Sunday, February 20, 2011

Maintenance of Way-Too-Heavy Books


by David J. Schow

Aficionados of the Outer Limits Companion will note that a book’s “structural integrity” is sometimes a dicey thing.  Most recently, whitsbrain noted this pestersome fragility in the Comments — as have others.

In 1986, I really had no idea what would come back my way once I had sent a box of manuscript and a box of photographs off toward Bigass New Yawk Publishing.  Ace/Berkley’s cumbersomely-titled The Outer Limits: The Official Companion was predictably under-designed to mimic Marc Zicree’s Twilight Zone Companion in size and shape, which explained the nondescript starfield used for the background.  That “Official” in the title cost Ace a cool $2000 per syllable, by the way.

Advantages:  The book would lay open no matter what page you turned it to.  The entry-level, one-step-up-from pulp paper made it a featherweight item for shipping.

Disadvantages:  That same shitty paper would fox in a heartbeat — that is, turn brown.  (“Fox” from the color of the stains acquired by aged paper.  It doesn’t hurt the paper, it just makes it look ugly or vintage, depending on your taste.  Heavy acid-content paper is susceptible to sunlight, which does destroy its integrity by wiping out its lignin [wood component; organic].)

Really Huge Disadvantage:  No quality control over photo reproduction, layout, or anything.

As Tim Lucas pointed out in his review of the book for Video Watchdog, the real advantage of the earlier edition was that many of the participants — Outer Limits cast and crew — got to see it before they died.  Some saw bits and pieces in the eight-part series of articles I did for Twilight Zone Magazine, (1982-85), which were fundamental in nailing down the book contract.  After that, I did another 2-part “bullet version” of the show’s history (with episode guide) for Epi-Log Magazine in 1993, followed by an enhanced version for Video Watchdog in 2002-03.

As illuminated in the Frank Garcia interview, 12 years after the first edition, Neil Norman of GNP/Crescendo Records underwrote the second edition.

It comes apart if you read it too much — it’s a huge trade paperback on heavy paper without the advantage of a Smyth-sewn binding.  The simple glue binding cannot withstand extended use.

Advantages:  I got to do the entire layout, warts and all.  The paper looks as good today as it did when the books first rolled off the line.

Disadvantages:  It weighed nearly five pounds, and tended to disassemble.  One thing we did not foresee was the prohibitive shipping cost of such a weighty tome.  (Pick up five pounds of apples or dogfood the next time you’re in the store and see what I mean.)

Neil and I had planned on a limited hardcover version, about 100 copies.  That plan got scotched when we saw the paper stock that was part of the original printing deal — it was thin and nearly transparent, like a cheap catalog.  At the last minute we had to cough up eight grand for better paper — 85-pound, semi-gloss, velvet-finish stock — which was gorgeous… but there went the hardcover.

The book’s weight also caused the edges and corners to suffer heavy damage in shipping.  A box of books from the plant was 13 copies — over 60 pounds.  I triaged out some damaged copies to resurrect them for a “ding and dent” sale, and thus won my first experience with rebuilding what I had already built… again.

It’s fairly easy to peel the entire cover off intact, especially if the book has already begun to pull itself apart.  First test:  True the pages in a vise and lay down a new binding with Gorilla Glue, which foams up and has to be trimmed away when dry.  But the new binding is still a glue binding, and will still crack eventually, leaving the spine a webwork of white fissures.  Next:  I tried bonding the page block with a fabric strip that folded around its edges.  Better … but now the book looked as though it had been manhandled by a library, and the page weight would still cause the bond to crack.

For my reference copy — the one where I record all the typos and corrections — I took the book completely apart and installed it into a 3-ring-binder, which works, although it’s ugly and unwieldy.

I experimented with a couple of damaged copies, having a bookbinder punch through the extreme bind edge to sew the pages together in signatures, then secure the whole thing into a laminated version of the trade paper jacket.  That’s more durable, but it wasn’t built to do that, so it flops open in clumsy ways and looks more than ever like a defrocked library book.  (We didn’t allow for an interior trim line so there wasn’t a lot of space to work with as an “anchor” for the pages.  Anchor too deep and the gutter starts crowding the text, so you’re forced to “read over” the page curve.)

Still, a good bookbindery is the best way to go for preservation.

Just this past year, since the 1998 edition went out of print, discussions have begun on a possible new printing.  It might be a reprint of the 2nd, and it might be a “true 3rd” with updates and changes… which means a new layout… which means… gasp

Part of the discussion involves keeping the book affordable.  Another part concerns going whole-hog and making it a Cadillac, which would easily cost $100 per copy or more.  A good strategy these days is to amortize the cost of a cheaper trade edition by doing a limited hardcover edition.  All these options are in play.

You, the reader, have sampled some of the wonderfulness of a new edition via WACT, and so the question should be put forth:  What do you wish to see?

(Here's what I want! - JS)

18 comments:

  1. I've tried to be pretty careful with my 2nd (upgraded from the 1st) and there's only about 10 loose pages, around page 160. So not too shabby.

    But count me in for yet another edition, with swell updates and added features. And, yeah, like stuff from this blog.

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  2. Hey Larry-

    You're pretty knowledgeable about royalties. If Schow uses our stuff, do we get a piece of the pie? If so, I think a third edition is just about the best idea I've ever heard!

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  3. I'd be up for a third dip in the pool - I only have the first edition... 2 copies of the second edition sprouted legs and walked away from the local public library...

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  4. I bought my 1st edition right off the shelf in 1986, and it's still in pretty good condition. There's foxing, on the paper edges and the inside covers, but the binding is intact, despite the fact that I have read or consulted this book countless times (and am reading it again as we proceed through this blog). Part of it is because the bookcase I keep it in isn't near a window or a heater, part because I just handle it carefully.

    Anyway, as for a 3rd, I'd be happy to see one. I wouldn't see the point of just reprinting the 2nd, however, especially given all the information and updates you've gathered since then. Given my low-budget life, though, I'd have to put in a vote for "as inexpensive as possible, please." I don't know if you did the 2nd as a lay-flat, not having seen it, but I could live without that--lay-flat bindings add a great deal of cost to production. Just make the gutter margin wider (at least an inch or an inch and an eighth or so) and you'll be fine. As a customer, I'd be willing to take my chances with perfect binding, too, since that will keep the price down as well--I take enough care with my books that they tend to stay together, and for the ones from which pages do come loose, I just glue them back in again. Surprisingly, in these kinds of repairs, plain old rubber cement will hold them for a few years, though perhaps not through heavy usage--it's working for me, anyway. (This is easier to do with blocks of pages, rather than singles, of course.) Finally, there's layout. On one hand, you want a nice-to-look-at, easy-to-read layout (especially now that your main fan base is getting older and blinder!), but the reality is that if you make some trade-offs there, you can save cost as well. The first layout of my book looked really great, but it was astonishingly long. I went back through, tightening up spaces, reducing point sizes and leading, narrowing indents--all kinds of things. I didn't cut anything (in fact, I added some material), yet I was able to knock nearly 125 pages off the final count. The book looks kind of tight now, but the savings, to my mind, were a worthwhile trade-off. No artist wants to hear that, but you have to think about it. (In the publishing world, we often joke about saving money by printing books in 6 point and enclosing a small magnifying glass with each one--you don't have to go that far!)

    That's all the advice I have, and my vote is for a new edition, but I will offer a caution: many of us older folks are still book-oriented, and so would welcome such a volume whole-heartedly, but the younger generations aren't (and aren't as familiar with OL anyway). Frankly, part of your competition will be this very blog. You'll have to plan your print run very carefully (and I would say, sadly, conservatively). This, of course, affects cost too.

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  5. I've posted my vote at the end of the article. ;)

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  6. I'd just like to see a reprinted second edition, since I have only my original first (which is in very good condition, as I'm collector-careful with my books and steadfastly refuse to countenance a cracked spine). I'm enjoying seeing the expanded coverage from first to second as they're posted on the blog.

    But clearly you've acquired a lot more material over time, and it would be nice to see all this gathered between two (traditional book) covers. Also, my first edition is crammed with TOL news clippings (O.B.I.T.s and such) and postcards you've sent me touting DJS books like SEEING RED and THE SHAFT, which tumble out ungracefully. I need a new reference edition so that I can retire that one to album duty.

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  7. I'd love a third edition with as many added tidbits as possible. I have the first and second ones, and they both have advantages for me. The first one was wonderfully light and "packed", so a lot easier to hold. The second was much more beautiful, more a reference book in size, but endlessly entertaining to look at. I know I'd happily pre-order a third edition were it to come out. Of course, I don't know the logistics of publishing, and how it's changed since the late nineties, so that would have to be factored in.

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  8. I think the format & media of any future revision ought to be choosen based on the goal of selling TOL to younger generations .... and once it's in the appropriate format (Kindle, iPad, whatever), do what we can to help DJS push it. Viral/Stealth marketing, anyone?

    Our copies of the '86 and '98 editions will be fine for the balance of our lifetimes. We need to think about trying to plant the seeds of TOL appreciation among the young. As I've mentioned to DJS in emails, I've taken to disbursing select classic magazine articles on TOL to various & sundry under-30 engineers in my aerospace company. I don't know if they've 'taken', but I sleep better at night knowing I've done my part to keep the sine wave waving.

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  9. Somehow I missed the 2nd edition -- don't know how it happened, but my first is still intact, though with a mysterious bite-like hole in the front cover! Of course it was used as a reference book at work but I took it when I left. (As if they were going to keep on featuring TOL on TNT after I wasn't there pushing it! Not quite!)

    I'd love a new edition with all the goodies you've amassed since your 2nd edition, and I think we'd all promise to incessantly shill for it wherever and whenever possible to propel your sales. I've loved the reprints of the 2nd edition pages here, since I missed them!

    More! And in many different and exciting formats...

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  10. I have the first edition, and it's pretty much beat to hell from being read a hundred times. I didn't know about the second edition until it was too late (a good friend of mine has a copy, though, the bastard). I, um, acquired a digital version of the second edition in PDF form a few months back, but I'd happily replace it with a physical version.

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  11. CRAIG BEAM has raised the unruly specter of that unauthorized PDF of the OUTER LIMITS book, which has proliferated all over the internet without sanction, permission, or anyone even asking nicely. At least it cost the mook who did it a copy of the 2nd edition, which (obviously) was torn apart and flat-scanned. This is the version that was up on Scrib'd before I made them take it down ... but it breeds like roaches and there are only so many hours in the day to invest in headaches of this caliber. All the permutations appear to be re-posts of the SAME original scan. In the (current) absence of a legitimate digital edition, I'm sure it fulfills a short-term need for fans of the book, but even an authorized version would be subsequently ripped off, reposted, stolen and commandeered by thieves and smartasses who enjoy the idea of stealing someone else's work.

    I'm talking about the assholes who arrogantly post the material, not necessarily the people who would read it out of interest.

    Ultimately, to preserve one's sanity, this jolly little pirate phenomenon has to be looked at the way Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream once told me he looked at bootleg record albums: Fans interested enough to seek out and obtain bootlegs nearly always buy all the legitimate releases, as well, for completion's sake. This is indeed the attitude suggested by Craig Beam, and my hope is that once the book is available again, he'd buy that, too.

    It's also dismaying — not really the right word — to discover how many fans were totally unaware of the revised 2nd edition! I chalk that to a failing of publicity during the nascent dawn of what we have come to know as the internet. Zeus knows we tried to make everyone aware of it, and over the twelve years since its publication, SOME-body bought 10,000 copies of it!

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  12. All I know is I want a new edition of The Outer Limits Companion. Where can I purchase it?

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  13. CHOKE, GASP …

    If you want to laugh, or perhaps burst into tears, there’s a listing for a copy on Amazon.com for (hold your breath) SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS … plus $3.99 shipping, of course.

    Then, right under that: $9,999.98 (plus $3.99 shipping – as if they couldn’t afford it). Then, right under THAT … $12,943.20 (plus $3.99). Man for twelve grand, I’ll come to your house and re-enact the entire book via interpretive dance. (I’d how like to know how that EXACT price figure was arrived at, for the last one.)

    USED COPIES start at about $148, which is still breathtakingly expensive, but more in-line with the sort of price this book should bear in the used marketplace.

    Trolled over to Abebooks.com. Not much hope there, either. $270 and climbing.

    Half.com has it for $150.

    If any ding’n’dents find their way back to me, I’ll offer them to the blog.

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  14. Guys, you should definitely consider a high-quality hardcover 3rd edition. Your main target audience is boomers with disposable income and a fond nostalgia for the things they enjoyed when they were coming of age. (Classic cars from the 60's & 70's for example are going for crazy money.) Why not do a special pre-sale to cover the initial costs? (Maybe a Kickstarter project would work.) In any case, sign me up!

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  15. Funny you should say that... stay tuned!

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  16. Sweet! Will do. Thanks!

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  17. I agree with Anonymous- a high-quality hardback!!! A signed limited edition will help cover costs for the trade edition, (I'll buy both plus copies for my kids) so needless to say I'm up for it~! David Schow is the apostle of the Outer Limits and a gift to us all- not to mention we're not getting any younger and I'm for supporting a worthy 3rd edition of this incredible work- thanks Dave! trollbeard

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  18. While awaiting a reissue or updated version of The Outer Limits Companion, fans of The Outer Limits will want to be sure to pick up a copy of David J. Schow's brand new book on the show, The Outer Limits at 50. Available exclusively through Creature Features, the book is packed to the gills with all-new material including a treasure trove of rare photographs and memorabilia. Order yours today at: http://www.creaturefeatures.com/shop/books/the-outer-limits-at-50/

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