Straight from the Master: Masterson on Book Design & Production

by Joel Friedlander on December 30, 2009 · 10 comments

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Many smart self-publishers already own the “bible” of the business, Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual. But another iconic resource is available to self-publishers who decide to take on the design and production of their own books.

Of course, the book I’m referring to is Pete Masterson‘s Book Design and Production: A Guide for Authors and Publishers (ISBN 0-9669819-0-1). This 320 page, large format paperback is the best resource available for anyone who needs to understand the nuts and bolts of book layout and production.

Masterson is the proprietor of Aeonix Publishing, and has operated several book design, printing, and typesetting businesses. He managed printing, graphics and book production staff for NASA’s Ames Research Center, and is now an independent book design and production specialist who also consults and acts as a “book shepherd” for clients.

Two, Two, Two Books in One

Book Design and Production is actually two books. The first 196 pages are devoted to:

  • a survey of the history of the book
  • a review of the book design and production process
  • detailed instruction in setting up book files in Adobe InDesign
  • extensive advice on selecting a printer and understanding printing contracts
  • the elements of book typography
  • information on scanning of photographic subjects for good reproduction
  • advice on how to hire a designer to do the book for you
  • and information on many other aspects of book production

There are many type samples, screenshots of procedures, templates for book page layout, sidebars with background information and stories from the author’s experience in the book business, as well as occasional cartoons on graphic arts-related topics.

The second half of the book, almost 100 pages, is what you would have to call the mother of all book production glossaries. From 10baseT to Zoom box every conceivable term you might run into in the course of designing or producing a book is explained in detail.

The Glossary is followed by a Resource and Bibliography section, also helpful for self-publishers. Altogether, Book Design and Production is a terrific value at the current Amazon.com price of $19.77. Any one piece of advice in this book is likely to easily repay the purchase price.

Format and Design

The book is a large format 7-3/4″ x 10-7/8″ which Pete has used judiciously. It’s interesting to see the way he’s given his pages much more generous margins than we’re accustomed to in most contemporary books, and the large bottom margin calls to mind the way books were laid out by master typographers early in the history of printing.

The large format makes the book feel easy and generous to work with, and the margins invite making notes on the page, if you’re the kind of person who does that. The overall design shows the author’s familiarity with typography, but is basically serviceable without much typographic elegance. Your eye might wander a bit on long paragraphs of the very wide measure the book is set on, but mostly the book gives up its information easily.

You might think that because the book was published in 2005 it would be out of date, but it isn’t. Although the versions of InDesign and Word that Masterson refers to in the text are a few generations old, the book holds up surprisingly well. This is likely because it concentrates on basic principles that haven’t changed that much over time.

A Patient Teacher

Pete is also the president to the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA). Each month the first hour of the BAIPA meeting is devoted to questions from the attendees, and this is often used by newcomers to ask basic questions about printing and publishing.

Pete presides at these sessions, patiently explaining about ISBNs, copyright, discounts, digital printers, vanity presses, book reviewers and anything else that gets asked.

Pete’s patience and wealth of knowledge come through in Book Design and Production. It’s a book you’ll refer to over and over again.

Takeaway: If you plan to design or produce your book yourself, get Book Design and Production now—you’ll find it invaluable.

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