Perfect Bound: Fit for a "King"
When we bumped into some McSweeney's operatives at Book Expo America earlier this year, the San Francisco publishers tipped us off that Dave Eggers' next project, "A Hologram for the King," would be a jaw-dropper, a marvel of production quality and finishing elements. The book, which came out earlier this year, did not disappoint: It's a veritable masterwork of design flourishes, a book ascended to art. To get the skinny on the finer points of the book's finer points, we rang Kevin Spall, President and CEO of Thomson-Shore, the Dexter, MI printer that manufactured it. Spall, who happened to be meeting with Eggers later that day to collaborate on his next project, gladly told us what's what.
Once the design of the embossing was finalized, Thomson-Shore had to nail the depth of the embossing. “We have some material that stamps very easily, and other material where we don’t get as deep of a stamp as we like,” says Spall. “We have a variety of techniques that we can employ: adjusting the amount of pressure, using a different die material—a magnesium die vs. a copper die will give you a different strike—putting additional material underneath the board so that when we stamp down, there’s a little more of a spongy impact underneath the cover which will let you push down further into the cloth material.”
The tome’s textured, bronzy cover is made of a synthetic leather
material called Alpha that’s produced by Ecological Fibers. Tests were done with the textured lines oriented vertically and horizontally. Alpha is, according to ecofibers.com, popular for use with bibles and diaries, as well as, interestingly, eyeglass cases.
The gold foil—in the cover lettering, on the spine and in the bicycle-chain border around the title block—is added during foil stamping. Spall estimates McSweeney’s tested three to five different foil colors before deciding on gold. Once the blind stamp and foil stamp were finalized, the printer and publisher worked together to fine tune the results—initially, something about the registration and the way the foil was adhering seemed off to the publisher. “Dave’s been here, we have a very collaborative relationship,” says Spall. “Dave suggested a change in the sequence of steps that worked out perfectly. We’re willing to try anything that might make sense.”
Even the decorative cloth headband at the top and bottom of the spine—the thing lots of publishers just ask their printer to match to the color of the cover—was given careful consideration. “I had thought they were going to go with green,” said Spall. “When they selected yellow, I thought, ‘Man, that looks really good.’ That’s why they’re designers.” There is no additional cost for a colored headband, Spall notes.
The End is Just the Beginning
“A Hologram for the King” features textured, navy blue endpaper that provides a nice contrast to the bronzy cover material. “I don’t know why publishers don’t use custom endpapers more than they do,” says Spall, noting that, like headbands, the request is often “to match.” “I’d say about 10 percent of endpapers have printing or texture. The difference in cost is not significant, but it adds another layer of personality.”
The Die is Cast
The metal plate used to create the embossing—aka the blind stamp—went through several iterations (above). Earlier versions were less intricate. “I’m looking at one right now,” says Spall. “The text is kind of blocky, there’s none of that Spirograph type of design. There’s just a border and a little starburst. [McSweeney’s] may have been trying different types of design elements to see how [they] looked when stamped.” Spall says mulitiple rounds of test stamps allowed the printer and publisher to get things just right.
The back of the book is adorned with a removable sticker that features a synopsis and the price. “They do a lot of stickers,” says Spall. “On some of their books, they’re very specific about where the sticker should go. On my desk, there’s a [McSweeney’s] book cover with a picture of a tree and a sticker on it. They wanted the sticker corner to fall on one specific branch on the back of the book. We couldn’t do it through our line, we had to do that by hand. That specificity is one of the reasons that they’re great publishers.”