A few weeks ago, I finished editing the proofs of my new book Epistolophilia. It was a great feeling to see the text typeset, designed, and looking official (and beautiful). This, in combination with some back and forth about cover design a month or so ago has got me thinking about how books look. And whether or not, as e-books gain traction, we may be hearing the death knell of book design as a profession.
My new e-reader is what sparked all this. Not long ago, for the first time ever, I paid good money for two electronic books. The transaction was fast, easy, and the product light-weight. But there was one real drawback for me: design.
There is none.
Instead of a carefully chosen font and luxurious white space around images to rest a reader’s eyes, the text pours into the page haphazardly. Large spaces gape between words without rhyme or reason, and endnotes (of which I am not an enemy, and yes, I realize this makes me a minority) are rendered basically unusable.
For some reason, the electronic jumble of text bothers me less when I’m reading books from Project Gutenberg (like Middlemarch). These are free, and no one is making any money off them (I don’t think…), so I don’t expect a paid designer to be in the mix.
But electronic books that cost about as much as a paper copies? These too should come in contact with the hand of a designer before they reach my screen.
A friend and I disagree on this point. He claims that all I have to do is play with the text on my e-reader: I can manipulate both font style and size myself!
And he says this like it’s a good thing.
But I don’t buy it. It feels like a con. It feels like work that the publisher should have paid for. It feels like a designer out of a job. And it feels like disrespect for both reader and writer.
And so, here’s my new call: a bit of beauty in the e-book business please!