“A physical book is difficult.” – Craig Mod


Every six months or so, Craig Mod (he of subcompact publishing, books in the age of the iPad, and a thousand other things) comes along and does something that makes me sit up and pay attention. Or start scribbling thoughts down. Or plan. Or dream. It’s very much as though there is an audible *ping* when an essay of his appears, as though it is a call to arms.

His latest piece, Let’s talk about margins, discusses the subtly important details involved in the layout and design of physical books:

A physical book is difficult. If you haven’t made one, it’s tough to imagine just how difficult it is. Every detail requires deliberation. There are many details. I will spare you an enumeration. But believe me when I say, if you think about them all before you start, you will never start. The rabbit hole is deep. The truth of any craft.

Huh. I’m reminded of that essay on photography along the lines of, I think, Photography is easy, photography is hard. However, in Mod’s discussion of book margins, quoted above, bookmaking is just hard.

And yet, paradoxically, every time Mod tells me (and, okay, everyone else who cares to listen) how hard this craft is, it only strengthens my resolve to give it a go.

I’ve been thinking a lot about ebooks, page layouts, book design and publishing recently. Friends have been encouraging me along the way. Nodding encouragingly. Offering to collaborate. I ride the waves of my inspiration, enthusiasm and energy. I spend whole days forgetting to eat a proper meal because I’m too absorbed in an idea. I get distracted. I spend hours on some small thing, and then I get frustrated. But it’s a learning process, and I push on. I continue to learn. Things continue to come into focus. I understand more, and I see more and more of the bigger picture.

One of my biggest recurring inspirations, though, is whenever Craig Mod sits down to write something about that whole subject. Something about his understanding of the process just hits me for six. When he talks, I listen.

On publishing projects that lack hard cash, but still exude care and attention, Mod writes:

“We may not have had the money to print on better paper, but man, we give a shit.” Giving a shit does not require capital, simply attention and humility and diligence. Giving a shit is the best feeling you can imbue craft with. Giving a shit in book design manifests in many ways, but it manifests perhaps most in the margins.

This is true delight in the details, right here. Not just a fan’s appreciation of the results, but a deep, nuanced understanding of the entire process, gleaned from years of study, collaboration and involvement in the many steps along the way.

Actually doing something. Actually making something.

That slow, gradual process is what enables people like Craig Mod to truly delight in these kinds of details, and then be able not just to pass on nuggets of wisdom, but solid bars of gold which deeply affect the reader: slabs of raw insight which encourage the next person to take up the challenge, and make a thing of their own.