Archives for category: Book design

Here in its entirety is an item from Publishers Lunch of 3 May:

Avid Reader Press is adding a credits page to most of its titles, which will acknowledge the people at the imprint who worked on the book. The publisher described the initiative as ongoing. For now, whether a book gets a credits page or not will be decided case-by-case, like an acknowledgements page. First titles include Christie Tate’s B.F.F, which came out in February, and more recently, LEBRON by Jeff Benedict and BALL IN THE AIR by Michael Bamberger.

The Avid Reader credits page names workers across a number of departments including editorial, marketing, production, jacket design and more, as well as thanking the “hundreds of professionals in the Simon & Schuster audio, design, ebook, finance, human resources, legal, marketing, operations, production, sales, supply chain, subsidiary rights, and warehouse departments whose invaluable support and expertise benefit every one of our titles.”

The idea for a credits page has circulated in publishing for a long time (Sharmaine Lovegrove at Dialogue Books in the UK has been including one on her books since 2017), but the campaign at Avid Reader is led by executive editor Margo Shickmanter, who joined last September.

Shickmanter told PL, “For years I’ve been having conversations with colleagues and friends in different departments, about finding a better way to acknowledge all the people whose work goes into making a book.” She continued, “Ideally, the acknowledgments section would serve this purpose, but the reality of crash publications and production timelines means that if you don’t have a system and a template in place, you’re often only going to get the editor, publicist and marketer in there, at most, and that perpetuates a hierarchy and a lack of transparency we’re hoping to work against.” She noted that credits are nonnegotiable in other creative industries, “so this feels long overdue.”

“I hope other publishers will join us and make this standard practice in the publishing world, too,” she said.

The prime mover, Ms Shickmanter, claims it’s all “about finding a better way to acknowledge all the people whose work goes into making a book.” I always found the best way to acknowledge people’s work on making a book was that boring old thing called a salary. We always had a policy that a member of staff should not be mentioned in (or on) a book, though an exception might occasionally be made if say the editor had completely rewritten the book from a pile of disorganized paper. Grateful authors love to acknowledge the help they’ve received, but staff names in Prefaces, and Acknowledgements pages would routinely be edited out. This seems absolutely right to me: we didn’t sign up to be crypto-authors; we signed up to do a professional job of book publishing. If a staff member did a cover design (and I did plenty) the design would be uncredited, anonymous. This accords with the copyright status of such a design: copyright in a work made for hire belongs of the person who paid for it — in this case the publishing company.

Still Ms Shickmanter will be having her way, and wasting one page of paper in every book Avid Reader Press produces — and a page which nobody will ever look at. It’s getting like you’ll need to watch out that your dentist doesn’t start engraving their initials on your fillings.

Jessica Bull sends a tweet thread showing us all these covers which she characterizes as “the worst Jane Austen covers”.

Maybe. But if you’re a mass market publisher, what are you meant to do? I’ve added two more at the end, sent by Devoney Looser.

Can that one in the middle of the bottom row be real?

Mr. Ralph Nickleby’s first visit to his poor relations. Illustrated by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne). From Michael John Goodman’s Charles Dickens Illustrated Gallery

Is it odd that we don’t illustrate novels any more — unless perhaps if they are directed at children or young adults? The Charles Dickens Illustrated Gallery brings us online access to all the illustrations from his novels. The gallery is noticed by Open Culture. It is the work of Michael John Goodman,* who tells us that the illustrations he shows come “invariably from the early part of the 20th Century (original 19th Century first-editions being slightly out of my price-range), and include the ‘Authentic Edition’ (1901-06), and the ‘Biographical Edition’ (1902-03), both published by Chapman and Hall. Both editions reproduce the original illustrations very well and are the main editions used for the Charles Dickens Illustrated Gallery.  Please be aware, though, that The ‘Authentic Edition’ features coloured frontispieces (which the original novels did not have) and the Gallery does not yet feature the original cover ‘wrappings’ for the serial installments, but I will be looking to add them in the near future.” He encourages use and downloading, with appropriate credit.

Actually, I suppose the main reason we don’t use pictures in novels now is simple enough — cost. The relationship between creating and printing an engraving and the price of a book has been utterly transformed in the past couple of hundred years. We resist paying thousands of dollars to an artist when we suspect that we probably won’t sell a single extra copy because of the pictures.

Of course one of the “problems” with pictures in novels is that it directs your imagination into channels which are actually someone else’s. For instance Ralph Nickleby doesn’t, in my mind, look anything like Phiz’s version in the picture above. I imagine him with a much more lean and hungry look — though I begin to wonder if that’s not because of the way he was portrayed in the television adaptation many years ago. Nicholas is spot on though.

I have to wonder if part of the reason we don’t put pictures in novels nowadays relates to our changed relationship to images. After the invention of photography, and then with the advent of cinema, images became much more “visible”, and perhaps no longer carried the same significance as they used to. Nowadays an illustrated novel is likely to be coming from a deluxe publisher, like The Folio Society. Is that for any reason other than that deluxe book buyers expect bells and whistles? Is the fact that they are liable to be older and also more familiar with old books at all relevant?


* Dr Goodman is also responsible for the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive.

Maybe. LitHub has their annual shot at this, showing their selection of 103 best covers of the year.

Best is a hard word. If forced to choose one, I’d go for this twister:

Daisy at Beautiful Books spends about an hour in the video below going through her 60 Most Beautiful Books of 2022 (or prettiest, something slightly different). This is actually worth a watch. A listing of the books covered, and more, can be found here. Sorry it’s too late here to serve as a holiday gift guide — unless you like to mark the New Year.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser. (Link via David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen,)

The New York Times treats us to a discussion of the cover designs (if we can bypass the paywall) for Bonnie Garmus’s Lessons in Chemistry.

Much is made of the unexpectedness of the US jacket. Apparently the pink makes us expect a romance novel, which this is not. It’s the story of Elizabeth Zott, a (fictitious) 1950’s cooking show host who “educates her viewers in chemistry, self-worth and agency”. Barnes & Noble have made it their book of the year — Mr Daunt opines “The book has dominated the cover”. For myself, I don’t find the American cover that ditzy; in fact I rather like it. But maybe its pinkness does tend to make me assume it’s a book directed at a female audience — which for all I know it actually is. (The same could of course be said of the UK jacket with its red-dress photo.) The author is quoted “But as I’m fond of saying, the book isn’t anti-men, it’s anti-sexism”. Ms Garmus “has received ‘hate mail’ from a few indignant readers who expected something different.” She is quoted as saying “They were like, ‘Your’e the worst romance novelist ever!'”

Ms Garmus, though I think she is talking here about plot and character rather than cover design, sagely concludes “I think you have to listen to your publisher . . . they have a lot of experience”. She does report that the paperback will however have a different cover design. Well even if we concede that the pink jacket may be a little off target, it’s many streets ahead of its British competitor — paradoxically the publisher, Doubleday, is the same on both sides of the Atlantic, so we are getting here a pure take on US/UK taste differences. Around the world however, opinion seems to have lined up with Great Britain rather than the United States. Only Portugal and to some extent Italy have gone along with the US approach.

Editions in Portuguese, French, Polish and Korean have gone with the British approach. Not sure why we have two Portuguese versions, with different titles too. Maybe one’s Brazilian and the other European. It’s remarkable how that little box containing “In” in a form meant to look like a chemical element label, has been preserved in these UK adaptations. Characteristically the French have realized that the title which is adequate for the rest of the world is just too silly for them. This is in harmony with their tag line telling us that our ability to change everything begins ere and now!

We round out this showcase with one more UK-based version, this one from Iceland, and three “let’s do something completely different” versions. This I can sympathize with: I think that woman in the red dress lugging the TV around is a rather disturbing image. Do you remember what a television set weighed back in the fifties and sixties? Of the three fresh approaches I think the Dutch one, which is presumably playing up the “chemie” bit, is just too dull which might also be said of the German lady aggressively confronting us on the street. The Estonian version ends up being weird enough to be rather arresting and effective though.

This Will Carter hand-lettered jacket design just seems so right that you don’t at first notice the fact that there’s a hyphen missing, indeed that a word in the title has been (unusually) hyphenated at all, and that in order to fit it, the word Press has been rendered Preß, with a Germanic esstzett symbol. Further study reveals cunning spacing adjustments in Medieval and Renaissance in order that the swash on the g can be accommodated. Daring design. But it works triumphantly. (Thanks to Sebastian Carter and Eric Marland for this photograph. © Rampant Lions Press.)

Will Carter was a letter cutter, a calligrapher, a typographer, and a printer. He founded The Rampant Lions Press in Cambridge, printing handsome well-designed books, a few of which are still available at their website. The Press was closed in 2008 when his son Sebastian retired. There’s an exhibition entitled Will Carter — Man of Letters going on right now in Magdalene College in Cambridge, sponsored by The Lettering Arts Trust. Carter (1912-2001) was an honorary fellow of the college, The show will close on 14 December.

The New Library at Magdalene College has just been declared winner of the RIBA Stirling prize for best new building in the UK. Another reason to go to the Carter show.

By the way, the extravagance in the imprint of that cover was ultimately taken care of by the forces of convention — by jamming in any-old-how an ugly unletterspaced sans-serif imprint, aligned on nothing at all. The separate box below the subtitle which originally contained the imprint has also been ditched. Designers have no control over their work once it’s in the hands of the publisher!

The picture below is of the twelfth printing of the paperback edition, done in America. The hardback, printed no doubt in Cambridge, came out in 1964 and went through three printings before the paperback came along in 1967. I begin to wonder if the Preß design was ever printed, or whether the illustration is Will Carter’s design original, though Sebastian and Eric do refer to it as the jacket. I haven’t actually seen the hardback — at least not in recent years! Colors have migrated too, perhaps in step with the location of manufacture. Ashamed I never noticed this naff imprint, and that I never did anything about it. I had charge of eight of these twelve printings.












John Coulthard has a piece at his blog Feuilleton telling us that the logo for Pan Books was drawn by Mervyn Peake (1911-68).

Those who know Peake mainly through the Gormenghast series will think of his art as a bit more eerie than jolly old Pan. Here are a couple of covers from the Penguin edition to show what I mean:

Type Punch Matrix, a Washington DC rare book dealer, presents this folding cut-out book from the 1830s. Look through the little holes on the front and you can see different views of the Jardins des Tuileries.

You can (I hope) see a little video of the book at their Twitter feed. I wonder if a book like this would be cut out by hand. You could set up dies to cut it out, but maybe in the 1830s labor costs would have enabled you to avoid that investment. Depends on how many copies were produced I guess.

. . . does visually what intonation does audibly: it emphasises the important, subordinates the less important, so clarifying the message. There is more to it than that, however. Just as the impact of the spoken word is affected by the appearance of the speaker, so is the impact of the printed word affected by the overall appearance of the sheet or page.”

This struck me as the best thing in Brooke Crutchley”s To Be a Printer (Cambridge University Press, 1980). However I think it needs slight qualification. Authors have to get this “intonation” through the services of a book designer. This makes the situation a bit more like that of an actor, surely. The actor’s delivery will be directed by the Director, so some of their intonation will be the Director’s not just their own.

Regrettably the individualized design of the text of a book is a much less common happening than it was when Mr Crutchey was working at the University Printing House in Cambridge from 1930 to 1974.

I had a bit of a go at the Times Literary Supplement a couple of years ago anent their redesign, so I feel maybe I should react to the redesign of The New York Review of Books too. That said, that’s pretty much it.

The redesign seems moderate and restrained. As I always say, why mess with success? And as Editor Emily Greenhouse says in her emailed announcement of the update, the original editors were in such a rush to get their first issue out to fill the reviewing void created by the newspaper strike of 1963 that they spent little time thinking about design matters — the design was perfectly serviceable as fifty years of success attest. And this hurried design signaled well: it rather indicated the healthy attitude of the Review — ideas are more important than looks. Everything graphic was of course redeemed by the cartoons of the irreplaceable David Levine, and now he’s left us, perhaps a little weeding of the garden isn’t altogether inappropriate.

Here’s a sample page Ms Greenhouse includes with her email:

The old, on top, and the new behind.

My main beef is with the perceived need to create two new typefaces. Don’t we have enough typefaces in the world that you could find one that was perfectly suitable? Ms Greenhouse tells us “Matt [Willey] collaborated with the typeface designer Henrik Kubel, who peered through the archives of the late Lord Mayor of London Robert Besley, the creator of Clarendon, our longtime headline font. Henrik drew two new typefaces, based on Figgins and Century and the first issues our cofounders, Barbara Epstein and Robert Silvers, put out, but with flourishes that feel very present-day.”

(Should I be concerned that I appear to have survived into a world where added flourishes seem very present-day?)

Rhetoric aside, one has to confess that the new type designs are actually pretty good. The text looks “bolder” and stronger, yet gets as much, if not a little more (?), onto each text line. The bold type used for the book titles is also stronger, while the headline type and general layout remain unchanged. The contents list, contributor details and masthead have been tidied up and do work better now. A successful redesign; tidying things up without making any dramatic and contentious changes.