Archives for the month of: February, 2016

Does anyone in publishing use a loupe any more? Jewelers and watchmakers do Google tells me, and no doubt printers are still closely scrutinizing press sheets. We book production people used to spend quite a bit of time inspecting stuff though a loupe. Much of what we’d examine was output from some typesetting system or other.

As they were small objects they were often used as a promotional giveaway. Mine comes from a French paper company from whom I used to buy Bible paper.

Loupe 1

Loupe 1

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You’d unfold your loupe and inspect the dot in this halftone, or the clarity of the raster line in that typeset “o”. I almost think we did it to make ourselves look like we were doing something important. While the shape of the curve on a digitally produced “o” may be a series of steps when viewed at intense magnification, we have to remember that our readers are looking with their ordinary eyes, and are interested mainly in the meaning of the word, not the regularity of the formation of the letters’ outlines. They aren’t going to be using a loupe.  So why were we? I once tickled a slightly defensive printer by saying if I could read it, the job was acceptable to me, even if the inking may have been a little less than ideal. And I do believe that — not that we should be willing to accept badly printed work, but that in the relationship between printer and publisher a little give and take is needed. Just because you could reject the job is not a reason why you must reject the job; especially if you had to use your loupe to detect the problem in the first place! Sure, let them know what you think about their sloppiness, but don’t nail them to the floor on rework. If your customer, the reader of the book, isn’t going to be inconvenienced by the flaw, why insist on using a whole lot more of paper and labour to make it a little bit better? I do suspect that many jobs are rejected because most buyers don’t have the self-confidence to accept them, and if necessary justify that decision to their boss.

The reference to my manuscript project in my recent post on Blotting paper, prompts me to make a progress report on this effort.

As mentioned in Camera lucida, I am transcribing and illustrating Thomas Hardy’s The Dynasts (1903-1908). This is no trivial undertaking: the printed edition runs to 707 pages! For those who don’t have it on their bed-side table for constant reference, The Dynasts is, as its title page announces, An Epic-Drama of the War with Napoleon, in Three Parts, Nineteen Acts, and One Hundred and Thirty Scenes. The Time Covered by the Action Being About Ten Years. My motivation for this slightly crazy project is set out in that earlier post. I am beavering away. My hope that I could copy the text using the camera lucida has been frustrated. The hammering of the pulse is too much for the detail required for small type, so I have resorted to an italic script. I have just worked my way past Nelson’s death at Trafalgár, as we still pronounced it in Hardy’s day. Here’s my depiction of a pub discussion of the return of Nelson’s body, a voyage more fully described in this story from Atlas Obscura. In a slightly obnoxious convention Hardy has his common-man characters talk in prose, not verse like everyone else. I have passed the death of Nelson, resisting the temptation to allow a fake tear to smudge the ink, and am on to Austerlitz and page 177 of the original edition. I keep seeing Prince Andrey Bolkonsky lying there gripping his banner.


Although I can’t use the camera lucida app for the text, I am making pretty extensive us of it for the illustrations. I initially draw these in situ in pencil using a specially-made jig on which I place the iPad. I then go over the drawing using a 0.25mm Stano technical pen which I am also using for running heads, character names, and stage directions. At my current rate of progress I should be done in about four years, though I did redo the entire first 90 pages last fall, so maybe three years will see me through. I had been doing it double-sided on sheets of 60# Mohawk which a bindery had supplied me, along with a promise to bind up the resultant volume for me. In the end I decided I couldn’t ask them to do so, especially as it looked like it might end up as a 3-volume set, so I restarted in a blank dummy copy of Volume 1 of The Oxford English Dictionary which I had salvaged from office-cleaning routines. There I am using one side of the page only as the paper is thinner and there’s too much show-through to back things up. I have (I think and hope) got more than enough pages in this volume.

Jeremy writes to tell me that parliament is rumored to have found funds for this self-evidently essential archive material. We are all no doubt still puzzling over how it can be that any government anywhere in the world can manage to function without the use of parchmentThe Guardian has a report that the Cabinet Office may be going to cough up the money to preserve the parchment regime.

Here’s a link to the manufacturer, William Cowley & Co. Ltd, of Newport Pagnell, who are unsurprisingly keen that tradition should be upheld in this area at least. The possible loss of an annual order worth £47,000 might also have an understandable part in their attitude. They have a little video showing part of the manufacturing process:

There’s a video with a more thorough examination of the process at the same factory at my earlier post on Parchment.

Here is Parliament’s own take on the subject. Looks like they are running behind in their revision process, as there’s no mention of any change to archival paper. Their headline is a bit misleading: what they really meant to say I think is “From manuscript to print” — their note is determinedly historical and only deals with the switch in 1850 from hand writing on parchment rolls, to printing in parchment codices. Their real problem would seem to me to be printing a sizable book in an edition of two, rather than printing on this or that substrate.

Maybe I should admit that my use of the word vellum in the heading of my recent post may have been inaccurate. I think what we are talking about in the case of parliament is actually parchment, though the whole situation remains a little murky. Calf is mentioned in the video, but so is sheep skin. But maybe the calf skins are what’s used for the parliamentary order. Who knows?

According to Printing Art, an Illustrated Monthly Magazine Devoted to the Graphic Arts, May 1920, referencing Drew’s Imprint, blotting paper was invented by accident in Berkshire “once upon a time”. Apparently some goof forgot to add size to a batch of fibers, and the resultant paper was set aside for waste. Fortuitously the boss tried to write a note on it and found it would just drink in the ink; so he had the bright idea of selling it to soak up excess ink, a job previously carried out with sand. Maybe it’s just the “once upon a time” bit that makes me skeptical.

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Here’s a charming contemporary advert from Lindenmeyr Paper Company showing that back then they had a wide range of offerings — including blotting paper. Nice to see they already had a relationship with the S. D. Warren Company (which is now owned by SAPPI). I don’t suppose Lindenmeyr, or Lindenmeyr Munroe their commercial division, still offer blotting papers, though of course there are many industrial and heath-care uses for absorbent papers.

UnknownOnce upon a time every office desk had its blotter, a rigid frame built to hold a large sheet of blotting paper. I had one made as a publicity item by Cramp of Cornwall, a Bible bindery we used to use back in the seventies. It would hold half a dozen 22½” x 17½” sheets, and would be used every time you signed a letter. As the top sheet got dirtier you’d turn it over, and discard it when the back was full too. I just tossed mine which had been beaten up over the decades, but hung onto the paper as I use it in my manuscript project.


The Passive Voice links to Hugh Howie’s latest rant from The Wayfinder trashing traditional publishing while yet claiming to love it. I guess this is what we know as tough love. “We think individual entrepreneurs are cooler than mega corporations” he says, but what’s cool got to do with it? I’m sure the board of Bertelsmann sits there in Gütersloh bitching at PRH that they aren’t being cool enough — we didn’t say big profits; we said cool profits! No doubt Hugh Howie is way cooler than the Bertelsmann board, but then he’s probably the coolest guy in any book room. There are doubtless other cool indie publishers, but there are also lots of uncool old farts. So what?

On the same day, 12th February, The Passive Voice also includes this refutation of some of Howie’s claims from Book Business, and here from 8 February is their account of the latest Author Earnings report which Porter Anderson at Publishing Perspectives also analyses. It is perhaps worth considering the possibility that Author Earnings is right: but that, while interesting, doesn’t really mean much does it? In so far as the effort is directed at persuading traditional publishers to pay authors a 70% royalty, it’s surely no more than an insane delusion. In a bit of a scoop, Digital Book World publishes this interview with the Data Guy, the anonymous statistician who collects and analyzes the data for Author Earnings. He reveals that he started his data analysis in order to clarify for himself whether he should self-publish his book or seek a traditional publisher’s contract.

Life’s too short for this discussion. The world has room for both — or neither, if that’s what we end up wanting. Either Howey and Data Guy are right and the Big Five (plus the smaller hundreds) are doomed, or they are wrong, and they aren’t. Who gains anything by pontificating about something which will eventually be proved by the passage of time? It’s all a bit like little boys boasting about the size of their equipment. They all work, in pretty much the same sort of way.


World-Read-Aloud-GalleyCatGet ready. Clear your throat. On February 24th, tomorrow, GalleyCat tells us, we’ll be being asked to read a book aloud (ideally to a child).

We keep hearing how scandalous it is that the cost of textbooks has risen so high. $200 or $300 per copy does sound pretty extraordinary to me. Apparently the cost of textbooks has gone up by 73% since 2006, 4 times inflation, according to Covering the Cost, as reported by NBC. Of course the cost of attending college has also shot up by a factor of 17 since 1971, which would only be slightly less than 6 if it had tracked inflation. CNBC has a good piece on this which features a fun variable inflation calculator. However this rate of increase is thrown into the shadows by textbook prices which since 1988 have gone up 1,041% (again according to NBC).

For the colleges it’s supply and demand I guess. The number of student enrollments keeps growing — it’s doubled since 1971 — so you’d be nuts (if you were running a business) not to raise your prices. This turns into an almost risk-free strategy when you add student loans into the mix. Higher price: bigger loan. Bigger loan: longer repayment schedule — not our problem! Of course colleges and universities are not (mostly) straightforward profit-seeking enterprises, but they obviously have costs, and covering them is important. If you can more than cover your costs you can use the extra to improve your offerings: more and better professors, flashy labs etc. and this will draw yet more students your way.

Of course textbooks aren’t cheap to make. Joe Esposito explains at The Scholarly Kitchen why it is college textbooks are as expensive as they are. They are large, complex and risky: and their sales are being eaten into by the second-hand and rental markets. His words are quoted in this dispassionate round-up from Vox via Book Business. This cynical piece at MarketWatch attributes it all to wickedness on the part of publishers, who, seeing financial aid increase, up their prices to absorb these extra funds. This essay from Library Babel Fish, sympathetic to the cost side of the business, comes from an author who has worked on textbook materials and knows what’s involved.

the-devices-college-students-prefer-for-schoolwork-print-laptop-tablet_chartbuilderDespite all the talk (and the money spent) it seems that students remain reluctant to go the digital route. The Digital Reader has a report on Quartz‘s research, and a later article with more of a round-up of evidence which NBC reports on too.

The free on-line textbook movement is growing. Here now is news from USA Today, via The Passive Voice, that the University of Maryland University College will be eliminating the textbook and replacing it with on-line resources which they’ll create themselves. I guess if they are forced to use this stuff the Maryland students will. One suspect their dislike of on-line reading will yield to their parents’ dislike of large book bills. The Digital Reader tells us it’s happening in Canada too. Now Congress is getting in on the act with a bill to make textbooks free on-line. Publishing Perspectives picks up the story from Huffington Post whilst NBC and AP both report too.

But is there such a thing as a free textbook? Surely someone has to pay permissions fees for material picked up from other authors — or is the plan just to steal it in the name of the greater good which is “education”? Rutgers, according to WPIX, plans to by-pass the problem by paying faculty to write open source textbooks. OK. But setting aside $12,000 for the purpose seems ludicrously ineffectual. Joe Esposito tells us the generally accepted average cost of creating a textbook is $750,000. These things take a long, long time to write, and people who do take up their pens to this end tend to be tied into the project for two or three years at least. Cynically one might suspect that all this open textbook talk is just window dressing. The people who write the books are the people who require students to buy the books. You obviously have a vested interest in making your book a success; it covers the subject in the best way you know; why wouldn’t you make your students buy it? Even if you didn’t write it yourself, you still have a price-free motivation to chose the very best.

Inside Higher Education, via Jose Afonso Furtado, gives us Naomi S. Baron calling for a new approach. Surely something is going to have to happen; the current situation seems untenable from the students’, the universities’, and the publishers’ points of view.

Shelf Awareness links to this video of Lin-Manuel Miranda, author and star of Hamilton, encouraging us all to go to the Drama Book Shop at 250 West 40th Street and buy something to support them after a pipe burst destroyed much of their inventory.

Adaptation of War and Peace seems unstoppable. Louis Menand muses about this at The New Yorker, prompted by the BBC’s recent 6-part television adaptation. Getting it down to 6 parts represents a lot of compression of course. In the Telegraph, scriptwriter Andrew Davies, unsurprisingly, says he’d have liked to make it longer. Length obviously presents a problem, but I wouldn’t agree that the 20-episode BBC adaptation from 1972 “is like watching paint dry”. Prokofiev gave us the story in opera form with libretto by Mira Mendelson. Interestingly their split point between Part One and Part Two corresponds to the break between Parts 5 and 6 in the recent BBC series. But I guess Russians would care more about Borodino than Brits. Now “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” by Dave Malloy, billed as an “electropop opera”, is due to come to Broadway next September, staring Josh Groban.

I’ve been wondering how few pages one might have to write to do an abbreviated version of War and Peace which got the full story across. A lot of fascinating history could be omitted, but I don’t think we’re talking about 128 pages. Or what about a War and Peace in Pictures? I can’t believe it wasn’t done as part of that Classics Comics series I remember from my childhood. Actually Wikipedia points out that there were two such series: Classics Comics and Classics Illustrated.250px-CLASSICS_ILLUSTRATED_-10-_ROBINSON_CRUSOE99px-CC_No_09_Les_Miserables I can’t tell if War and Peace made it into either series: Wikipedia appears to be promising complete lists, but nobody has written them yet. But if they could do Les Misérables, surely War and Peace would be manageable. But War and Peace has made it into the picture-book format: Amazon tells us that Chronicle Books’ Cozy Classics edition does it in 24 pages. “Cuddle up with a classic! In twelve needle-felted scenes and twelve child-friendly words, each book in this ingenious series captures the essence of a literary masterpiece.” Can they really mean twelve words? Whether or not, there’s a target for the author willing to take up the challenge of an abbreviated version omitting no plot elements.

imagesNow comes news of a graphic novelization of A la recherche du temps perdu, or at least of the first volume, Swann’s way. The Economist gave it a rather favorable review, including a reproduction of the madeleine bit. Their reviewer notes “the layout of the pages often makes it difficult to know the order in which the drawings are supposed to be read—from left to right, or up to down? As in the original book, the reader is thus encouraged to view the plot not as something that evolves chronologically, but as an experience of fleeting, sometimes confused images. A graphic novel this may be, but it captures the essence of Proust beautifully.”

w3hogwggq60q6vuqi7tpSuccess is measured in different ways, but having your book coopted to advertise potatoes must be a most gratifying one. Shelf Awareness of 16 February turns us on to this story at Gizmodo (it’s the film of course which is really the promo).

How to write such a book? Andy Weir author of The Martian advises. His piece, “The Tyranny of the Blank page” appears at Medium having first been written for Biographile. Weir was also the guest on The Kindle Chronicles on 23 January 2015, and has of course been widely covered since evolving from self-published author to PRH bestseller to movie sensation.