Green Book Design: Economy of Length for The Wax Bullet War

Last year, Ooligan Press entered the ranks of publishers that are certified by the Green Press Initiative. GPI is a program that rewards publishers for making the environmentally responsible decision to commit to reducing their carbon footprint according to specific benchmarks and to producing books using FSC-certified paper. The certification levels that GPI offers are nationally recognized and meet the highest standard in sustainability. Taking such responsibility can pose challenges for both the publisher its production staff. Keeping within budget while producing a “green” book is one of them: Paper that meets high FSC standards required by GPI for even the entry-level certification is expensive.

Part of managing this money falls on decisions made by those involved in the production of the book. Just as economy of scale lowers the per-unit price of a book printed in large volume, economy of length (as I like to call it) reduces printing costs as well. Streamlining a book as much as possible without forfeiting any content, front matter, or back matter is inevitably handed down to the book designer. While the publisher chooses the right printer at the right price, it is ultimately up to the designer to follow certain restrictions that help reduce printing costs.

Early in 2013, Ooligan Press decided that one of our upcoming titles, The Wax Bullet War: Chronicles of a Soldier & Artist by Sean Davis, was to be a “green” book. As the interior designer of this book, I had to make some tough choices to ensure reduced printing costs by constraining the length to about 300 pages without sacrificing readability. Sounds like a contradiction? Not if it’s done right. Constraining page count within tight perimeters requires a concentrated effort and deliberation. Books are what they are; each book demands its own design and space. For a memoir like this one, readers must not be distracted by tightly condensed text and lack of white space. However, with a conventional 11-point font, this book would have gone well beyond the page limit—to the tune of about 40 to 50 more pages.

Therefore, I first made a decision about the body font. I chose Palatino Linotype for its “green” characteristics: it allows for relatively tight kerning and leading; its ascenders and descenders are comparatively short; and it remains readable and smooth on the page even at a smaller point size. I started the layout by reducing the font to 10 points and nudging out the margins a bit. The publisher suggested an even 13-point leading, keeping with the conventional leading size prescribed by best design practices. However, Palatino does very well at 10 points with 12 points of leading without looking too dense; ascenders and descenders are not so tight that they touch and thus inhibit readability.

The next step in reducing the page count was to remove any graphic organizers between section breaks. In the galley, each section was originally marked off with one return, four tildes, and a second return:

Wax Bullet War manuscript

Another several pages disappeared when I removed the carriage returns and flourishes and replaced the white space separation with leading of twice the baseline size:

Designing Wax Bullet War
Staying within certain constraints isn’t any secret technique or advanced skill but simply a matter of choices the interior designer makes as a craftsperson. The final product after making these adjustments was a very pleasing 296 pages, allowing for up to four additional pages should more back or front matter be desired. Producing “green” books is everyone’s responsibility. But when it comes down to cost, the book designer can make the greatest impact.