Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Call me a bibliophile

I think a bound book, with good design, lush paper and a venerable typeface is a beautiful thing. For me, a well-crafted book lifts a writer’s words off a page and provides a bonus of respectability to a writer’s art.

People like me love holding a book in our hands. We leap to the back of the book to find out what typeface the printer used, we run our fingers over the paper, and study cover illustrations before deciding whether they ‘work’ or not.

We like knowing little things about publishing, like the top 10 typefaces used by book design winners, which happen to be: Minion, ITC Baskerville, Adobe Garamond, FF Scala, FF Scala Sans, Trade Gothic, Electra, Dante, Fournier and DIN. 

We daydream about which of the 10 we’ll use when our own books are published.
We love books, not just words, information and stories. We’re bibliophiles. 

I’ve been called worse.

Not everyone notices the kind of details about books that we do. Most hardly remember the name of the author when they reach its last page. Most people, understandably, care about content mainly. They don’t get what the big deal is when it comes to font, cover stock or layout. Once they’ve read a book and taken from it what they will, they’re done. Who cares if the publisher used Garamond or Helvetica. 

Unlike some of us bibliophiles, they don’t look at a book thinking the margins should have been a little wider or the paper less glossy.

It’s not a bad thing, actually, especially in today’s publishing world, where more and more people are self-publishing. From what I can see, self-publishing, first and foremost, is about getting a book on the market economically, not about craftsmanship. Most self-publishing companies offer a limited number of design templates and packages for writers to choose from. If you care too much about design details for your tome, you’re in trouble.

No one’s saying ‘it doesn’t matter how your book looks.’ That would be just plain foolish. But self-publishing companies know the design options for writers have to be limited to be economical. Unless you want to spend extra bucks to get your book custom designed, it makes sense to buy a package. Go for the “premium” design package if you want to go the extra inch.

But what does someone like me do?  I care so very much how a book looks, feels and even sounds when you first open it. But if I self-publish, my hunch is that if I have even the slightest practical bone in my body, I’d be smart going for a package. Would it really be worthwhile to spend a heap of money on a designer, and then spend hours upon costly hours with him/her to create the book design of my dreams? 

But am I capable of such compromise? Not sure. I’m going to have to do more research. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a self-published book that it my opinion looks “good.”  That might be because I don’t realize that some really good-looking books I’ve seen are self-published. Or it may be because the price to get a good-looking book printed costs an arm and a leg and no aspiring self-publisher thinks it’s worth putting that kind of money into the design.

Or maybe, there really aren’t any good-looking self-published books out there.

Please tell me if I’m wrong. I truly want to be. You can also tell me if the kind of things I care about, in the end, don’t make any difference. If I want my book published, and no traditional publishing house is going to pay for me to have the gold standard, maybe I just need to ‘let go.’ Forgeddaboutit, as Tony Soprano would so.

I’m not trying to be a snob. I just love books. And, I’m never completely sure if, and when, compromises are, well, worth the compromise.

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