a stack of manuscript and said to look for “weirdness.” That’s a bit vague for me, so in the past six months, I’ve come up with my own system:

Proofing notes

Hello, my name is India, and I am a geek. Continue reading “Checking Proofs”

What Happens When

I don’t have a good internal sense of time. I tend not to know what day it is, can’t guess the hour with any accuracy, forget to eat lunch until 3 p.m., often let my tea steep for far too long, never leave the office at 5:00 unless I have to be somewhere else (in which case I’m typically late), stay up til 1:00 almost every night even if I’m having to hold my eyelids up with toothpicks, and tend to underestimate how long it will take me to do things. I try to counter this deficiency by setting my watch and all the clocks in my house at least five minutes fast, always setting a timer when I make tea at home, and making vigorous use of the alarms in Entourage and Google Calendar.

At my last two jobs, the problem was compounded by the fact that there were no schedules—or, at least, none that were posted or that anybody paid attention to. At the latter place in particular, the work plan was a mystery served with warm enigma glaze and an invisible cherry on top. I started to write you a timeline for a typical day, but then I thought I might get arrested and put in one of the CIA’s secret—but empty, honest!—prisons. Such opacity and evasion as I and my fellow “production artists” witnessed when trying to figure out what was really due when could only mean that our schedule was a matter of national security, and that we were being left out of the loop for our own protection.

So instead, I will focus on the positive, which is that I now work in a place where the schedules are explicit, universally distributed, and continually updated. I usually receive the necessary piles of manuscript or proofs well in advance of their due dates, and I even have time to file papers, eat lunch outside the building, study my predecessors’ work, chat by the water cooler, and once in a while turn things in before they’re due. Crazy.

So, what’s on these magnificent schedules? Here’s the typical order of operations for designing a book interior, as seen from my (heptagonal!) office:
Continue reading “What Happens When”

Castoff viewed from an editor’s chair

Here’s an illuminating take on castoff from Teresa Nielsen Hayden, empress of the awesome blog Making Light and editor of Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin, which just won the 2006 Hugo Award for Best Novel:

This morning I find myself thinking about how I went to the wall when Tor’s previous head of production grossly miscalculated Spin’s castoff, and wanted to raise its price based on her overlong estimated length. That would have been corrected when Spin was typeset, and the price would have been readjusted downward; but that artificially high price would have been in play during the period when advance orders were solicited, and would have resulted in fewer orders.

So it’s probably safer to underestimate a book’s castoff than to overestimate it (though I’m sure an accurate castoff is the goal, all around).

On Thursday I started working on a composition order for a book whose castoff according to the worksheet was 320, yet whose editor asked for a page count of 256. My response on reading the transmittal was a hearty snork. For a hardcover-only design I might have been able to do something about it (something uncommonly ugly, but that’s still something). However, because this book was to be shot down to mass market, and because it was supposed to be following a previously established series design that used a rather uneconomical typeface for the body text, the closest I could get was 304. When I took the sample pages upstairs to show Mr. Lint Trap, to my surprise he said that 304—or even 320—would be fine with him, and that the editor probably hadn’t even seen the castoff before making the request for 256. Okay, that makes sense.

The thing about hitting 304 pages vs. 320, though, is that there’s a retail price jump between them—$23.95 to $24.95—so the 304-page book will cost the publisher more than a 256-pager would in typesetting, printing, paper, freight, and everything else, but it might possibly make that up in sales by avoiding the chilling effect on the consumer of a 320-pager’s $1 higher sticker price. Possibly.

Then again, the typesetter may not be able to hold it at 304 pages after all. They’ve been hitting castoff with most of my designs, but occasionally something weird comes out. We’ll see.

Beautiful Bindings

Little Folks in Feathers and Fur

If you were at all interested in the recent posts about bindings—or if you just like to look at pretty things—do visit the University of Rochester’s exhibit Beauty for Commerce: 1890–1910:

This exhibit chronicles the growth of English and American publishers’ binding from its infancy in the 1830s to its decline in the early 20th century. Highlighted are the distinct changes in design that reflected not only technical innovations in the means of book production and decoration but shifting social and cultural trends as well. Viewed as a group, publishers’ bindings represent a revolution in the history of the book. Viewed individually, each binding offers an often gilded window to the fashion of its day.

Some specimens that caught my eye: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

Slaver, slaver, drool drool.

[Thanks, POLLEN!]

Seen in the wild

(The wilds of my office, that is.)

The Affected Provincial's Companion

Today I received my preordered copy of Lord Whimsy’s The Affected Provincial’s Companion, and it is exceedingly lovely. I showed it to our production god, who had never seen a two-color stamp before and immediately thought it would be a nice look for some gift edition of something that’s in the queue. I asked him if it costs less to do an all-over case stamp than to print a jacket, and he was pretty sure that it was so. The foil is billed based on the area covered, so an all-over stamp will cost more than a spine alone, but stamping a spine costs only about $75, whereas making a single correction to a jacket—and how often is there just one correction?—costs $125. And that’s not to mention printing in four colors, embossing, and laying foil over that, all of which we often do.
Continue reading “Seen in the wild”

A Hard Case

Update: Now, with pictures!

All right, kids. You like details? Here are some details.

Pick up three hardcover books, preferably from different publishers, and remove the dust jackets. Look at the spines. Do you see the title, author, and publisher’s name or logo stamped on each spine in metallic foil? Probably. Are the colors of the foil different—e.g., one’s silver, one’s gold, one’s copper? Right. Somebody picked those. And actually there are many shades of silver, gold, and copper to choose from—not to mention colored metallics and matte colors. Somebody designed the stamp—a die—to print the spine, too. Some publishers like to have it complement the interior design; others like for it to echo the jacket.

Spines of three of the more interestingly bound books in my possession. The top is from 1816. The middle is undated but probably from 1900 or 1901, based on cues in the content; it’s blind-stamped. The bottom is from 1954 and has raised cords.
Continue reading “A Hard Case”