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IBPA Roundtable: Covered in Gold

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PUBLISHED JULY/AUGUST 2019

Compiled by Alexa Schlosser, Managing Editor, IBPA Independent magazine —


IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards, Gold Winner

Lee Klancher, Octane Press (left) Rachel Pellegrino, Little Lamb Books (middle), Kosa Elvy, Chandra Media (right)


Three IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award™ winners in various design categories discuss their process and strategies.

The IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award program, which include fifty-six categories recognizing excellence in book editorial and design, are regarded as one of the highest national honors for independent publishers.

The awards are administered by the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), with help from over 160 book publishing professionals including librarians, bookstore owners, reviewers, designers, publicity managers, and editors.


How long have you been an independent publisher?

Lee Klancher (LC): We (Octane Press) were founded on Oct. 1, 2010.

Rachel Pellegrino (RP): We launched Little Lamb Books in September 2015, so we’ve been an indie publisher for almost four years.

Kosa Ely (KE): Chandra Media, our arts and education nonprofit, was founded in 1998, but we’re just getting our feet wet as an independent publisher. We published three books in 2018 and have won a dozen awards, so we’re feeling encouraged.


What were the main things you had to consider when creating this book, especially as it relates design?

LC: Most of our books are extremely thorough, detailed accounts tailored for serious enthusiasts of a niche. Tractor: The Heartland Innovation, Ground-Breaking Machines, Midnight Schemes, Secret Garages, and Farmyard Geniuses That Mechanized Agriculture needed to be a book that would appeal to anyone with an interest in machinery and agricultural history, as well as function as a gift book. A key element for

IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards, Gold Winner

Victory Motorcycles 1998-2017: The Complete History of an American Original, Gold Winner – Cover Design

the book was we believed if we delivered a book that was deeper than the typical gift book, with evocative stories rather than simply tech details, we could entice new readers to discover our entire line of books on agricultural machinery.

We also had to consider how to handle the stunning images of tractors we had from legendary photographers Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, and more. These images added tremendous context to the work, giving the reader a sense of not only the time and place the machines existed, but also how the people who used them lived.

We knew we had the material for a book that could be both a gift book/trade package and have some of the historical weight and social context we believe is a hallmark to our books. The challenge was making sure the design carried out our goal.

We also won an award for Victory Motorcycles 1998-2017: The Complete History of an American Original. We wanted the book cover to have good impact online and reflect the state of the readers. This book was challenging because, as we were putting the book together, the company that owned Victory Motorcycles decided to discontinue production.

RP: Since C is for Christmas is a holiday book, that was the biggest factor in our design considerations. We didn’t want it to be just the standard Christmas colors because we were focusing on interweaving the Christmas story within the pages, so we leaned toward more of a color palette that was vibrant and bright, yet allowed us to mix tradition with whimsy to match our text.

KE: Children’s picture books present a unique challenge with both the art and design. You have two very different audiences to satisfy: the parents, teachers, and librarians who select the book, and the children for whom it is intended.


What was the design strategy?

LC: For Tractor, the book needed to be enticing at a glance first and foremost, with space for 250-500 words of copy when the story was compelling. We needed to blend machines and people to visually cue the reader that this book was about more than just dry machine specs-it was about the colorful personalities behind the machines.

For Victory, in the cover design, we wanted to portray the latest machinery and also were looking for a properly somber tone. The concept that emerged was a cover that had tones of gray and black, with the white type popping powerfully.

I photograph many of our book covers, and I took this one on because I had a very definite vision. This also ties to my work-my favorite lighting situations are dark and moody, and this cover needed that look.

RP: The goal was to balance the artistry and beauty of the illustrations with the fun and festivity of the text.

KE: Govinda Cordua and Raghu Consbruck of Eight Eyes Design have been Chandra Media’s go-to graphic designers for 14 years. I asked them to share their design strategy. In their words:

“With The Jaguar’s Story, the goal was to let the art shine, to complement it with a rich, textural experience. The interior pages were designed to complement the mood of the art on those specific pages-to match the drama, colors, and specific scene. On many pages, artistic backgrounds and edges were created to fill in space where the painting didn’t stretch to fill the page. This design treatment keeps the reader focused and enchanted in the fascinating world of the Amazon rainforest.

IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards, Gold Winner

The Jaguar’s Story, Gold Winner – Interior Design

“The text is set in Baskerville. Its high x-height and open counters, set at the ideal point size, provide an easy-to-read experience for readers of all ages. The cover font, Rainer, was chosen for its rustic hand-drawn appearance.”

“Every imperceptible detail is what makes a good book excellent. Choices of font, leading, line length, margins, end sheets, paper, and binding are all critical to the overall reading experience. The Jaguar’s Story was designed to be technically excellent and artistically attractive so the reader could fully immerse themself in the meaningful story and stunning art.”

For the all-important front cover concept and design, all four of us collaborated. Radhe drew eight sketches of possible compositions, and our choice was unanimous. We all liked her sketch of the jaguar family facing the reader, with their large, beautiful eyes looking right at you. Govinda created an initial design for the title and credits, and Radhe painted extra background to give options for cropping. Radhe made the scene at sunset, intensifying the colors and adding the magic of fireflies.

Although it’s not standard for picture books, I included copy and reviews on the back jacket to share the book’s ecological theme and importance of its message. I also included one of Radhe’s jaguar paintings that wasn’t in the book. Govinda did a beautiful design for the book cover, spine, jacket, and flaps.

Our trim size of 10″ x 11″ required going to Canada or China for printing. Having the book produced ecologically with FSC paper was a must. Fortunately, Friesens in Canada had everything we were looking for: beautiful FSC paper, quality board, semi-gloss scratch resistant laminate, and vegetable inks.


How did you choose your designer?

LC: I went directly to our designer, Tom Heffron. I’ve been working with him since the 1990s. He has an eye that is as much editorial as it is graphic, and he’s very finely tuned to building a grid with enough flexibility to work with our materials.

I also had Aki Neumann, our project editor, working on this. Aki and Tom proved to be an amazing team, as Aki is brilliant at developing and evolving designs, and Tom has more than two decades of experience crafting illustrated book layouts.

IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards, Gold Winner

Tractor — The Heartland Innovation, Ground-Breaking Machines, Midnight Schemes, Secret Garages, and Farmland Geniuses That Mechanized Agriculture Gold Winner, Interior Design

We created several sample chapters to start with that were from the book-we did not work with dummy copy or images-and I think that helped tremendously. We also had the design done before the writer completed the book. The entire thing was written very precisely to spec. That’s critical to a solid design.

RP: As I mentioned, Govinda and Raghu have been our go-to graphic designers for 14 years. They are super competent creative geniuses who are a pleasure to collaborate with. Govinda is from Europe where he specialized in book design and typography for an independent publisher for 17 years. Raghu is from Florida and has a wide variety of design in her portfolio, including several award-winning books. This husband-wife duo, based in Gainesville, Florida, meld their skills in creating visually stunning designs for publishing and marketing books. I honestly can’t imagine working with anyone else.

I looked long and hard to find an amazing artist who would be fun and easy to work with and who loved the story and wanted to bring it to life. In her debut picture book, Radhe Gendron fulfilled all my wishes and more. Her adorable jaguar cubs and detailed wildlife art make this book attractive to just about everyone.


How many comps did you have to see of the design before choosing the award-winning one?

LC: We went through six to 10 rounds before everything was perfect. The design also went through quite a bit of evolution during layout-Aki and Tom were constantly trimming, cutting, and expanding to favor strong images. Each of them had 100-plus hours into the project.

For Victory, once we had the shot, designer Tom Heffron absolutely nailed the type and treatment. We literally went through only four revisions from rough concept to final cover-this played to Tom’s strengths, and he put together the design very, very quickly.

RP: Maybe two. Louise was fabulous to work with and, after seeing her sketches, we knew pretty quickly we had made the right choice for the design.


How did you choose your design?

LC: I’m going to let Tom and Aki answer this:

“Fitting the images into the space. With the sample pages fairly locked in, we knew how much text could be used, while keeping the images at a good size. In the case of Tractor, each machine entry needed a bit of adjustment to keep spacing and placement consistent across the board. The book used dozens of image knockouts-meaning the background was knocked out-and those also needed close attention, since the machines have a lot of complex outlines.” — Tom

“The breadth of coverage was a tough challenge. Despite the unique importance of all 160-plus of the machines covered in the book, we had to instate some sense visual hierarchy. We’d didn’t want the book to simply be a list-we wanted it to flow like a narrative. Determining which machines to prioritize via larger images and additional pages-and which to cut page-space from-was a tricky balance.” — Aki

For Victory, the shot took about three hours in studio to get right. Black backdrops proved to be challenging, as we needed one that is quite large and what they had at the studio wasn’t quite perfect. Lighting the shot was also tremendously challenging, as these machines have a fair amount of chrome. The chrome reflects light viciously, and a number of lighting tricks are necessary to minimize reflections of the lights, the photographer, and the studio from showing up on the chrome. The design itself was a piece of cake.

Gold Winner

C is for Christmas, Gold Winner – Cover Design

RP: I would say choosing the blue we wanted to see on the cover was a process, and determining the right font for the title treatment. We went back and forth on those two the most for C is for Christmas.

KE: Originally, I planned to have the text below the art so it wouldn’t interfere with the detailed wildlife illustrations. The artist lives in Amsterdam, so we didn’t know until the art was scanned that her finished paintings extended beyond the expected sizes, and they were too beautiful to do much cropping.

Fortunately, our designers solved the size problem by extending the art to accommodate the text for some of the spreads, and used reverse type in the dark areas for others. Each spread required its own unique design, as well as an overall design theme to tie it together.


What do you think makes for good cover and interior design?

LC: It starts with great raw material. If your images and text aren’t terrific, you’ll never get there. The next step is a vision for the book that fits, and a designer who can execute on that vision and raise it up with their own additions and thoughts. I think the clincher given all the above is lots of careful refinement as the project takes shape. No matter how carefully you plan, you have to craft each page with small adjustments to make a design flow.

RP: I think for a children’s book having a strong focal point that draws you in combined with a complimentary color palette is key. We love bright colors for our books, but they have to complement the theme and story rather than overwhelm.


Is there a book cover/interior you used as inspiration?

KE: Yes! We looked at dozens of books for ideas and, in the end, we loved the concept in A History of Photography in 50 Cameras by Michael Pritchard. This book combined a visual treatment with serious depth on camera history, which matched our goals.


Experts: Share Your Insights in an Upcoming Roundtable!

Are you interested in being featured as a thought leader in an upcoming roundtable for IBPA Independent? Contact the IBPA Independent Managing Editor Alexa Schlosser at alexa@ibpa-online.org. To see all of the 2019 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award Winners, click here.

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