to day 2 of the three-week blog tour
for Donna Druchunas‘ new book, Arctic Lace: Knitting Projects and Stories Inspired by Alaska’s Native Knitters. Each stop on the tour has a personality and flavor that’s as individual as the hosting blog, which makes the sequence a lot of fun. The tour started yesterday
at Designer’s Note.
Because I’m the editor and publisher of Arctic Lace, we’re reversing the expected
roles today. Donna is interviewing me.
You might want to get a cup of tea. I’d bring you one if I could. This is a long post. Donna asks good questions, and I answer in some detail.
For background, here’s the table of contents of Arctic Lace:
• Introduction: Following my obsessions to the Arctic
• 1 Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers’ Co-operative
• 2 The Yup’ik and Inupiat People
• 3 Villages and Knitters
• 4 Musk oxen in Alaska
• 5 A new venture: The beginning of the co-op
• 6 Qiviut
• 7 Lace-knitting workshop
• 8 Projects
• 9 Designing your own projects
on the projects: Donna’s designs for the Arctic Lace projects were inspired by images from Alaskan life and history that she discovered through her own research and travels. The designs used by the knitters of Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers’ Co-operative are copyrighted, because the knitters depend on their original work as a source of income to supplement their primarily subsistence lifestyles. (Visit the Oomingmak site, or better yet the store in Anchorage, to buy an heirloom piece of Native Alaskan knitting!) Arctic Lace contains fifteen of Donna’s designs, varying in difficulty. Most have been designed to require small amounts of luxury fibers; information on substituting fibers is included.
Donna: As a publisher, what made you interested in publishing Arctic Lace when I first told you about it?
Deb: I’m a handspinner and have been since the early 1970s. I’ve known about qiviut, and heard about the Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers’ Co-operative, for decades. When I was editor of Spin-Off, I had the opportunity to publish excellent articles on qiviut, and the magazine had published some information before I got there.
I thought the topic was fascinating and I knew what information had already been
printed. A lot of the story had not been told. What information did exist was
Donna: This book is almost two books in one, with extensive history and background chapters followed by knitting lessons and patterns. Were there any special challenges in producing a dual-personality book like this? Would you consider publishing two-part books like this again in
Deb: Yes, there were major challenges, and yes, I would consider publishing books like this again—even though anyone who knows contemporary publishing well will tell someone who’s thinking about releasing a dual-personality book not to do it.
Although there is precedent for doing so in some books that have become classics, those books were released under different marketing conditions. Now that many more books are being released—and the channels through which they are being distributed have become more strictly funneled into categories—the dual-personality book doesn’t fit the system. That’s why The Physics of Star Trek often gets filed under "physics," where Trekkies are far less likely to find it than if it were with the Star Trek books. Only the independent bookstores seem to be able to file a single book in two sections any more.
However, I couldn’t imagine separating the parts of this book. So, with our eyes open, we proceeded to make the book we both envisioned—one that actually has more than two aspects, because it contains the human context and history, the ecological/biological background on musk oxen, the qiviut information, the lace-knitting primer, the patterns, and the design-your-own templates.
Donna: As an editor, do you prefer editing books that contain mainly knitting
instructions or mainly prose? Why?
Although I enjoy editing knitting instructions in the same way that I enjoy assembling certain types of jigsaw puzzles, it’s almost impossible to get a group of knitting patterns into print with instructions that are unambiguous and error-free. It doesn’t matter how hard you work. Publishing knitting instructions is like running a marathon and a hurdles course at the same time . . . in a hail storm.
I have edited one knitting pattern in my life that was perfect when I received it. That’s one out of a lot of knitting patterns. The whole time that pattern was in production, I was anxious that a typo would sneak in and spoil it. (Hint: Spin-Off for Winter 1996.)
Computers have been a great boon to publishing, but they also have increased the chances that random typographic events will occur after the proofing has been completed—and a random typographic event produces an error of either commission or omission in knitting instructions. I only began to relax about that project after I had eyeballed it one more time, character by character, when we got the desk copies from the printer.
At the same time, conveying knitting information through the printed page requires that we use knitting patterns. We knitters can’t always sit next to each other in a circle and explain things over cups of tea. Although knitters now have access to videos and other tools, and they’re incredibly useful, I don’t find them as portable and friendly as books and magazines. So we’ll just have to keep dealing with knitting patterns.
Donna: Arctic Lace includes photographs from many different sources, including digital
photos, black-and-white film photos, scans of printed photos, and files provided in several different sizes and formats from museums. How did you get all of these different types of photos to look good?
Deb: First, thanks to you for gathering so many incredible images for us to work with from
so many different sources.
After that, all of the credit for making them look great in print goes to my daughter, Rebekah Robson-May. She has brought indispensable image-processing skills to the publishing of Knitting in the Old Way, Spinning in the Old Way, and now Arctic Lace. Each of those books has presented different difficulties in its images, although Arctic Lace was the most demanding in the diversity of types and qualities of photos
that we, and therefore she, needed to work with.
So my short answer to "how did you get the photos to look good" is "Rebekah"!
In college, one of her work-study jobs involved processing photos from Mars
research. The skills she taught herself there transfer well to publishing. She has also taught herself
web design and has created, and now maintains, our web site and several others.
I am not entirely sure of everything Rebekah does when she processes the images that we end up printing—although she has taught me a handful of rather sophisticated Photoshop tricks that let me do some image manipulation when she isn’t available—and I do know that she is still not completely satisfied with two of the images as they appeared in print.
On the other hand, there was one image that I thought was hopeless, and we didn’t have an alternative. Because of the lack of contrast, it looked overall gray. She improved it beyond my wildest dreams.
The most challenging images may have been those that were shot at resolutions too low for
reproduction in books (but which we wanted to use anyway) and those that showed items that we wanted to silhouette (so just the object floats on the page) but that were photographed so the background and object were difficult to isolate either electronically or visually.
Donna: I love the final cover for Arctic Lace because it features both the lace itself and knitters from the Oomingmak co-op. Before we ended up with that cover, we had several other designs that weren’t quite working, most of which featured a photo of a musk ox. Can you describe the process of working with a cover designer and how you came up with the final design?
Deb: Cover design is critical for any book that will be sold to people who are browsing, whether in person or on the internet. I do almost all the design work at Nomad Press, including the books’ interiors, because I love type and I love integrating text and visuals. I do not design the covers, even though that’s an expensive piece of work to hire out and there aren’t many cover designers whose work I think is appropriate for what we’re doing.
The cover needs to convey the idea of a book in an appealing way that needs to "read" both at a physical browsing distance of six feet, like in a yarn shop or bookstore, and when reduced to
about a one-inch (2.5 cm) square on a web page.
The process began with selection of a title. We also collected a group of images that we liked and thought Mayapriya would find visually interesting. I also talked with Mayapriya about the audience for the book, its trim size, and what was important to convey in this particular cover design.
Our initial designs for the Arctic Lace cover faced several challenges. Chief among them was the difficulty of designing anything with a qiviut-like brown that would reproduce well on press. The gamut of colors available from current printing technology seems infinite but is not. After many attempts, we decided not to risk having the wrong brown appear and shifted to gray, which conveyed the feeling of the qiviut more reliably.
The initial array of ideas involved sets of fabric swatches, some great ice crystal patterns, images of the Oomingmak knitters, and/or draping images of the qiviut projects, in various combinations.
We also worked a lot with a musk-ox photo that your husband, Dominic Cotignola, had shot while you and he were in Alaska for your traveling research. Dom produced so many fantastic photographs, but you and Mayapriya and I all loved this particular one. I think we liked the abstract composition and "otherness" of it. The image is very artistic, and when Mayapriya combined it with some of the other images we thought it made a terrific cover.
We worked hard on adjusting everything so it worked together, and it looked like this would be the final cover.
However, we also know enough to seek outside opinions. I sent sample covers to Nomad’s account manager at our distributor, who in turn sent it to several sales reps. We also took printouts to a knit-in at a local bookstore and solicited opinions from both knitters and the other knitting authors who were there. You also gathered reactions through your blog.
Some of the viewers liked the cover as well as we did.
However, we also heard these comments: "What’s the cow doing on the cover?" "The chain stores will file this book under ‘animal husbandry.’" "It makes me uncomfortable. I’d buy the book, but I’d put a plain brown wrapper over it," from someone whose opinion I care about a lot. I didn’t want her to have to do
that. And, finally, from a savvy sales rep whose bluntness I appreciate, "Lose the ox."
This was not what we wanted to hear. We were very near an outside deadline for the distributor’s fall catalog. (This was January 2006—covers happen early, before you’re ready.)
Here’s the ox. It was not this in-your-face, of course, being combined with lace images and ice patterns. Dom took a fantastic photo, here acknowledged:
Over about thirty-six hours, Mayapriya and I worked intensely, sending new ideas back and forth as PDFs. When I say she’s brilliant, I mean that at the very last minute, after we’d been fussing and fiddling with ideas that branched off previous concepts, she scrapped everything we’d done so far and sent me a completely reconceptualized cover, in which she came up with a vision that all of us loved.
This had been the sort of stress situation where people start breaking down and throwing things. None of us did. And look what came of it!
I think Mayapriya, you, and I still miss the musk ox—an image I had hoped to find space for in the finished book, but didn’t.
But we also think that this is the cover the book was meant to have.
Donna: Arctic Lace was printed in Canada. When I do book signings and teach classes, people always ask me why so many books are printed in China. Can you explain why this is so, and why you were able to print Arctic Lace in Canada?
Deb: There are at least two different questions tucked into this interesting inquiry about printing.
The first is why so many books are printed in China. The primary reason is that, because of labor costs, it has become far more economical to print full-color books in Asia (not just China). Because of changes in the distribution system, publishers today have less of a share of the retail price to use in producing the book (editorial, design, printing, and author payments) than they have had even in the recent past. They’re looking to save every penny they can, and they can save a lot of pennies by printing color in Asia, even with the cost of freight and the four-month shipping delays and the import requirements factored in.
Yes, there’s generally a whole lot more color in books these days. That’s because of
electronic layout programs and Asian printing.
At Nomad Press, we prefer to keep our printing in North America and to invest in intensive editorial and design work, instead of color printing. We have so far selected for publication books that do not need interior color—and where color will not be missed.
We could, and probably will, add a drop-in color section to some future books. We can do that economically while still keeping our printing in North America. (Some North American printers,
including some of the ones that we use, do still provide color work—at the very-high-quality, and therefore very expensive, end of the spectrum.)
We chose to print in Canada for a number of reasons. Nomad Press participates in the Green Press Initiative, which aims to conserve natural resources and preserve endangered forests. There are printers in both Canada and the United States who are part of this effort, and we print our books with those firms.
Arctic Lace was printed by one of the two firms that has worked with Raincoast Books to
produce Canadian copies of Harry Potter books on 100-percent postconsumer recycled stock. They’re fantastic to work with and we knew that our book would be high in quality and delivered on time—which was critical for this title because of your, and my, scheduled trip to Alaska for
Yarn Expo III which was happening on the pub date! "Late" was not an option.
Donna: What was the most challenging part about getting the project from rough manuscript to final book? (Tell the truth; don’t worry about embarrassing me or anything.)
Deb: Donna, you and I both know there were a lot of challenging parts of getting this book from rough manuscript to finished book! We both could have, and normal people maybe would have, thrown in the towel any number of times. But we were both passionate about it, and we kept going, and now that the book is out there I’m really glad we did!
So, what was the most challenging part, though?
Well, I think we might both pinpoint as a challenging part the first full copy of your manuscript that you turned in to me. At this point, you had spent a huge amount of time on the project. You had gathered and read and visited and photographed and organized a massive amount of material and wrestled it into book form. You handed it off to me.
And I read it, and said to you, "Great, but you need to rewrite it, because this also
needs to be a story about what the heck made you go all the way to Alaska. . . . And by the way, we need to cut about half of the chapter on what musk oxen eat. . . ."
That’s a hard thing for an editor to say, and much harder for a writer to hear, with good reason. Donna, it takes incredible strength for a writer to say, "Okay," and turn around and do a full rewrite that takes the book up several levels in one complicated, wrenching move.
I want to acknowledge the toughness of that experience and thank you in public for being so dedicated to making the book come out right.
For me, there were a lot of big challenges—the book was a mammoth, complex job for both of us to tackle—but what comes to mind first is a challenge that was actually comparatively small when juxtaposed to other hurdles we both crossed, separately and together. This smaller problem did occur at a critical time.
Near the end of production, not long before we went to press, I opened the layout file for chapter 8 (the projects) and the typeface for the charts had been electronically scrambled. What I saw bore no relationship to charts, the original font, or anything even remotely similar.
There was no quick fix, either. I rebuilt every chart in that chapter from scratch at the last minute. I did rebuild them in a way that would be easier to straighten out if the problem happened again. Until we actually got the book to press, though, I kept my fingers crossed that the same thing would not happen on the charts in the other chapters. They could have done that even as I was preparing the final
PDFs for the printer.
I am still grateful both that it didn’t and that the glitch occurred before the proofreader’s final review of the pages. Whew!
Yet the very most challenging part of this book was having to delay the publication date repeatedly in order to make the book the best job that you and I could possibly accomplish. As you know too well, both author and publisher invest literally years of full-time work in a book before it appears. All of that is unpaid work, which we do because we have a good idea and faith in our ability to pull it off. Meanwhile, we need to continue making our livings in other ways. It’s a long haul. And every six-month delay means six more months of intense, overtime work, part of it for the project and part of it to pay enough bills to keep working.
I am so glad when all the pieces of a book have been assembled and checked
and sent off to the printer. That moment warrants a big fireworks display. Or a huge, deep, relaxed breath.
Then, of course, some of the work has just started. Then it’s time to send this project that we’ve both spent years on out into the world, tell other people about it, and see if they like it as much as we have thought they would. Fortunately, this time it seems that they do! I’ve just ordered the third print run this morning. Whew again!
Note: Arctic Lace is for sale through yarn shops and bookstores, both brick-and-mortar and
online. Ask for it at your favorite shop.