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Exploring Uncharted Territory in Book Design for Self-Publishing

by Nathan Zachary

Pushing the envelope is frequently a part of self-publishing, and this is the main topic of discussion today. Karen Healey Wallace’s self-published book The Perfect Capital isn’t just any self-published book; it has design written all over it, both in the story and in the gorgeous layout and typography.

The Perfect Capital was shortlisted for both the Best Editorial Design Award and the Best British Book Award in 2014. Karen and I had a conversation regarding the design of the book, its inspiration, and the story’s use of typographer Eric Gill. Just click the play button for those who enjoy watching videos. Check out the text and words below if you prefer graphics with modified text.

Good day, Karen. It’s wonderful to have you here. Could you maybe enlighten me a little more about your concept of author-created books, book publishing organization, to start?

Hey! It seems ludicrous to me that books owned by authors are not the best books available. The idea that an author could see their book through exactly as they desired it should produce the most attractive publication was formerly prevalent when vanity publishing, as it was then known, was the apex of the market. Therefore, it strikes me as a funny peculiarity that a lot of self-publishing today seems to be junk—lots of Print-On-Demand books, frequently with typographical issues, etc.—but book design in self-publishing shouldn’t be that way. I thus hope that The Perfect Capital will open the door for other books like it.

Please display the book’s cover for us! It’s quite a thing.

Here is the spine to start; the spine title has taken the place of the collator’s markings, which was perhaps one of my more audacious decisions because the title is completely hidden. I made the executive choice that they should approach it and make their own decisions since people don’t make book decisions from 15 feet away.

A little history of how this thing came to be A fictional literary work is The Perfect Capital. It chronicles one woman’s quest to identify typographer Eric Gill’s perfect letter form (1882–1940). Eric Gill’s actual inscriptions in London are the subject of that character’s imaginative discoveries, which are incorporated into the plot. On the other hand, this is woven into the storyline where a traditional character (Maud) meets the most imperfect man (Edward). The fictional characters and the plot are based on Gill; I used the perfect artist as one character and a seriously damaged man as another.

I had intended to leave it there. Beatrice Ward said it best when she said, “Either the complete guy [Gill] comes up, or the tweezers slip,” which is something I didn’t anticipate. Either that, or nothing at all. I was unable to pick and choose because I had gone through this in my relationship. The book developed fully formed in my mind when I was developing the design brief for it and realizing I would self-publish it. I had to hire a designer and a printer, but I never had to submit a brief because I already knew what I wanted and only needed to locate the people who could make it happen.

Tell us how you came up with the ideas for the book.

The wonderful thing is that, even though I ended up accomplishing something noteworthy, I didn’t set out to do so; I didn’t sit down and declare, “This is going to be a really beautiful book.” My only option was to write a book that was perfectly suited to my story. The best books, in my opinion, tell the story from the moment you pick them up; they don’t just promote the story that’s inside.

Book writing group was able to create the book I wanted to instead of the book that convention or equipment would have allowed because I had no idea what I was doing. Instead of understanding how things work and limiting your thoughts to that, it’s having an idea and asking, “How can I make this work?” I was certain that I wanted a book with simply type to go with my story. Although the book is composed of paper and not stone, it feels like stone. The story is obviously about an artist on the inside, and it is quite simple and has the appearance of an art book.

You appear to have chosen to create a physical object that wasn’t initially available for distribution in other media. What justification did the decision have?

I did it because the type of person looking for my literary fiction would not have been on any of those websites. If I had written a romance or a crime book, things could have turned out differently, but my book was literary fiction, which is by nature a subtler and difficult creature.

Show us a couple of the interior design ideas.

One quality of Eric Gill, who wrote an essay on typography, was his lack of sentimentality. He had the fundamental belief that books were made to be read. Everything in his designs is meant to make reading the book easier for the reader. The type-only cover is suitable because the main character of The Perfect Capital is a letter cutter.

It fascinates me that there are people in our society who fervently espouse the value of the written word. Yet, when it comes to selling books, they just slap an image on it. What purpose does that serve? That only strengthens the idea that a picture in self-publishing is worth a thousand words. The publishing industry should undoubtedly assert that a well-chosen word or phrase is equivalent to 15 million pixels. It occasionally looks like a shelf of DVDs when I’m looking at a book shelf in a store.

The standard publication page, which is essentially an advertising and has nothing to do with the plot, is located at the end of the book. Book writing group, but Gill had the concept.

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