Here is the first of a series of occasional posts that explore the contributions of great typographers and typography books to the book designer’s art. Designers, writers and publishers will benefit from Beatrice Warde’s eloquent perspectives on the craft of typography, the power of type and the importance of the printed word.
“The Crystal Goblet” was an essay included in Beatrice Warde’s book of the same name—The Crystal Goblet: 16 Essays on Typography.
Beatrice Warde – Excerpt from a Lecture to the British Typographers’ Guild
Imagine that you have before you a flagon of wine. You may choose your own favorite vintage for this imaginary demonstration, so that it be a deep shimmering crimson in color. You have two goblets before you. One is of solid gold, wrought in the most exquisite patterns. The other is of crystal-clear glass, thin as a bubble, and as transparent. Pour and drink; and according to your choice of goblet, I shall know whether or not you are a connoisseur of wine. For if you have no feelings about wine one way or the other, you will want the sensation of drinking the stuff out of a vessel that may have cost thousands of pounds; but if you are a member of that vanishing tribe, the amateurs of fine vintages, you will choose the crystal, because everything about it is calculated to reveal rather than to hide the beautiful thing which it was meant to contain. Continue reading →
The self-publishing revolution is (aside from the Internet) the greatest thing ever to happen to freedom of speech and expression, but self-published books are widely stigmatized as poorly produced. Why? Because they almost universally are. Moreover, the declining standards of mainstream publishers do not justify the mediocrity of self-publishers. In fact, self-publishers will find a competitive advantage in applying basic book design principles to produce books that are comfortable to read and pleasing to the eye.
After all those hours writing and editing, why not produce a book that conveys your good taste, attention to detail and care? Here are some simple but powerful book design tips to help your book achieve excellence. Continue reading →
Book design is a lost art. Though book design discussions usually focus on covers, consider how much more time a reader spends staring at the text. An elegant book block is just as important. Decades ago, professional tradesmen practiced the fine art of typesetting. Today, book design is often executed (pun intended) by amateurs. As easy as it is to set type, many fine points of typography are commonly overlooked. Fortunately, for the design-aware, digital tools like Adobe InDesign make it possible to produce pages that aspire to the old standards of hot metal type. This is the first of a series of articles offering book design tips to help polish your pages.
Sacrificing comfortable margins is unfortunately a good business decision, even if it’s a bad design decision. As the book industry has grown, page margins have shrunk. Text is packed ever more tightly onto the page. Why? A big publisher may print 30,000 copies of a new author’s book. That’s a huge financial risk. If more text can be fit on each page, the print run uses less paper and less ink, resulting in huge savings.
Fortunately, self-publishers don’t have this problem because print-on-demand (POD) allows for the production of one book at a time. Using classic margins and printing a few more pages per book adds negligible cost while giving POD publishers a competitive edge. Continue reading →
I recently responded to an article on Publishing Perspectives by Andrew Pantoja that innocently advises self-publishers about sources for cheap book covers. It is technically easy to create your own cover; therein lies the problem. It’s also easy to sew your own parachute. I have seen successful covers made by amateurs but I’ve seen plenty of authors proudly displaying horrible design abortions.
Why hire a pianist for a wedding when you can get a digital piano cheaper? This same flawed logic is often embraced by do-it-yourself cover designers. It substitutes obtaining a tool for solving a problem. It’s even more embarrassing when the purchaser of the piano can’t hear the difference; a guaranteed room-clearer.
Graphic Design is not about making something “pretty” or even finding something you personally “like.” Design is a craft practiced by professionals who not only understand how to use their tools, but how to choose and mix typefaces, combine colors, achieve tension and balance, and avoid cliches. Graphic design uses text and images to solve a problem or achieve a goal. As with dentistry, there’s much to be said for working with a professional. Continue reading →
Certainly, thesis writing is one of the purest forms of self-publishing which is why I’ve included this post here. In my work as a professor, I regularly encounter students who get “stuck” while writing their thesis papers. A good framework for developing, presenting and supporting a well-developed thesis reveals what to write, how to organize it and how to get it finished without a struggle.
First, it’s important to understand what a thesis is; many students don’t (and many institutions have difficulty explaining it). Two relevant definitions (according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary) are:
1 : a position or proposition that a person (as a candidate for scholastic honors) advances and offers to maintain by argument : a proposition to be proved…
2:a dissertation embodying results of original research and especially substantiating a specific view; especially: one written by a candidate for an academic degree
There is a tendency to refer to “POD Publishers” with disdain, but POD is just a printing technology. I use Lightning Source for printing, own my own ISBN numbers and retain all of my rights. I do my own design and layout. “Vanity Press” is the term most often associated with companies who offer book production packages, take a share of royalties or rights and bundle your work into their “publisher’s catalog”—and I think the more reputable vanity presses can be a good fit for many writers.
Lightning Source is a printer. iUniverse is a vanity press. Both use POD technology. I suggest a distinction between “POD Printers” and “Vanity Presses” with the term “publishing” reserved for those who own their own ISBNs, rights and royalties. If you publish through Xlibris or iUniverse, technically, you’re not self-publishing, but whether that distinction is important varies according to individual circumstances and points of view.
Irrespective of intellectual property considerations and who facilitates production, without POD, we’d all be sitting on stacks of books, handling fulfillment ourselves, and praying for the day when we get our closet space back.
The following is something I posted on a discussion forum in response to someone who asked for a critique on about a dozen of their self-designed book covers.
Since you asked for a critique, I’ll pick on you, but with the caveat that you make many of the same errors everyone else does. I’m using you as a catalyst to educate rather than to make an example of.
The sore spot for me (and with many of my university design students, by the way—you’re in good company) is the typography. Continue reading →