Walking around this place, I realized that there's a lot of book stuff lying around. What's more, there are whole lot of people sitting around here who, collectively, can tell you just about everything you need to actually do to make a book the way they're made today. Realizing as well (a lot of realizing happening for a Friday) that most people who don't work in publishing probably don't know how books get made, but that at least a fraction of them might take an interest, I thought why not do a little series here about "Making Books"? With any luck, we'll persevere and do occasional installments, not in any particular order, but just whatever we can manage and what seems interesting. And thus is born the Harvard Press Publicity Blog **special feature** -- MAKING BOOKS.
We'll start simple, with something that is literally lying around the office. Take the jacket off one of your hardcover books (you're not one of those people who "waits for it to come out in paperback," are you?), and take a look at the spine. The spine, of course, is the backbone of the book, where the pages are stitched together (this is not the case with paperbacks, where glue tends to be the main binding agent). But look on the outside and you'll notice that the title and the names of author and publisher are actually stamped onto the outside of the spine. This is achieved via the use of an instrument called ...
... a spine die, pictured above in a few sizes. Each hardcover book has a unique die, produced on its behalf by a bindery or other component manufacturer. That reminds me -- people sometimes ask if we print the books here on site, and the answer to that is no, we don't have a printing operation here, despite what the name "Press" might imply. On the contrary, we have many, many partners in crime, including printing presses and binderies across New England and the mid-Atlantic states, and even a few overseas for specialized jobs.
Last but not least in this somewhat half-baked first entry in our series is the answer to the question, "where do spine dies go to, er, 'die?'" The answer is that many of them come here, to our offices, where they make fantastic paperweights. Thus their service to the cause never ends. And that concludes the first installment of our series. Next up? Perhaps the wonderful world of galleys, or an interview with a book designer -- who knows?
||| Extra reading -- Wikipedia's article on bookbinding is actually pretty good.
||| Extra trivia fact -- we're all used to thinking that the type on a spine runs from top to bottom. But that's an American convention; most books produced in Europe actually have the type running from bottom to top. Drop into any bookshop in the UK and see what we're talking about.