Business Musings: Beautiful Books


I got really weird about a book recently. Dean and I stopped at the mail on the way out of town for a day off. On our days off, I often go to Starbucks and read a paper book. Why not read on my Kindle or iPad? Because my days off are no-screen days. Otherwise, I’ll obsessively check my email or text some friends or read the articles I’ve saved on my Pocket reader app.

I find that my stress levels go up when I do those things. My stress levels go down when I’m away from all distractions, sitting in a coffee shop people watching, drinking a super huge cup of tea, and reading. One day away from home, reading and listening to the problems of people who are getting their daily ration of caffeine and sugar, makes me feel a lot better about everything.

So…in the mail, I got a book package from Amazon. In it, were two holiday books, one a novella, the other a hardcover called The Usual Santas from Soho Press.

That book is gorgeous. It’s a tiny hardcover, with a lovely cover and the funniest back cover blurb I’ve read in a long time. The endpapers are a police line-up (Christmasy) of some of the authors. The interior is beautifully designed, with consistent artwork, some great dingbats and chapter heads, and a lot of other really fun stuff.

When I initially saw that the book had arrived, I was going to bring it to Starbucks with me. Then I saw how lovely the book was and put it in the backseat, protected, so I couldn’t damage it. I took the novella and the romance novel I’d been planning to read with me for my day off.

Dean laughed at me, because The Usual Santas is not collectible. It’s just pretty. But I love that feature of the book and I didn’t want to mess up the pretty.

You see, I adore beautiful books. I buy too many of them just because they’re pretty. I’m always delighted when I read them too. I just started reading a history of the Broadway musical this morning and was pleased to see that it’s beautifully designed as well.

Last year, I was lucky enough to be included in In Sunlight and In Shadow, edited by Lawrence Block. That beautiful book was designed by Pegasus Press, and they spent some serious money on the edition. It’s all stories based on the art of Edward Hopper. My Kris Nelscott story sits side by side with stories by Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, Michael Connelly, and Lawrence Block himself. (In fact, Larry’s story won the Edgar this year.) Each story is accompanied by a reproduction of the artwork that inspired the piece.

Larry’s edited another volume, this year’s Alive in Shape and Color, based on artwork we writers got to choose ourselves. That volume is also beautiful. I just got my copy a few weeks ago, and am reluctant to read it because I’m afraid I’ll hurt the book.

I will read that one—and the first one—on my iPad so I can see the lovely design, but so that my peanut-butter-stained fingers won’t ruin the pages. (I was hoping for a mass market paperback reprint edition this year, but no such luck, and I can’t bring myself to order another paper copy and ruin it.)

WMG Publishing has just entered the beautiful book space as well, with a limited edition of my novel Protectors. The limited, which only exists in 250 copies, has bonus written material (an introduction and three short stories, including one unpublished story), and photographs by well known photographer Nacio Jan Brown.

The novel is set in Berkeley in 1969, and Nacio was in Berkeley at that time, chronicling the entire scene with his camera. I love his photos, and think they really enhance the book. But I also own a very battered copy of his photography book from that period, Rag Theater, and I got inspired by it. So including his photos makes the limited feel very personal for me.

That book came out during our Business Master Class. It was fun to hold them, and sign them when they arrived. I had known the books would be beautiful; I just hadn’t expected them to be that beautiful.

Also, during that class, Joanna Penn and I were having a discussion about the types of editions that books should have.

She had a realization in the middle of the workshop. She felt (and she’s right) that writers often get blinded by their own tastes when they produce books. She had neglected her paper books until last year’s master class, and now she’s jumped in full bore, but she’s much more ebook-centric than many folks at the workshop because of her lifestyle and reading choices.

We discussed our reading differences and preferences. Some of them were due to how we read, but some were due to our different cultures. Great Britain doesn’t have a history of mass market paperbacks, although they exist (because I’ve bought several, particularly of Ian Rankin’s hard-to-find novels in the days before Amazon took over the world).

In the States, mass market paperbacks ruled for decades. Mass market was and is my preferred method of reading novels. (I don’t like mass markets for nonfiction, though. Give me hardcovers for that. And I love my iPad for nonfiction shorts, like newspapers, blogs, magazine articles, and the like.)

She wrote an entire blog about her realizations when she got back.

I was going to write a companion blog, but didn’t have much to add that I hadn’t already said in previous blogs. So I begged out of writing my own side of things. I knew that there were other forms and that sometimes we’re blind to them. I just hadn’t realized until the class was over how many times I had already blogged about that very issue.

I was thinking about it, though, and noted all kinds of things in passing, such as a statistic that a country (now lost to my non-filing system) has increased its literacy rate because most people have cell phones and are now using them to buy a lot of books.

And then I got Alive in Shape and Color, and had The Usual Santas experience, and shelved my own limited edition of Protectors. I also have a stunning edition of Alice in Wonderland lovingly illustrated by the late artist David Delamare (another wonderful person lost these last few years) that I supported on Kickstarter a few years back.

When I looked at those books, I realized that they’re all part of the discussion Joanna and I were having. Because beautiful books are possible again too. Indie publishing doesn’t just mean that we have to do ebooks and audiobooks and traditional paper books. It also allows us to do really special projects, like the Protectors limited, or the Alice book, neither of which would have existed without the changes in publishing.

Even the regular hardcover of Protectors is pretty. We’re talking more and more at WMG about doing beautiful books for some of our special projects. I find that beautiful books inspire me, which isn’t really a surprise, considering the fact that Pulphouse Publishing, the first publishing company I started with Dean, was a limited edition book publisher initially.

But neither Dean nor I had the design skills to do a pretty book, like the books that (still) come out of Cemetery Dance or used to come out of publishers like Dark Harvest. We dreamed of it. And, now, with Allyson Longueira, an award-winning designer, on board, we can do more of those books.

They’re even cost effective.

But they’re almost the exact opposite of an ebook. The ebook is an inexpensive edition for the casual reader. Some beautiful books are artifacts, not designed to be read at all. (The Alice book is a case in point.)

Last year, I read an article (also lost to the ether) about the way that some musicians deal with their fans. They offer product for all levels of their fan base, from the folks who want stuff for free to the folks who want the most limited collectible possible. Some fans will pay tens of thousands of dollars for one-of-a-kind items.

As writers, we can do that too. We can have the regular formats that Joanna discusses in her blog, making sure we cover as many of those bases as possible. And then we can add extra items, everything from boxed ebook sets (like we’ve done with the first three Diving books) to beautiful limited editions to whatever else might come down the pike in 2018.

I think we’re only limited by our imaginations.

And that, to me, is completely cool.


“Business Musings: Beautiful Books,” copyright © 2017 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Mediocre photo at the top of the blog copyright © 2017 by Kristine K. Rusch


14 responses to “Business Musings: Beautiful Books”

  1. […] for adults feat. Print only special editions of novellas or shorter novels. Because I also like beautiful books, but I’m not sure yet how I can produce what I have in mind. I may have to actually publish […]

  2. davecreek says:

    I think sometimes you don’t have to go “full-beautiful” to add to the look of a book. With my self-published novel THE UNMOVING STARS, I placed an image of the cover illustration on the spine. Nothing innovative about it, in fact it was just something I’d seen on other books, but I think it makes it stand out. I also used a B&W image of the illustration before each section of the book. And instead of section titles I pulled a quote from a different character in that section, a sort of tease or preview of what was to come.

    Bottom line, I did something a little different that didn’t cost any more. I’ve been told it looks good. I selected it as my avatar for this post, because I don’t know how else to include an image.

    • Kate Pavelle says:

      Dave have you had any issues with ePub file sizes? With my daugher’s illustrated book, the ePub size ended up 3x the size of the maximum allowed by Instafreebie, which was a disappointment.

  3. Maree says:

    I think another reason why people are thinking more about value added editions of books is because of funding platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon.

    The first few levels are for people who like a thing and are willing to pay in advance to get the thing, plus a few dollars of support.

    But beyond that you’re appealing to fans, and fans want special, unique and collectible. I’ve been scratching my head and trying to come up with higher tier rewards recently, as I set up my own Patreon page.

  4. James Palmer says:

    Great advice! This is a great idea for writers who sell a lot of books at conventions, doing prestige format convention only editions. A lot of indie comics creators are doing this.

  5. Bill Peschel says:

    I absolutely agree, and to suggest that authors look at making their trade editions as beautiful as possible, too. Look at the illustrated works Mark Twain put out, or the books from Subterranean Press. See if there’s something there that inspires you to add value to your books.

  6. Vera Soroka says:

    Oh you were so lucky to get the Alice book! So sad that he died. I bet it’s a beautiful book. I love Alice and have written stories that are Alice in wonderland like. I wonder if this book was put up on retailers for sale. Have to check that out.

  7. Ken Hughes says:

    Lots to think about.

    It may not have been the “musicians and fans” article you had in mind, but I always think of John Perry Barlow (Grateful Dead) and his classic article “The Economy of Ideas.” It’s one place that says what a range of value the same content can offer, based on how much a fan will pay to get it first, to make the best quality more findable, to add personal touches and value, and so on. Pretty books sound like a clear example of the last.

  8. Kate Pavelle says:

    YESSS. This. We are writing a cookbook, and our graphic designer has ideas my husband and would have never thought of. My daughter published her first novel recently, and she did her own illustrated cover, plus end-of-chapter illustrations (because she can.) I decided to do a paper copy of a bundle, because why not? (V 1 and and V 2, I ran into a length issue), but right away it was about a consistent look, and formatting, and dingbats – and I had considered illustrating it (because I can, too), except I decided to leave that particular project for some other book.
    Yes. Beautiful books are back, and I’m all kinds of excited about it! Now if they only offered POD for hardcover!

    • I was recently informed that one can do hardcover POD using Ingram Spark–with dust jackets and everything! I will be investigating this in the new year for sure. I have an account with them but have only done paperbacks so far. I have a couple of projects, including a current work in progress, that I very much want to have beautiful hardcover editions for.

  9. Mike Hall says:

    “Great Britain doesn’t have a history of mass market paperbacks”

    As a Brit I was astonished to read this comment – especially after looking at my bookshelves and seeing the rows upon rows of paperbacks, particularly from Pan and Penguin, that I bought in the 60s and 70s.

    I now find myself wondering if “mass market paperback” means something different in the USA. To me it is a book with paper covers – obviously – sized about 7” by 4½” which comprised most of the UK book market in my younger years (certainly in the 50s to 70s before the rise of the – hardback sized – trade paperbacks, which were pretty much unknown in the earlier years). They were also the books sold in outlets other than bookstores (Woolworths, newsagents and many small shops had a rotating rack of paperbacks.)

    My admittedly hazy understanding of British publishing history is that the paperback – at least as a high quality print job – stared when Penguin launched in 1935 and that this pretty much established a mass market for cheap books and made Penguin a British Institution for many years. I also owned a large number of American paperbacks – mostly pre-read ones bought from one of the specialist import shops that always existed in London – and the only real differences I’ve noted are that the Ace Doubles were a little shorter and that (50 plus years later) American glue has not lasted as well as the British version

    • I could be wrong, Mike. My British friends tell me that the paperback size you’re talking about wasn’t marketed the way ours was, but I wasn’t there. It sounds like I’m completely wrong, so cool!

      • Mike Hall says:

        Well, I don’t know how paperback were marketed in the US so there may well have been significant differences. For the fiction paperbacks I was buying (lots of SF, fantasy – but not much at first, as little was published in the early years – thrillers and some historical fiction) there did not seem to be much marketing as such (at least to the public): they just appeared in the bookshops, of which there were then plenty around (high population density and lots of commuting and so passing big station bookshops) and waited to be bought. I think book lovers simply had the habit of making regular visits to book shops just to see what was new in their preferred genres.

        For the SF there were mostly no hardback versions, or if there were they did not get into many shops; hence SF was mostly a paperback market. One of the biggest differences was that back-lists of popular authors remained in print. If say, you decided you liked Georgette Heyer you could pick up 20 or 30 paperbacks with no real difficulty (though this changed as time passed and one learnt to buy SF whilst it was on the shelves, just in case …)

        However, all this only applied to what the publishers decided to put out. There was a lot of American SF that never got published (hence the transatlantic trade in used Ace doubles and the like that these days would end up as landfill.)

        Non fiction was much more of a hardback market – though I still have plenty of paperback history books – and was strongly influenced by the reprint book clubs which put out utilitarian versions of recently published books. A personal note: my father was a member of a couple of clubs so I read the two books that turned up each month, which was good for the vocabulary and reading skills of a ten year old boy.

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