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  • Dennis DeRobertis

Sorry, Leo. I Must Destroy You.

Before I submit a book for publication, I must destroy a book. Or two.

A table with various Stone Hollow Press book prototypes
As the Book Prototyping Process Turns

You Can Keep Your Surprises, Thank You

Being a new, print-on-demand publisher - and being very, umm, let's say...exacting - before any book gets published, it gets prototyped. Many times, usually. This prototyping method, a holdover from my days as a software developer, is a great way to see and feel a near-final product without having to order a printed proof. Why else do I do this? Well, let's see...

First, I don't like surprises. I don't like birthday surprises and I certainly don't like being surprised by a book proof that isn't what I expected. Secondly, it's a time consuming and costly process to rely on a printed proof to see how your book is coming along. It's not something you want to do over and over and over again. For example, placing a book's title sounds simple, but there's a lot to it.

Is the title too close to the top edge? I see the trim line in the digital template, but how will it really look once trimmed? Or how about the right edge, or the hardcover's spine and binding on the left? Will the title be centered when taking into account that extra space?

These aren't questions you want answered during the proofing process and it's not something that can be 100% reflected in the digital template files. What seems to look and work great digitally may not translate well to the final, printed book. So instead of guessing or relying on printed proofs, I rely on prototyping.

Now there are many parts to creating a book prototype. This post will only look at prototyping the cover.

Finding the Right Size

Every Stone Hollow Press picture book comes in hardcover and paperback versions, as children's picture books usually do. For The Little Brown Spider books, I chose a size of 8 inches wide by 10 inches tall. So, when I was getting things ready with the first LBS book last year, I went to my collection of picture books and found a book that was exactly 8" by 10".

That book was "Leo: A Ghost Story," by Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson.

Now let me make one thing perfectly clear. "Leo" is a charming story with cutout-like artwork that gives the book a unique and fun feel. I like it.

Me ripping the book apart is not a reflection of what I think about it. It simply met my size requirements and prototyping needs.

I've since purchased several copies of the book if anyone still feels like I committed a cardinal sin in ripping it apart (and truth be told, the first time I ripped it apart, it did feel weird).

The Franken Version Lives!

A published picture book taken apart to create a new one
Using an Existing Book to Prototype Your Own

The image on the left shows the removed "Leo" book jacket and the book's hardback and bound interior pages. You'll also notice the hardback cover is pretty beat up. That's from taping and then ripping off many, many cover versions until I found the one that worked best.

When I do this, I look at different placements of the title (see above), sizing of the main cover image, credit placement, font, and color and overall feel. The next image shows a printed Little Brown Spider Book #1 cover scored, trimmed, cut and ready to be taped onto the hardback. (Note: I use 32# paper for my prototyping covers.)

Getting a Close Approximation

A prototyped book next to the final, published book
Prototyping Helps You See What You're Going to Get

The second image shows the printed LBS cover taped over the "Leo" hardback cover. Now since this test was for the hardcover, the actual height of the cover was greater than the book's 10" height. You need to account for the cover wrapping around the thickness of the hardback. Also note that your printer can never print a full bleed 8.5" by 11" piece of paper, so you'll always get some white space.

I was able to get some of the cover wrapped around the bottom, but not all. Not an issue since I knew the main artwork stopped at this point. Besides, I had enough to securely tape the entire cover around the hardback to see how it would look and feel.

The last image shows the prototype LBS#1 book alongside a final, printed copy. I'll often add the interior pages to simulate the book's thickness.

Prototyping is Your Friend

If you don't need to go through all the machinations I do before publishing your book, more power to you. For me, prototyping is an easy, though time consuming, way to see a near perfect representation of your book before you ever click that "Order Proof" button.

- DennisD.


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