Making the Shortlist

Fantastic news for us this autumn is that three Folio Society editions of The Handmaid’s Tale, Fahrenheit 451 and The Bhagavad Gita have been shortlisted in the Literature category of the British Book Design and Production Awards 2012.

It’s roughly a year since I was fortunate enough to work on each of these three striking Folio Society editions and so here is a ‘behind the scenes’ recall of my production experience on these books.

Typically I have two-three months to complete the production of a book – picking up the baton from my colleagues: the production manager, type designers, editors and art director – to control the ‘how it’s made’ bit and turn their digital files into physical books of bespoke Folio Society quality.

It sounds like a long time – but each Folio Society title, by its nature, is ‘high maintenance’, often requiring, as these three projects did, to have original illustrations and foil blocked bindings reproduced consistently across thousands of copies on what is ‘old technology’, the CMYK litho printing press.

So I used my time to conduct colour editing of the artist’s illustrations using a dedicated repro house: a delicate process that is required to adjust images so that when they are CMYK printed, the printed result is true to the artist’s original artwork.  Then to proof and proof again, checking every page of text, every illustration and every stage of the bindings and if necessary adjusting at plotter, and printed proof stages to achieve the highest quality.

Additionally, each artist is given an opportunity to comment on a final ‘wet’ proof of their illustrations, so they know exactly what their images will look like printed on the paper we have selected for them. I remember the delicate watercolour and gouache illustrations from The Bhagavad Gita artist Anna Bhushan, as works that were particularly difficult to reproduce on an uncoated paper.

All three of these books have that specialism unique to the Folio Society – the foil-blocked binding. The Bhagavad Gita however, had a binding design that pushed the technical boundaries – overprinting a gold foil in four colours, which caused much technical consultation with the production manager, the dedicated repro house and the printer. Finally, several proofs later, after testing a variety of foils and ink densities, I could sign off a stunning CMYK and sparkling gold-foiled artist illustrated cover proof.

Margaret Atwood with ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

One or two moments added drama to my production task on The Handmaid’s Tale – jeopardising its delivery date. The cloth mill sold out of the shade selected for the cover (and of course nothing else would do), at the same time as the editor requested copies early to fly to Canada for Margaret Atwood to sign…

But, several signed books and a delighted author later, I can conclude that the joy of working in the ‘how its made’ department of a publishing company is that you have a physical product to show for your hard work (all the more poignant when you read Fahrenheit 451). And if it’s a Folio Society book it not only looks beautiful in its physical form but each of these three titles wears its unique production values in a way that adds great pleasure to the reading of a good work.

So fingers crossed, lets see what the judges think this November!

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