If you pick up any three books from any single major publisher, they'll all look different. Different size, different typeface, different margins, everything. (There are exceptions, of course.) When we started working for Hawthorne, we decided we wanted to develop a set of standards for how their books were typeset, for several reasons. One was brand: a Hawthorne book, we reasoned, represented a certain set of values, a consistent, coherent approach to content. A good, strong set of standards would ensure that the typography would serve the content and not be tempted into decoration or self-expression.
Another reason was economy. If we figured out what would constitute a Hawthorne book ahead of time, we'd not only serve the Hawthorne brand, but we'd make it more economical to set the books down the road, because we wouldn't have to start from scratch each time.
As it happens, we've started from scratch three times now, because we know a lot more than we did when we started, and moreover Hawthorne's needs have changed. Following is a short tour of the standards Hawthorne follows currently, using Toby Olson's novel Seaview. So far, we are satisfied with them, but can't rule out further evolution. We're always learning.
To the unprepared, this all may seem like much ado about little (particularly when you get to the panel showing the half-title), but the fact is these ceremonies – this level of attention paid to the act and process of reading a book – is a big part of the promise of the Hawthorne brand: Hawthorne makes books that respect both the writer and the reader. For example, instead of spending its money on case binding and foil-stamped dust jackets, it invests in a sewn binding, which is not glamorous, but means a lot more to the durability of a book and the pleasure of reading it in the long term.
These opening pages do something similar: both writer and reader have a right to an orderly Library of Congress page, a dedicated dedication page, and a sense of thoughtfuness as the reader is led into the book. And visually, we're reinforcing the ley lines established on the cover through to the text.
The full title serves the same purpose as it does in film; this is often the final overt link to the cover before a text begins. Some variance is allowed here from book to book, although the general size and hierarchies of the different elements follow basic rules. We wrestle with this, as it seems that a good standard for position could be developed that every title could follow.
Pages are expensive, and here is where working with smaller press runs is helpful. Random House, for example, would have a big problem with running this little content on a two-page spread, because they are budgeting their books to the fraction of a penny—a meaningful amount when you're printing a half-million copies. At 5,000 copies? Not so much, and frankly, this material—dedication, acknowledgements, epigrams—is important to the writer. To isolate it, to give it the weight it deserves, is again a function of respect to both writer and reader.
The half- or "bastard" title is the last deep breath before the story begins. One word (in this case) on two pages, but an important border between administrative content and literature itself.
A breath, and a brief return to the visual theme of the cover. In the case of Seaview, subsequent section dividers draw the reader deeper into the illustration of Fuller's Tensegrity sphere, which is important to the narrative.
There is a custom, in traditional book design, to drop page numbers and folio lines on the first and last pages of a chapter. We never understood why that custom existed; here, the numbers and folios exist so long as there is content on a page, and serve to define the leftmost margin; we have also swapped their traditional positions, so that the title of the book is in the recto and author is on the verso (see next page); this provides a coherent hierarchy from book title to chapter title (or number) and is useful if the book is used in a context where portions of it may be photocopied.
Text is set range-left. This is uncommon in mass-produced works for two reasons, both of which have to do with the convenience of the publisher, and are explained in greater detail below.
Because a range-left text block is by nature asymmetrical, there was no particular reason to lay out the pages symmetrically. We chose to hang the text block from a larger than average sink that shows a clear hierarchy between the text and the governing folio. And leaves plenty of room for the reader's thumbs on the sides and tail.
Text is set in John Downer's Paperback, a reinterpretation of the sturdy Scotch romans used to set potboilers in the middle of the last century. The type is set range left, which is unusual in itself: most books are set justified; that is, you could draw a straight line down both margins. Full justification is convenient for the accountant and the compositor, because texts tend to set a bit shorter and look finished at first glance.
It's no particular service to the reader, though, because the letter- and word-spacing can vary widely from line to line, which—although as readers we can adapt to a lot—can get irritating and tire the eye. Properly-crafted justification is possible, of course (Gutenberg's 42-line Bible—arguably still the greatest bit of printing in history—is justified, but Gutenberg was setting in Latin, which is made up of two-letter phonemes, and moreover he'd break words whenever he felt like it), but it's just as much work to set as a lively rag, and still you have less control over where the line breaks.