Communion Of Dreams


At long last …

It’s been five years since I last wrote about my efforts to come up with a satisfactory cover design for the premium leather edition of Communion of Dreams. Well, needless to say, a lot has happened since then. Not the least of which was getting, and learning to use, my Glowforge laser.

And now I’ve finally resolved the many different design and execution issues to my satisfaction, to the point where I’m completing the promised leather-backed copies for my Kickstarter supporters. Here it is:

This is going to be a bit about this binding, and how it differs from the hardcover cloth binding.

First thing, the sewing is different. Rather than just being sewn onto linen tapes, the books are sewn onto heavy linen cords:

Why the weird arrangement? So that those cords provide additional texture to the spine of the finished book, along the location of where the tree branches are (see the first pic above). Once the sewing was done, the text blocks were glued up and rounded slightly. All of that was very straight-forward.

However, as noted in that blog post in 2016, the problem I had was trying to achieve the raised texture of the tree for the rest of the cover. I played around with a bunch of different solutions, until I settled on using the laser to cut out a slightly abstracted version of the Burr Oak image:

That’s in the bed of the laser. The material is archival 50pt board. Trying to cut out such an image by hand would take me hours, probably. The laser does it in about four minutes. (Though I did spend some considerable amount of time coding the design so the laser would do it.)

Here’s the image free of the surrounding board:

That is then pasted onto a sheet of paper, and the book cover boards are mounted on the back in the appropriate location. Then it is time to mount the leather, and impress it such that the tree is in relief, with this result:

(Actually, that was a practice piece, not the final version pictured above. But I forgot to take an image of the final version at this stage.)

The edges of the leather are then turned-in, and the corners formed. This gives you a finished case (what bookbinders call the cover).

Next, need to do the titling. And this is where the laser once again comes in very handy, though it took me a while to get just the right technique worked out. After the design for the title is done, the leather is masked and then engraved with the laser to an appropriate depth:

Once that is done, the engraved areas are cleaned of residual charred leather, and gilding size applied:

Once that cures, then it’s time to apply the gold leaf:

Now, that’s real gold, in multiple layers, about $25 worth. This process is different than traditional gilding done by bookbinders, so I had to work up a whole different process to do it (based on my experience with traditional gilding). The result is very satisfactory, though, since I have a much greater range of options for the final design.

Once the titling work was done, it was time to prepare to mount the text block to the case. First, I tear the outer page of the outer signature, and trim the cords to the appropriate length:

This combination, with the two liner tabs, will make for a *very* secure mounting to insure the cover and text block stay together. Then, you fray out the linen cords, so that they will not present excess bulk inside the cover:

Then the whole thing is pasted out and mounted inside the case, similar to how the hardcover cloth bindings were done. Once everything is dry and secure, I added endpapers of hand-marbled paper I made:

Giving the finished product:

I tried a lot of different color combinations, and have decided that this is the one I think works the best (and echoes the original cover nicely). My Kickstarter backers have the option of choosing a different color, but henceforth this will be the only color option available for other collectors.

Next, after finishing these bindings: designing the premium leather binding for St Cybi’s Well.

Jim Downey



Let’s talk economics.

Last week I went through the mechanics of turning words into books. Today I’d like to talk a little bit about the economics of that, as well as being an author.

When I set up the Kickstarter for St Cybi’s Well lo these many years ago, a lot of my estimates in deciding on what goals to shoot for were based on … blind faith, to be perfectly honest.

I’d published Communion of Dreams, and had some sense of the possible income that could generate, as well as the amount of work that went into writing/editing/formatting it. But I really had no idea what the costs would be for printing and hand-binding copies of that book or the yet unwritten St Cybi’s Well. I had a pretty good handle on how much time it would take me to do the hand binding, based on my book conservation work. And likewise, what the cost of materials would be, other than the printing. Now that I’ve gone through all of that with both books, I have a much better idea of how costs break down, so I thought I would share all of that.

Based on 55 copies (edition of 53, plus two author/artist proof copies), the actual out-of-pocket expense runs about $50 per copy for the two different books. That covers the cost of the oversize archival paper (so the grain/drape of the pages is correct for hand binding), the printing, and going to collect the printed pages. It also covers the cost of archival bookboard and cover cloth. (The leather copies are two or three times as much, depending on the actual leather used.) Were I to bind a single copy, it would take me about 2 hours of labor. If I bind multiple copies at a time, that drops to about 1.5 hours of labor. (Leather is about 2x the labor.)

My Kickstarter goal was $17,000. Which succeeded. After deducting the fees paid to Kickstarter, and the costs of the different “rewards/premiums” for the backers, I wound up with about $12,000. Which, truthfully, isn’t a bad advance for a relatively unknown author.

It took me seven years of writing work to finish St Cybi’s Well, rather than the one or two years I originally expected. That was both embarrassing and stressful, since I made promises to people I didn’t fulfill. But it’s over, and everyone seems happy with the end product, so let’s just talk about the amount of labor that went into it. I’d conservatively guesstimate that I have something on the order of 2,000 hours of labor in writing, rewriting, editing, and then composing (the last is mostly thanks to my Good Lady Wife) the book. That *might* be as much as twice as long as it took me to do the same with Communion of Dreams, though spread out over a longer period of time. So, do the math, and I earned about $6 per hour.

That’s just the Kickstarter, of course. Now that the book is done, I’ll continue to earn money on purchases of the downloads, printed paperbacks, and special order hand-bound copies. How much is hard to say. I have had about 40,000 downloads of Communion of Dreams, though a big chunk of those are free downloads. Still, with Amazon’s system, 2/3 of every sale goes to the author (as opposed to like 5-7% for conventional royalties with a publisher), and that adds up. To date, I’ve only had about a thousand downloads of St Cybi’s Well, and most of those have been free downloads. Which has been a little disappointing, but we’ll see how things go over time.

As for the printed paperback copies, there I earn a bit more from Amazon than I would for the downloads, but not a lot. And they don’t amount to very many sales. The signed copies I sell directly do a little better still, but again, that’s just a handful of books per year.

As for the handbound books, there I do make a lot more, about $150 per copy. But my conservation labor is billed at $200 per hour, so at 1.5 hours of labor, I’m making half of what I would professionally. The return on the leather bound copies is even worse.

So, why do it? Why even offer those books on the websites?

Because I enjoy it. I enjoy knowing that the books that I create will be enjoyed, perhaps cherished. Read, and passed down to children and grandchildren. Like most artists, I’m willing to trade some financial reward for that satisfaction, and I can afford to do so. Maybe it shouldn’t be the case, and it wouldn’t be the case ideally, but we do what we can under the circumstances.

Finished product.

Anyway, my books will be available for free download tomorrow (the First of the month, as always). Give ’em a try. If you like ’em, you’re always welcome to either purchase a download or one of the physical copies later, if you can afford to do so. But don’t feel guilty if you can’t; as noted I can afford to give them away, and take joy in knowing people read them.

Jim Downey



Not bad.

So, yesterday’s promotion was a moderate success. Nothing stunning, but certainly not disappointing. We had a total of right at 700 downloads, all told, including 49 from Britain and one each in France & Germany. I’m still waiting for the first download in Japan …

Anyway. Those downloads pushed Communion of Dreams to #3 in the “High Tech SF” subcategory, to #13 in overall Science Fiction, and to #327 on the entire free Kindle store rankings. It may have even done a bit better, since there were another 100 downloads after I crashed last night.

Not bad. Not bad, at all. Thanks everyone!

Last month also saw a decent uptick in overall visits to the Communion of Dreams site, to some 1,200. That’s about a 30% increase over what is typical.

This afternoon I’m mailing off the bulk of the signed paperback copies of CoD from the Kickstarter rewards, and we’re waiting to hear back from the printer about the final tally on the Limited Edition copies. I haven’t made too big a deal out of that special edition here yet, because right now we’ve just got generic examples of my book arts work on the page — but once we have the actual pages, I’ll make up some examples of what the finished book will look like, so people will have a better idea of what they’ll be getting. However, it is not too early if you want to reserve your copy — there are at present only 44 copies remaining available.

And yes, I am now shifting the bulk of my creative energy over to thinking about St. Cybi’s Well, to exactly how I want to lay out the plot and all the characters/scenes/themes. As I noted last week, this is all really exciting.

Cheers!

 

Jim Downey



In the works.

So, I’ve been fairly quiet for a few days, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy.

After recovering from the shock of the Kickstarter succeeding, I had to re-think some of the plans I had been putting into place in order to insure that I fully live up to the terms of the Kickstarter.  Mostly this is no big deal, but I am still finalizing some of the details with the backers.

Still, I thought I would offer a heads-up on what is in store. As I noted the other day:

And ways you can reserve one of a very limited edition run of both Communion of Dreams and St. Cybi’s Well and have those books bound the way you want — even reserving your edition number on a first come, first served basis. With payment plan options. Some of the higher-end premium ‘rewards’ will still be available, as well.

When I say “very limited edition” I mean on the order of about 50 hand-bound copies of Communion of Dreams, and about 100 of St. Cybi’s Well (please note that both of these edition numbers are smaller than what was offered on the Kickstarter). These are going to be a special print-run of each book, printed traditionally on sheets of high-quality paper which will be gathered into sections, then trimmed and folded, then sewn into a strong, long-lasting binding. Then you will have a choice of cover material: premium bookcloth, calfskin leather, or goatskin leather. You can see images of such bindings on the Kickstarter page.

The basic cost is $100 for one of these books in cloth. For calfskin leather the cost is $250, and for goatskin $350.  With a $100 downpayment you can reserve your copy (and select your edition number from those available), and pay the balance due in installments. Each book will be inscribed as you wish and signed by the author/bookbinder (that’s me!) The cloth bindings will all be in basic black, but those who opt for leather will be able to choose the color of the leather (from those available from my suppliers — a pretty wide range). These books will be more like individual works of art than anything else you may have seen in a book.

I’m hoping that as soon as next week I’ll be able to place the order for the Communion of Dreams run, so that I can work on getting orders for those done over the coming winter. The St. Cybi’s Well run will have to wait until that book is finished, edited, proofed, and ready to publish.

So, something to think about and look forward to. I certainly am!

Cheers!

 

Jim Downey



Functional beauty.

A good friend shared this item from the NYT with me: A Tool’s Beauty Is in the Eye of Its Holder. It’s a good piece overall, but this particular passage resonated for me:

Why do such objects look so enticing, given that they were designed with very different objectives? One reason is their virtue (another old-fashioned term). It can be both refreshing and reassuring to see an object whose appearance is determined by such laudable qualities as economy, efficiency or reliability, rather than the hope of seducing us visually. Another factor is their honesty. It is easier to feel confident about admiring a utilitarian object, whose appearance is defined by its function, than it can be to enjoy one because of its styling.

Resonated? Yeah. Here’s an excerpt from a meditation about tools I wrote in 1995, and which has gained some recognition since:

This isn’t a respect borne of fear for their sharpness.  It is something more . . . something that is almost spiritual.  When you use a tool, it tends to take on the shaping of the use, and of the user.  It will conform to your hand, wear in such a way that it actually becomes more suited to the task, until in some ways it is easier to use the tool correctly than to use it incorrectly.

I think that this is why old tools, well made and well loved tools, are so valuable.  When you take them to hand, you can feel the right way to use them.  Some of the time that went into shaping that tool, training it for use, can be shared from one craftsman to the next.  So long as the tool is loved, cared for, and properly used, it continues to accumulate knowledge, storing the wisdom of the hands.

If you have a moment, I’d invite you to read both pieces. They make a nice pair.

Jim Downey

PS: Small milestone – this is blog post #1,400 for me here. Just thought I’d share that factoid.



How very rewarding.

As I’ve been discussing recently, work continues on setting up everything for my upcoming Kickstarter project.

If you’re not familiar with how Kickstarter works, it might be worth checking out sometime. But basically the idea is that it exists to crowd-fund creative projects, allowing for people to gauge support for a project and finance it. A Kickstarter project runs for a specific length of time, working towards a given funding goal. If the goal is achieved, then the financing goes through and everyone is committed to success. If it doesn’t, then no one is left at risk.

Part of this is establishing “rewards” for promised funding from backers. Usually this includes a copy of a book or album or artwork which is the reason for the Kickstarter project, but people also include all manner of other items which are more personal. I mentioned earlier that one of the things I was going to be offering would be hand-bound copies of my books, bringing into the mix my bookbinding skills.

The more I thought about this, the more I’ve decided to have some fun with it. Specifically, by offering some very limited special rewards. Like custom bindings in cloth, calfskin, and goatskin.  Here’s one such “reward”:

Wow – Goatskin! Double Set: Get a personally handbound leather hardcover copy of *BOTH* “St. Cybi’s Well” and “Communion of Dreams”. The books will be numbered, also signed & inscribed to the recipient. Binding will be in full premium goat with a nice embossed label spine. Your choice of leather color and endpapers. Also includes download copy of both books. (For international shipping, please add $20.)

I’ve decided to get copies of the handbound books printed up in a different run than the usual paperbacks being offered through Createspace. These will be done using the exact same printing files, but will be printed on folded sheets so that they can be properly handsewn and then bound. Because if you’re going to do the thing, might as well do it right.

And after all, how many competent authors are also kick-ass book artists? I might as well play to my strengths.

Jim Downey