Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Behind the Books: Does Your Book’s Format Match Its Message?

In the past, nonfiction writers often left all the design decisions to the editor, art director, and illustrator. But that’s no longer true. In many cases, authors now participate in conversations about a book’s design—format, layout, and art. Why? Because today’s most celebrated titles feature a synergistic relationship between the text and the look of the book.

When it comes to design, format is a good place to start. Format includes the size and shape of the books. Does it have pop-ups or gatefolds or other special features? Clever decision-making here can make for some great unexpected surprises. This could be as simple as using a tall, thin trim size for a book about trees, as Carin Berger does in The Little Yellow Leaf to all kinds of fancy features and devices.

Many spreads in The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy) by Barbara Kerley include tiny inserts with excerpts from a journal kept by the famous writer’s daughter. What’s Up, What’s Down by Lola Schaefer includes vertical spreads that contribute tremendously to the storytelling, and well placed gatefolds in Schafer’s Just One Bite: 11 Animals and their Bites at Life Size! give readers an accurate sense of the featured animals’ scale.

My favorite title in this category is a feast for the eyes, ears, and mind. Where in the Wild? Camouflaged Creatures Concealed . . . and Revealed by David Schwartz, Yael Schy, and Dwight Kuhn. Playful poems offer clues about barely-visible animals doing their best to conceal themselves. Kids love searching for the mystery creatures. Some they’ll spot, and some they might not. But no worries, all they have to do is lift a gate-fold to view the same photo with the background obscured so that the animal is easy to see.

Can you think of other nonfiction books with formats that directly contribute to the storytelling? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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