Big Book, Small Book: Product Development for Authors (2)

big book, small book: product development for authors (part 2) (blog post) This blog post continues yesterday’s post about how to think about a new book product: which physical size and dimensions should the book have?

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OK, yesterday’s blogging session went well (see Big Book, Small Book (1)). I did locate a few books that I did not like, and so I did succeed in narrowing in on the dimensions of my own (future) book.

And even if some discoveries were unexpected, as in the “unveiling” of the actual physical dimensions of my old How to Do Things with Words (by J. L. Austin), it was ultimately all for the best.

This is because the exercise was not simply to accept old evaluations of what I used to think was good (or even to perfectly remember those evaluations); rather, the exercise was to evaluate, or re-evaluate, the books, at this moment in time: Do I now like the size of the book, its physical dimensions? Will that size be good enough for me, in regard to my new book that I am planning right now?

So I am sitting here next to my computer with another small pile of books that I want to check out. Let’s see if I can find a better book size today, one that really feels good in my hand(s), and that is also truly portable at the same time (i.e., isn’t too heavy).

Book Size: Is “Less Tall” Small Enough?

Let’s start with Shine: How to Survive and Thrive at Work (by Chris Barez-Brown), another Penguin book. Well, even though there was the typical orange Penguin logo on the cover, it seems as if the “official” publisher is “Portfolio”, according to Amazon.com. And, indeed, on the Copyright page in the front matter of the book, it says “Portfolio Penguin”. So apparently “Portfolio” is an imprint that is used by the Penguin Group (and perhaps it’s a business division as well, within Penguin Group).

How to survive and thrive at work, by chris barez-brown (Penguin Books)

Now, the reason that I chose to take that book out of the bookshelf was not because I was particularly fond of its design, or its contents (perhaps I’ll talk about that some other time); rather, it was because of its physical size: it was simply less tall than most of the neighboring books on the shelf.

But when I actually pulled it out from the shelf, I found it to be heavy. Of course, some of that is due to its being 220-something pages. But I think most of this monster weight has to do with the kind of paper it is printed on (it’s some glossy paper that feels like it’s an advertising brochure for something; the paper itself virtually says: “I’m here to sell you something”).

So how heavy is it, really? Well, let’s compare it to one of the books that I talked about in my post yesterday: Thinking, Fast and Slowby Daniel Kahneman.

That book, which is another Penguin title, is printed on some relatively cheap paper, approximately belonging to the category “mass market paperback” type of paper. Thus, that paper doesn’t weigh as much as the glossy paper in Barez-Brown’s book. So although the latter has less than half the number of pages, and also is less wide, as well as less tall, it still weighs more. Amazing.

What’s the positive side of all of this? Well, first it is that I now know that I certainly don’t want any heavy book like that. So it’s important to get the right paper quality; or, put another way, not get too good paper quality, or too heavy paper quality. I am targeting portability, as you may remember from yesterday’s post.

Another positive thing is that I think I have narrowed in on at least the height of the book that I am trying to produce. So even if the “Shine” volume was too heavy, and too wide, for my taste, I still think that its height is approximately right. I think that’s a great discovery.

Book Size: What About the Width?

Another book similar in size to the Barez-Brown book is The Elements of Effort, by John Jerome (Pocket Books).

The Elements of Effort, by John Jerome

Now, how does Jerome’s book work out? Well, it’s actually almost exactly as tall as Barez-Brown’s book; so its height is fine. What’s more, it’s also a little less wide, so it certainly feels better when I hold it. However, even though the width certainly is better, it’s still not good enough. So I have to keep on looking.

But before I go on to the next book, I have a few interesting observations. Having almost as many pages as the Barez-Brown title (207 instead of 220-something), but a less heavy paper quality, the Jerome volume has an acceptable weight. For the issue is not just to be able to hold it for ten or twenty seconds, but to be able to hold it steady for half an hour or more, while actually reading it. That’s the “stress test”.

Another great thing about this book is that the body copy is nicely typeset. The body text has a readable (serif) font, and a font size and leading big enough for comfortable reading, without straining. I’m not particularly fond of the subheads, though, but that’s just a detail. All in all: a rather nice feeling!

Let’s continue tomorrow, with some other books!

Chris Bocay

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Copyright © 2019 by Chris Bocay. All rights reserved.

Last update: Wed 25 Dec 2019.

Cite as: Bocay, Chris (2019) “Big Book, Small Book: Product Development for Authors (2)”. Website: <https://chrisbocay.com>. Accessed: [today’s date].

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