In June 2011, we published our first book; Kokoro: Hints and Echoes of Japanese Inner Life by Lafcadio Hearn. It was a long journey from start to finish, two years long in fact. So we thought we’d share that journey and the decisions (right or wrong) with you.
Two years may sound like a long time to publish a book, but within the industry its the standard state of affairs. We worked mostly in the evenings for two or three hours at a time, sometimes on the train and often in cafe’s around London. The text was re-typeset from the ground up and proofread against the original text four times, to ensure accuracy. A new cover was also designed. But that was just half the story.
Kokoro: Hints and Echoes of Japanese Inner Life by Lafcadio Hearn was first published in 1896 by Houghton Mifflin Company of Boston in the United States. It was produced in an edition of 2000, with a hardback olive green cloth cover and gilt titles.
Kokoro has seen many different editions over the years, many of them poorly copied from the original. Some late 20th Century editions of Kokoro were scanned reproductions of the original and these felt like historical copies taken on a library photocopier. eBook versions were the worst offenders, with missing font characters, no illustrations and poor attention to detail. One thing was evident, we didn’t want to scan Kokoro from the original like so many others, but to create a new edition from the ground up.
Before any book can be made, the size and layout of the page must be decided upon. We spent a lot of time in book shops, pulling all kinds of books from the shelves and examining each one carefully. We asked questions, lots of questions. Why was the text block designed this way? Should the text be justified or ragged right? We purchased books, new and second hand from Amazon and Abe books to the local Sunday flea market. We researched the size of existing books and why this size worked or didn’t work. We wanted the new edition to feel right in the hand, but also easy to carry in a bag. What we found and disliked about most mass produced paperbacks was the way publishers would fit as much text on to a page as possible. The problem was simple, a book has to be held in the hand to be read and to hold a book usually means placing your thumbs over the bottom of the page block. With mass produced paperbacks, this meant covering the text block and therefore the text you were reading. In Designing Books by Jost Hochuli and Robin Kinross (1), there is an illustration that shows how books are held, demonstrating how the thumb is placed over the bottom of the text block. In deciding a method of construction for the text block we studied the research conducted by Jan Tschichold (2) in The Form of the Book. After trying out many different designs we settled on the Van de Graaf canon (3) which worked well with the book and the word count.
Unlike most of the other editions of Kokoro that have been published recently, we decided to re-typeset Kokoro from the ground up. Finding the right font was crucial to the reading experience. We wanted a font that was easy to read, but also one that was economical to set for a print edition. Our needs why high; roman, small caps and special characters such as cedilla, aesc, acute, circumflex, ethel, and macron. The choice was Adobe Minion Pro (4), an update to a typeface designed by Robert Slimbach in 1989 for Adobe Systems. We paid close attention to the original text, making sure that each special character and accented letter was correctly typeset, even in the eBook edition. One typographic detail that we did not carry over the from the original text was the use of the em dash (—). Instead we followed a rule found in Jan Tschichold’s The Form of the Book (2) and used the en dash (–), which some what goes against the advice given by Robert Bringhurt’s book The Elements Of Typographic Style (5). The title page of the original edition had written in Kanji the Japanese word ‘KOKORO’. As this was a new edition and not a reproduction, we decided not to scan the original calligraphy, but commissioned a qualified Japanese calligrapher to write the Kanji for ‘KOKORO’. We didn’t however carry across the illustration of the boy.
Kokoro is littered with footnote’s. The 1896 edition has 67 footnotes placed at the bottom of the text block. While placing the footnote on the same page as the reference is helpful to the reader, it is discouraged in modern book design (see Robert Bringhurt’s book The Elements Of Typographic Style (5)). We made the decision to place all the footnote’s together at the end of the book. In hindsight this was not the best for them, as the book would be produced as a paperback and not have a double ribbon as most quality hardbacks do. This meant the reader could not ‘bookmark’ the text or the footnotes.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover”, as the saying goes. And judging by some of the Kokoro cover designs out there this may well be true. The original 1896 cover was simple with gold embossed text on an olive green cloth cover. However we wanted to give the book a contemporary look, yet echo its Japanese contents. We looked at a number of designs ranging from full cover traditional Japanese patterns in various colors to just simple wording. In the end we decided to go with a three quarter Japanese pattern and title design as we knew that Kokoro would be the first of a series.
If we were setting up in book publishing 10 years ago, the only option available to us for printing books would have been a traditional offset printer. There’s nothing wrong in that, but for a small company its a big cash outlay for a run of 500+ books, none of which you are certain to sell. On top of which there is the storage and distribution to take care of. Thankfully things have moved on. The middle man is dead! Small publishers can now sell directly to customers one printed or digital book at a time via Print on Demand (POD). There’s a few POD players out there in the wild; Lightning Source, Lulu, Blurb, Espresso Book Machine and Amazon’s Createspace. Not every POD is suited to the needs of a publisher, as many target authors. Lulu for example offer ISBN numbers. Although this is helpful for individual titles, most publishers, us included, buy ISBN numbers in blocks of 100, as printed books and eBooks require different ISBN’s. The company we use is Lightning Source, the leading POD service and owned by Ingram Content Group. The difference with Lightning Source is that you have an account manger and access to the world’s most comprehensive distribution channel. Lightning Source also offer a good selection of paper and print options, including offset printing and foil blocking.
We also researched the eBook editions of Kokoro. Where do I began? I looked at free editions available through sites like Project Gutenberg and feedbooks.com and through online retailers like Amazon. Our conclusion; free does not always equal good. One thing was for sure; we couldn’t have been making our first eBook at a better time. Half way through the design process came the long awaited announcement from Apple. An announcement that had been generating endless rumors and speculation for most of the previous year. The rumor that Apple was launching a tablet device. Apple delivered the iPad (6). It also unveiled a sales outlet; the iBooks Store. With the print edition finished and proofread, the eBook edition was created over a period of two weeks. Deciding on an eBook format was not difficult since both the iPad and Sony eReader both used the ePub format and this format offered the best results on both devices. While Amazon does not use the ePub format, it does convert your ePub files to the Kindle platform.
Getting the book printed and onto Amazon, The Book Depository and Waterstones was the easy part. Getting the eBook version onto Amazon directly via Amazon Kindle direct Publishing (KDP) was a whole different ball game. It’s not Amazon that makes this difficult, but the fact you are required, for tax purposes to have an Employer Identification Number (EIN) (7), which is a US Tax ID. To get an EIN you have to first apply an IRS office in the US. This whole process takes around two months after you have submitted the forms correctly, which we did. Once you have the EIN, you can then upload your eBook onto Amazon. Wait 24-48 hours and your book is listed in the Kindle store. Happy days.
The last task any British publisher must undertake is to submit a printed copy to the British Library within 30 days of publication. The British Library, under the The Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 (c 28) (8) is automatically entitled to be sent a copy of printed works. Five other libraries, the Bodleian Library (Oxford University), the Cambridge University Library, the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, the National Library of Wales and the National Library of Scotland can also request a copy. We submitted copies to all six.