Designing the New Editions

Three days ago, I announced my re-released novels and short fiction. In this post, I’m going to write a bit about some of the stylistic decisions I made in the books’ layout and design.

Covers

I love taking a single design and applying different color patterns to it. I initially started with a single-color design, as I’ve done many times before, but then I hit on the idea of doing a two-color design, which I should have remembered was really effective for Beyond the Hedge Volume 1. The new cover series turned out very much to my liking.

Title Pages

A few years ago, I did all the reading I could on book typographic design. As with any field, different typographers all said different things, but the one thing they all agreed on was “keep it simple.” Interior page designs are extraordinarily sensitive to small changes. To achieve a professional look, I opted for that simplicity.

The title pages of the new series are minimally adorned. For the font face, I used Roos throughout the entire book. You can see Roos Roman Small Caps here on the title pages, and I used it throughout the book for various section headers. As you’ll soon see, the standard Roman is readable, too.

Tables of Contents

The tables of contents presented another challenge. Voyage Embarkation, Insomnium, and Alterra were straightforward with their flat chapter structures, but what to do with Schrödinger’s City, which contains chapter groupings into cycles, and Transmutations, whose stories are organized thematically? I had to create a design that would accommodate both structures and hopefully be flexible enough to adapt to anything I might invent in the future.

In the case of the table of contents, especially, it really helps that my husband keeps a lot of academic books around the house. Academic books generally have elegant and practically designed tables of contents, whereas much fiction, regrettably, foregoes the table of contents completely. I find this to be one of the great benefits of being an independent publisher. I am unburdened by a marketing department demanding that I reduce page count to the absolute minimum however I can.

Chapter Headers

Chapter headers presented even more issues. Similarly to the tables of contents, some of the books have bare chapter titles (Insomnium, Alterra, and Transmutations), while others had sub-headers (Voyage Embarkation and Schrödinger’s City). Accommodating this was pretty straightforward. I was largely able to copy what I had done in prior editions, while ensuring consistent font face and alignment across the new editions.

However, Transmutations presented a new problem: it contains headers of major sections with my authorial reflections and also headers of individual stories. The design needed to distinguish these. I decided to use the small caps version of Roos to delineate the two, and I liked how that worked out. Above you can see the section header for “Thinking Machines” with my notes (small caps title) and a story in that section, “Adaptive” with a standard title.

The Text Block

A single good text block design should generally work across a large number of books. Some of the more interesting challenges actually happened within individual texts, especially the short stories in Transmutations, where the texts are more experimental. “The Blazrath,” for example, consists entirely of a series of text messages transmitted back and forth between two characters, while “Lunar Eclipse” is a series of invented documents, including everything from treatises, to research abstracts, to a television show dialogue transcription.

But those issues don’t affect the block or the page headers themselves, it’s merely a challenge to make the text elements look good within the block.

No, the point of interest here is my use of the Van de Graaf canon for page construction. In the 1940’s, the book designer J. A. Van de Graaf noticed that a number of medieval books contained similar proportions for their text blocks, even though paper sizes differed wildly. He wondered how the typographers of the day ensured such consistent proportions without access to any of the fancy tools we have today.

Eventually, Van de Graaf discovered a method that allowed him to calculate the shape of the medieval text block for any given page size using only a ruler (which, combined with a pencil, would be the only instruments a medieval typographer had access to).

The canon is considered the height of elegance. It contains a number of interesting mathematical properties, such as that the height of the text block is the same length as the width of the book page (you can read about other interesting properties at the link above). However, the canon is largely eschewed these days, as it is economically impractical for most publishers. Look at all that “wasted” margin space!

This is another distinct advantage of being an independent publisher. I can make the choice to utilize the canon, prioritizing elegance for print readers rather than economy. I expect readers who desire economy to choose the ebook, anyway. I want my print readers to have as elegant an experience as possible, not to mention ample room for their thumbs at the page edges.

It’s worth noting that the above examples from my new editions do not follow the Van de Graaf canon perfectly. When printing any book with a glue binding (such as all print-on-demand paperbacks are bound), the Van de Graaf canon must be altered to accommodate the roll of the page toward the binding. In medieval times, the only way to bind a book was to sew the pages in (and many hardcover books are still bound this way today). In such books, the pages open perfectly flat and the entire sheet can be seen. As a result, the text block can be as near to the binding as you wish, and it won’t disappear into a roll.

In the above design, the text block is the same proportions as the Van de Graaf canon text block, but it has been moved away from the spine to accommodate the roll. Typographers tend to agree that, ultimately, it does not matter what your pages look like unbound or on a computer screen. What matters is how they look in the final product.