Book Review: Indie Publishing: How To Design and Produce Your Own Book, edited by Ellen Lupton

I’m one of those people who enjoy office supply stores, the sort who saves little scraps of paper and cards with interesting drawings/photos, and also the type to wish I had more crafty skillz than I actually do. I have a weakness for oddball notebooks, journals, and excellent pens. I write a lot–fiction, memoir, reviews like you see here–and I think it’s helpful to know of different ways that one can get their work out there, preferably presented in fantastic way. Because the mister and I have our own micro-micropress (as in, tiny), Nouveau Nostalgia, where we produce arty, limited edition books with handmade elements, I bought Indie Publishing: How to Design and Produce Your Own Book for inspiration. It provides a lot of construction basics, as well as specific tips for layout and promotion.

My first introduction into bookmaking was in fifth grade, when our teacher had us writing a fairy tale. The basic outline of the story was already provided, but we filled in everything else, drew illustrations, and at the end, we bound our stories into our own handmade hardcover books. I still have mine in a storage box somewhere. It involved a lot of Elmer’s Glue mess and everyone had the same white material for a cover, but I remember it being a lot of fun. In high school, I learned more about page layout and copy editing from participating in yearbook. Yes, we were one of those mostly-crazy staffs that traveled, won awards, and generally took ourselves so seriously, all while ripping off designs from Entertainment Weekly. But it, too, was so much fun, and it provided a great foundation for the writing and layout work I do today.

Be warned: publishing a book, like starting a band or building a blog, is an unlikely way to get rich quick or get famous fast. Publishing is a painstaking, labor intensive craft. Do it because you care about what you have to say, because you have people you want to say it to, and because you take pleasure in making things happen.

Word. If you get into art for the money, you’re not only in it for the wrong reasons, you’re bound to end up disappointed. The main reason why we started Nouveau Nostalgia was to have an outlet for our smaller projects, while also providing a place where, in the future, others could come to us with their own little books they wanted to nudge into the world. We liked the idea of stretching our brains to include the physical object, not just an onscreen page layout, a photograph, or a simple document.

What I liked about Indie Publishing is that it provides tips on both the smaller, handmade books, as well as larger ventures that are complete with ISBN numbers and distribution plans. It doesn’t make any judgments about what is the “right” way to go about publishing, since every project has different needs. They outline what one needs to put on a copyright page, give sources for more information, and also provide examples of press releases and ways to promote online sales. If you’re going to release something, after all, people need to know how to get it.

For the most part, the book concentrates on design–everything from page margins, to fonts, covers, end papers, white space and binding options–with ideas for fiction, poetry, zines, exhibition catalogs, picture books and more. I loved seeing both handwritten+xeroxed examples mixed with letterpress and expert graphic design. Indie Publishing itself is designed well, in a way that will make you want to seek out the work they highlight.

There’s even an InDesign crash course, which is helpful if you’ve still been clunking along with Pagemaker for far longer than is sane. If a person is 100% completely brand new to design programs, this book might not help as much as you’d like, but it will probably make the program seem less daunting. Really, there are a lot of buttons and doodads (total tech term, by the way), but once you get the hang of the basics, inspiration and tenacity will carry you the rest of the way. Then again, I get some sort of odd joy out of tinkering with design. Your results may vary.

Another reason I enjoy this book is that I hope it helps increase the desire for books as pleasurable objects–the same way we covet other art, fashion, or whatever our physical “thing” is. Perhaps you’ve heard friends say, “Oh, I’m a sucker for good packaging,” when, for example, they buy the shampoo with the interesting bottle. For me, while I do not begrudge the existence of ebooks, I like the printed version so much better. They seem so much more permanent than something that can be lost in the networked cloud. Indie Publishing gets into the basics of using both printer services, as well as instructions for handmade options.

Handmade books are great for small editions designed for limited distribution. A handcrafted book makes a terrific portfolio for an artist or designer, showing off production skills while creating an elegant showcase for the work inside. Artists’ books and short-run editions of poetry can be beautifully and efficiently made by hand. Writers often collaborate with printers, designers, and book artists to make elegant literary editions.

The final 20 pages of the book are dedicated to “Indie Inspiration” where they show specific independently printed publications and the stories behind them. I almost wished there were more. Well, I wished there was more of everything in the book, really. At 175 pages, you’re only going to get a basic start, but it’s a good start. I’ve also been following  Fuck Yeah, Book Arts! for more ideas, as well as sites like grain edit and Unconsumption, which occasionally feature book design. I’m sure Pinterest is useful, though I have yet to dive into that rabbit hole. Publisher and book store blogs are decent sources as well. Inspiration is everywhere, after all. We just have to pay attention.


What have you handmade lately?

(This review is also part of Pajiba‘s Cannonball Read, in which participants aim to read and review 13, 26 or 52 books within one year. Though I’m taking things easier this year, I expect to surpass the ‘Half Cannonball’ distinction by the end of 2012. This review also appears on my site, Glorified Love Letters.)

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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