Publishers set deadlines so they can control when their books hit the stores (this keeps the money flowing), and so they can prevent the author’s vision from spiraling out of control (this keeps costs under control).
We eschew deadlines as much as possible. The book is done when the book is done. And if the author’s vision spirals mightily during the process, then it’s probably a good book.
“Chairmaker’s Notebook” by Peter Galbert is a textbook example. The project began on March 25, 2012, when I visited Peter and fellow chairmaker Curtis Buchanan at Kelly Mehler’s school to discuss an idea for a DVD on making a single chair. Peter was going to illustrate a short manual to go with the DVD.
Sometimes you have no idea what is going to come out of the soil when you throw some seeds on the ground. Curtis decided to release the DVDs in a 10-disc set on making a comb-back chair. It’s a fantastic look at the process from beginning to end. You can order the set from Curtis here.
Peter shifted gears and decided to write a book on building two Windsor chairs: a balloon-back and a fan-back. The book was going to have a standard mix of step photos and a few illustrations. (Peter received a degree in photography from the Art Institute of Chicago and also studied painting, drawing and sculpture.)
As Peter started drawing, the book evolved again. The photographs were shoved aside in favor of illustrations. The book became a massive brain-dump of the entire process of chair construction, and there is a lot in Peter’s brain. I’ve studied every chairmaking book available during the last 15 years. Peter has re-thought almost every part of the process and proved his techniques through building and teaching.
There are more than 500 hand-drawn illustrations in “Chairmaker’s Notebook,” but that’s not an accurate count. There were 500 pages of illustrations that John and I scanned. Many of these pages contained several illustrations. And many of these illustrations were redrawn four or five times until Peter was happy.
The text has been through the hands of five other chairmakers, editors and writers. Not because the text needed a lot of work, but because Peter sought out their critiques to refine every explanation.
And poor Linda Watts, the designer. Most books take about three weeks to design. She’s been on this job since late November, I think. It’s a complicated task to present so much information in a way that makes it look clean and simple.
Last night about 8:25 I finished entering the final changes from Megan Fitzpatrick, who copy edited the book, and I sent the proof to Peter for review. We still have some tidying to do, and Suzanne Ellison is working on the index as I type this. But the end is near.
We have resolved to get this book to the printer on Feb. 10. On that date, I’ll have complete details on the price, the number of pages and (if you are nice) an excerpt from the book.
At the end of massive book projects such as this, I always say something like: “And this is why traditional physical media is dying.” But as I page through the finished product, I also say this: “I wouldn’t do it any other way.”
— Christopher Schwarz