Review by Joel Friedlander, TheBookDesigner.com
Our next book for review is the historical novel The Fiddler’s Gun by A.S. Peterson. (6″ x 9″, 293 pages, softbound, ISBN 978-0615325422, Rabbit Room Press.)
This novel is set during the American revolutionary war. Arthur Peterson said in his email to me that
I have not been impressed with the quality of POD printing and decided to go with offset in part because the design of the book cried out for rough-edged (deckled) pages and a matte laminate cover.
The cover for Fiddler’s Gun shows the amount of work Arthur has put into this book. Here’s what works well for me on this cover:
- The matte lamination is very effective, giving the cover a soft sophistication it would lack with the typical high-gloss lamination we see so much of today.
- Overall the typography is handled with sensitivity, and the placement of elements works well.
- I really like the depth Arthur and his illustrator have achieved by layering and compositing different pieces of artwork in Photoshop. You can see that they intentionally controlled the dark and light areas of the illustration to show the type to best advantage, and the design creates a really atmospheric quality to the cover, inviting the reader into the story.
This cover doesn’t come off as an amateur, or haphazardly self-published book. Where this cover doesn’t work as well:
- Principally in the title. Rather than use typography, the author has chosen to integrate the title with the illustration by using a hand-drawn title, replete with lots of period ornamentation. Although I admire the skill with which this was done, it does not compare well to either the rest of the cover, or with other covers that use this same approach, but where highly skilled hand lettering artists have been employed. The net effect of this choice seems to me the only element of this cover—indeed, of the whole book—that looks amateurish.
- The design of the title has also been used to establish a strong vertical emphasis on the cover. Note the very long “L” in “Fiddler’s” and the ornaments that go along with this. I see no particular purpose to this emphasis, and it seems to involve us in a design idea irrelevant to the title or the illustration.
- Although the drawing is effective, the overall effect of the cover with the matte lam, the muted tones of the background, and the rustic dark red type of the title seems unnecessarily flat. All these elements combine to rob the cover of some of the drama it might have otherwise have had.
Here’s a photo that shows the effect of using “deckle-edged” paper, a nice touch that readers will enjoy and that harks back to the book’s historical era:
As you can see, this technique also requires that the fore-edge of the cover be slightly narrower than the full width of the book, because it cannot be trimmed along its face. A nice effect anyway, and a bit of luxury compared to most self-published books.
Here is a typical spread from the book:
Here again, Arthur has created a beautiful typographic container for his novel. Because the book is long—100,000 words by the author’s count—he faced the challenge of finding an efficient typeface and layout to bring the book in at a reasonable length while maintaining readability. I think he’s succeeded on both counts. Here’s where I think this interior works well:
- The chapter openings use a decorative typeface for the chapter numbers and 3-line drop caps that expresses the historical period quite well.
- Following the drop cap, the author has emphasized the beginning of the chapter by running the first 4 words in small caps, an effective device that helps “dress up” the chapter opening nicely. This same small cap run-in is used at the text breaks, but without the drop cap.
- The centered running heads and folios add to the unobtrusiveness of the design. Very small and tasteful ornaments have been used around the folios to good effect.
- Although the type size of the Garamond text is small to accommodate the length of the book, extra space has been used in the leading—space between the lines—to keep it readable, a good decision.
This book is elegantly designed and easy to read and, in truth, there are few changes I would make to it to improve the interior design. Here are a couple of notes:
- You’ll notice on the spread above, at the bottom of page 200 (note that this image was taken from a PDF the author used for reviewers, and is not the same pagination as the printed book, in which this page—rightly—is number 201) there’s a widow, that is, the first line of a paragraph that’s been left by itself at the bottom of the page. This is a decision every book designer has to make when laying out books. The alternative would have left a larger space at the bottom of some pages than others. There are occasionally orphans as well—the last line of a paragraph at the top of a page by itself. By making this decision, every page can be made to have the same number of lines, and be perfectly squared-up. I don’t see this as a defect, but as a choice with unfortunate ramifications no matter which option you choose. The only way to avoid these widows and orphans completely is the rather unrealistic practice of rewriting selected sentences or paragraphs to get rid of the extra line, or some advanced typographic legerdemain to achieve the same thing by fooling the eye of the reader.
- With a lengthy book like The Fiddler’s Gun, the inside margin—or gutter—becomes particularly important. Although these pages look good, I think I would have added more space to the inner margin to account for the thickness of the binding, and sacrificed a bit of the outside margin. Again, this is a judgment call, and not necessarily a defect.
The Fiddler’s Gun is clearly a cut above most self-published book designs. From the great care in the typography to the special effects achievable only through offset printing, to the quiet readability of the pages, the author has succeeded in creating a beautiful vehicle for his novel, one that can stand beside most any book from any source. A different approach to the title would have made this near perfect. A beautiful job, and I want to thank Arthur for sending this in, and for his patience in waiting for me to find the time to do the review.
If you’re interested in getting a design review for your book, add a request in the forum Submit Your Book for a Design Review and I’ll contact you with details.
Joel Friedlander is the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, a publishing services company in San Rafael, California that has launched many self-publishers. Joel is a book designer, a self-published author, and blogs about publishing and book design at TheBookDesigner.com.