Anatomy of a Book 101

When asked to do a talk at the Federation of BC Writers' Self-Publishing Fair  (see last month's blog post on the fair here), coming up with a unique topic was a bit of a challenge. With a deadline looming, we decided on something broad: "Whether you publish traditionally or independently, the key to success is the same: produce a great book." And broad it was.

There are so many components involved in producing a professional book. Proper, thorough editing is key, of course. Without it, your book will fail. So, while no talk about a great book is complete without a discussion of editorial, we also decided to focus on the often much less understood physical book. What makes an eye-catching, professionally produced print book?

The truth is it comes down to options ... lots of options. And in order to make informed decisions about the multitude of production and design choices available to you, it's important to understand the basic language around and anatomy of a book.

First, there's binding, which is how your book is held together. Perfect binding, also called adhesive binding, is a common choice for soft cover books; it uses hot or cold glue to keep the pages together. Most hard cover books are sewn bound – signatures are sewn together, and an endsheet is added for the front and back.

What's a signature? Pieces of paper are typically folded and assembled into groups of sixteen pages, which are called signatures. These are sewn together. Take a look at a book: it should be made up of several signatures sewn together to create the whole book, each bound individually, and then all bound together collectively. After sewing, the groups of signatures (now called a text block, or book block) are fitted into a case or cover. For the most cost effective printing, you want your book's page count to be within a signature count; in other words, multiples of sixteen. Your printer will give you options for choosing the right paper weight for your book.

Once the text block is bound to the front and back covers, endpapers are added to hold it in place. Endpaper is heavier than the printed pages of your book. One page is glued to the inside of the cover, and the other becomes the first and last page of your book (called the fly leaf, or endsheet).

Hard covers are made of two components: cover board and cover wrap material. There are many options available to give your hard cover book a unique look, including adding woven material, four-colour printing, foil stamping, spot coating, and more.

Soft covers are made with a heavier stock white paper, giving you a lot of printing options, both on the outside and inside. To give you more real estate for marketing copy with little increase in cost, you can add flaps to your cover. Cover enhancements – using different laminations, embossing, etc. – will make your book stand out on the shelf, too.

While there is some leeway in terms of how you handle the material on the inside pages of your book (i.e., front matter, body, and back matter), there are still traditions and standards that are important to follow. Joel Friedlander explains these established conventions in "An Unabridged List of the Parts of a Book," as does Richard Davies in "Understanding the Anatomy of a Book."

Happy book-making!