A Book and Its Cover

Faces of Tradition:
Weaving Elders of the Andes

I’m just curious. When you pick up a new book, do you read the foreword, or the preface, or any of that stuff in the front? Or do you cut directly to the good stuff?

I ask because I’ve been working on the “front matter” of Faces of Tradition: Weaving Elders of the Andes. It’s going to be a gorgeous, heartfelt book, with portrait photography of dozens of ancient weavers (about my age, actually) and the landscapes they occupy in the Cusco region.

Their stories are brief and somewhat repetitious, but they will pierce your heart. Orphaned at an early age. Widowed at an early age. Forced to work in the haciendas. Weaving to provide food for their children. Or on the other hand, weaving to express their feelings, weaving to solidify their place in the generations of their family and community. Weaving to honor the saints in the churches, weaving to dress properly for festivities. These stories, and the photographs that accompany them, are the heart of the book. It has been thrilling to pull it together, to work with the two authors, Nilda Callañaupa and Christine Franquemont, and the photographer, Joe Coca.

Doing all this other stuff—assigning an ISBN number, writing marketing copy, listing the table of contents, writing a foreword, editing prefaces, author biographies, and so on—seems anticlimatic and sort of tedious. I guess you have to have these elements to be polite and to position the book correctly in the marketplace. But do you, an avid reader of books, actually pay attention?

And while you’re at it: take a look at this tentative cover. Is the title type too small? Is the face too big? Would you pick it up off the shelf? Let me know. We go to press in three weeks.

—Linda Ligon

12 thoughts on “A Book and Its Cover

    • Linda says:

      I love the cover of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, too – not to mention the story itself.
      The other title you mention is new to me – looks fascinating.

  1. Ellen Hardy says:

    Oh yes, I read everything. After the front cover I read the back cover, expecting a broad perspective of the subject. Next I read all the front matter, including the foreword and preface, to get a more detailed perspective of the importance of the book and to learn what inspired the writing. I read all the publishing information to see what edition and printing I’ve got. I read the table of contents so I can learn how the subject matter is organized, and then I glance over the index, taking note of how detailed it is and how useful it will be if I read the book. Next I flip through and look at the photos, illustrations, and tables. Next I’ll read the introduction and summary. Finally, I delve into the entire text from page 1, rereading the Introduction again to reinforce it and keep it in perspective, as that introductory material typically resonates throughout the rest of the text. Mind you I am not as thorough with every book, and at any of the above stages I may move along to the next publication — So many books, so little time! But that is how I read, and even reread, the books I love best. I work as a technical editor though, so I’m probably a bit biased and more tuned in to the importance of the supporting information than the general public generally is. But the bottom line is that how well the covers and front matter are presented can be the determining factor of whether I purchase a title or not.

    I agree with others that the text on the cover is too small and there is not enough contrast against the background — especially for aging eyes to see easily. I also agree that the subject face could be smaller. I LOVE how the background is blurred, it adds some great perspective, and tells me that the book will contain very detailed information but that there is a wealth of other information also out there. I might suggest playing with an organic (no straight lines), partial border using a few simple Andean-inspired graphic patterns and muted complementary colors to add cohesion. I’m looking forward to this title, thank you!

  2. Lorraine Goris says:

    My first activity with a book like this is to look at all the photos, then read the photo descriptions, Then, the narrative for the photos that strike me. Then the rest of the book, with the stuff up front last, or sometimes not at all. I do enjoy reading author biographies.

    I’m so happy you’re publishing this book! Will it be available as a download? I’ll be traveling for the next few months so this format might be a better option for me.

    • Linda Ligon says:

      Well, this book will have plenty of photos for you to look at! We’ll probably publish an electronic version at some point, but for now it will be print. Safe travels!

  3. Mary Holm says:

    I definitely read the preface, foreword, and afterword. I also agree that the title is difficult to read (contrast? font size? color?). Love the face of the weaver!

    • Linda Ligon says:

      Looks like consensus, and I totally agree. The title doesn’t read well. We’ll fix it.

  4. Jennifer Sallee says:

    I always read the preface, table of contents, etc. – but sometimes not first. I leaf through a book, get interested, then go back and read from the beginning. I agree with the comment above – the cover is beautiful but the title fades into the background. The older I get the more I hate white letters on a dark background — too hard to read. I think larger, darker print would be better. But the general look of the cover is gorgeous . . . I would definitely take it off a bookshelf and check it out.

  5. Jane Galer Barnes says:

    I read everything, even the copyright page, interesting things can be found on copyright pages. When I wrote Becoming Hummingbird, about the shaman of Peru, I worked hard to give credit and notice as per the UN Convention on Indigenous Rights to the Q’ero people. As you mentioned in one of your previous blogs, we often take photos without respect to the person or people behind the costume. As an author and publisher myself I am always looking at design, even font style! Yes, the type might be a little small, but the image is gorgeous. Can’t wait to read/see this book, Linda!

  6. Judy Gilchrist says:

    I do tend to read the preface, table of contents, etc on most books.
    The face on the cover is beautiful. However, the title does not show up well (too little contrast between it and background)

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