Publishing texts (VI): book production

Marshall Lee’s Bookmaking is a very well established text. It was first published in 1965. The third edition appeared in 2004. The sub-title – Editing / Design / Production – tells you what the book is all about.

As one would expect, it’s a proper book. The edition I have in front of me (ISBN 0-393-73018-2) is a handsome hardback, with jacket, sewn binding, and good quality cream paper.

Rather ironically, I don’t altogether like the design and structure of the book. The distinction between the section on ‘Basic Knowledge’ and the subsequent sections is somewhat arbitrary (the latter includes, for example – in the Design section – a chapter called ‘The Basic Decisions). The contents page is not easy to locate. The spacious margins seem to me rather wasted and the placing of bold sub-headings in the margins looks, to my eyes, rather ugly.

Nevertheless, I’ve long found this a useful book. I’ve never worked in design or production, but need to understand those activities and find this a good one-stop resource for at least beginning to do so. To give you something of the flavour of the book, let me mention some of the passages I’ve found myself returning to. they include:

  1. Ch. 27: Frontmatter, Part Titles, & Backmatter. I’m always uncertain, when dealing with material such as acknowledgments and prefaces, what should come where, so appreciate Lee providing a view on that.
  2. Ch. 5: Typography. This introductory chapter, which is helpfully illustrated, is useful for learning the basics. Its account, which I found engaging, helped me to decide which typefaces I wanted to use in publications and why.
  3. Ch 13: Binding. This chapter taught me the principles of binding and the distinctions between the different types. Though introductory, the chapter probably took me beyond what I, as a non-specialist, strictly need to know. But I found it interesting – it feels like the kind of thing that someone working in book publishing ought to know.

That last point helps to define the value of the book. Amongst other things, it provides a grounding in what we might call publishing literacy.


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