Susan Hannah on Book Design ─ October Meeting Report


Carla Douglas (left) and Lee d’Anjou (right) listen as Susan Hannah talks book design at the Editors Kingston October gathering.

Association News

Some updates from the national organization:

Editors Canada has a new executive director,  John Yip-Chuck ─ and he’s an editor! At least, he was one, at legal publisher CCH Canadian and then at Pearson Education. He went on in educational publishing to become a program manager, managing editor, and eventually publisher (responsible for all science learning resources in grades K through 12 at Nelson Education). He has also developed small businesses of his own. The national executive council (NEC) is excited to have John’s expertise in strategic planning and management put to work for Editors Canada. John says, “It is my personal objective to help Editors Canada members acquire more work, to get paid more, and to have clients and employers appreciate their efforts even more than they currently do.”

The special online meeting held October 1 using Zoom meeting technology went quite smoothly. Assistant Twig Coordinator Elizabeth d’Anjou attended, and voted proxies on behalf of several other Kingston members. The outcomes:

Editors Canada celebrated Plain Language Day with a Twitter campaigplain-twwtn urging the federal government to write Canadian laws in plain language. A fun, low-cost project in support of an important cause.

The new webinars are under way! Learn how some basics of language theory can help you with author relations (November 7), or get a primer in developmental editing of fiction & memoir (December 3 & 4).

Guest Speaker: Susan Hannah, Book Designer

Collaboration was the prevailing theme at our October 12 meeting, when we listened to local book designer Susan Hannah speak on the topic “Let’s Work Together: I Won’t ‘Should’ You.” Throughout, she emphasized the importance of designers, editors, and others involved in a book listening to one another and being open to input.dlattach

About a dozen members and guests sat around tables full of books that bore Susan’s handiwork as she took us on a tour of a book designer’s world. Her presentation began with high-level topics such the basic functions of a book’s design, the qualities needed to be a good designer, and how design fits into the overall production process. But she went on to get into the nitty-gritty of typesetting decisions, printers’ quotes, fonts and leading, treatment of images, line width, cover design, and even file naming.

Here are just a few bits of wisdom she shared:

  • Book design is not just beautiful packaging, but an identifier for particular genres, an aid for readers with specific needs, and an instruction manual for readers.
  • Over 25 decisions must be made to get an accurate printing quote; it matters, because the cost of printing can make the difference between a book that makes a profit and one that doesn’t.
  • People with dyslexia read some fonts more easily; these include Aral, Comic Sans, Verdana, Tahoma, Century Gothic, and Trebuchet. (Susan now uses these in all of her books; “Why not?” she says, pointing out she can add a huge amount of variety with headings, chapter openers, and graphic elements.)
  • Consistent handling of images and captions is important not only for aesthetics, giving the book the feeling of a cohesive whole, but for ease of reading; a reader comes to expect a certain approach.
  • Cover design isn’t just about the front cover. Remember that when a book is on a shelf only its spine can be seen. The back cover’s job is to get people flipping pages once they have the book in their hands; when you see someone in a bookstore doing that, the chances are good that the book will be bought.

Throughout, she often came back to the importance of collaboration. Ideally, the many people involved in a book’s production ask each other questions rather than telling (”shoulding”) each other their own thoughts. “I always start the first design meeting,” Susan said, “by reminding everyone that we’re all here to celebrate this book, which was someone’s dream.”

An author herself, Susan professed to have greatly enjoyed meeting some of Kingston’s editors, and hopes to join us at some future twig gatherings.

Coming Up November 9: Meet a Trade Book Editor

Alex Schultz, Picton resident and friend of the twig, will give an informal talk sharing stories from his twenty years in Canadian trade publishing. See you there!

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