Applaud Design Innovation
Last night I snagged a few minutes in my local Barnes & Noble. Between traveling and sitting at my computer working, I don’t get to the actual bookstore often but I try and make a point to do so at least once a month (more often if I can). Last night I only had a few minutes but I made sure to check out the new hardcovers and paperbacks at the front of the bookstore. It’s always interesting to actually hold these new books in your hand, read the back cover or inside flap and see how it’s done. You can pick up a lot of information just from this simple action.
While I picked up a lot of information through this process, one book stood out to me. Simon Winchester’s new book released October 1st, A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906. When I picked up the hardcover, I could tell something was different. The jacket was thicker than normal and I took a closer look. It was folded and had something larger inside it. On a single oversized page, tucked into the folds, the publisher put a full-color version of the front page from the San Francisco Examiner. From my work inside publishing, I can tell you this little “extra” cost some money to put together. I applaud this innovative way to add an extra feature to a hardcover book. It’s the type of action beginning writers will pick up on and propose in their books. I’d suggest caution if you are thinking about adding such a proposal.
This type of innovation (including the newspaper front page hidden in a cover design) is something in the domain of bestselling authors. If you are printing hundreds of thousands of books instead of several thousand books, then the cost per book becomes a minor issue. When you are only printing a few thousand books (which is typical for the majority of authors) then the price becomes prohibitive. Many beginning authors wonder why the publisher doesn’t print more books and do more innovative design. One of the continual discussions inside publishing houses revolves around warehouse space. You don’t want to print more books than necessary because you have to store these books then ship them to various locations (adding to your costs as a publisher).
I didn’t purchase this new title from Simon Winchester but I’m going to be watching to see how the sales progress for this particular book. I noticed in mid-July, Crack in the Edge of the World received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. Librarians and booksellers follow these starred reviews and pick up on it for their buying plans. If you doubt the persuasiveness of these reviews, just consider the first sentence, “In this brawny page-turner, bestselling writer Winchester (Krakatoa, The Professor and the Madman) has crafted a magnificent testament to the power of planet Earth and the efforts of humankind to understand her.” I suspect many will get the book from the recommendation of this sentence.
While I’m writing about Simon Winchester, if you haven’t read The Professor and the Madman and you love words like I do, then you want to make sure you add that book to your reading list. The book is a great encouragement to writers because the idea for it came from a footnote (according to a talk Winchester gave at the ASJA several years ago). Winchester is a master storyteller and you learn about one of the most unusual relationships with the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. The greatest contributor was an American madman.
Next time you reach your local bookstore or section of books. Check out Crack in the Edge of the World. It’s some innovation worth noticing.