I am a judge for the Independent Book Publishers Association’s Benjamin Franklin Awards. Perhaps surprisingly, this work predates my years in book publishing and extends back to, I think, 2002. It’s hard to date it precisely, because it began so long ago that I had an entirely different and now defunct email address.
The IBPA even had a different name back then, so it really has been a while.
At the time I had been a book reviewer for an industry business magazine and also managed a network of book reviewers for a half-dozen years or so. Soon after, I became editor in chief of the magazine.
I last worked full-time in book publishing in 2013, although I’ve occasionally done some consulting since then. But, mostly, that book publisher way of seeing the world—and its books—pops back into mind each winter when I get the two shipments of new titles from IBPA, one before and one after the turn of the year.
I’ve been a judge for many different subject categories. Of course I cannot say (or reveal in the pic) which category I am judging this year. There are judges for editorial and design for each category, and I’ve served in both roles.
I’m a design judge this year, which, to be honest, takes less time. As a design judge, the books I read in full are just the ones I want to; others I read enough to get a sense of what they’re trying to offer readers and if the design helps or hinders in that intention, as well as in getting someone to buy the book in a store or online (especially in its cover wrap).
As a design judge, when all the books have arrived I first go through them one by one rather roughly, chunk-sorting into groups by my first takes on the cover wrap and interior design. Between my years as a book reviewer and editor; my years as a book editor and publisher, including leading a very professional and talented design team; and my years judging book awards (which has included another awards program), I have a fairly well-developed sense of what I’m looking for and considering. I’m sometimes still surprised and even delighted by certain design and illustration choices.
There was one year I was judging design and there weren’t really any strong books in the category I had. That was dispiriting.
But it was only that one time. Every other year there has been a batch, larger or smaller, of books that have good or excellent design to linger over, analyze, and savor.
I received about 40 books this year. I’ve only done that first sorting now, and this is one of those years where there are more books than usual with strong design components.
The best ones remind me of the work of the professionals at Lark Books. I think of my incredibly talented designers, Kathy and Carol, in the Lark Jewelry & Beading group, as well as our other art designers at Lark. Our books were heavily illustrated and fairly complicated visually, and they required excellent design both to sell and to serve the reader. Our designers delivered. I think of Todd and Lance in production, who ensured that the quality of the package was excellent and appropriate, and of our smart, hardworking editors who planned it all out and tied so many parts together to make it work.
That is, I think of the dedicated individuals who, along with our authors, made our work in publishing so enjoyable and successful. I am grateful for the time in my life spent with each one of them. Some I still know; some I don’t. Some have passed away. I remember them all.
As I pick up and consider each book now, today, I take my role very seriously in honor of all of them, recognizing and appreciating the effort, professionalism, and creative vision some very talented people continue to contribute in creating and publishing each book that educates, moves, challenges, delights, and surprises us. I’ve done this work judging books since 2002, and I am so grateful to be able to do it for them.
Here are some cover mosaics of a few of the books we worked on at Lark. Maybe you have one or two of these books on your shelves…and maybe you’ll place one or two of the independently published books I’m judging now on your shelves in the year or two to come.