London-based book publisher, Visual Editions, started early last year by Anna Gerber and Britt Iversen have just launched their first title The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne. Sharing a love of books and a (mischievous) desire to do things differently, Visual Editions want to offer a new experience for their readers and writers.
To quote their site, “What we do is make sure we turn all that love and mischief into beautifully, lovingly, wonderfully written and crafted books”. Having seen a copy of their first book last week we knew we had to find out more about one of the most exciting publishing companies to emerge in recent years.
Hi Britt, Visual Editions is all about something you call ‘Visual Writing’, what does that mean?
Visual writing is our starting point. As a term, it’s something we made up, but as an idea, there’s a rich literary heritage of this kind of writing. Here’s how we like to think about it: it’s about writing that uses visuals as a way to help tell a story. Those visuals could be something simple like a crossed out word, or it could be something not so simple like a page with words die-cut out of the page. We think now, more than ever before, people are reading differently. We’re more visually literate than ever before, so we wanted to publish books and experiences that embrace that: where both the visuals and the words on the page feed into one another.
Your first book, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is out now, tell us more about the book…
Tristram Shandy was first published in nine volumes in the late 18th century by Yorkshire-man, Laurence Sterne. The book is completely bonkers: it’s full of digressions, meanderings and is visually rich (with astericks, dashes, illustrations and a marbled page). The sad thing is the book has come out in so many different editions since it was first published, that it’s completely lost its magic and playfulness along the way. So what we wanted to do was to dust it down from its shoddy Dover classics and make the book relevant and contemporary again. We did that by exaggerating some of those visual elements, while also introducing new ones, all the while staying faithful to the book’s original spirit.
The attention to detail in the design and production of it is first class, how have the designers and printers reacted to what you’re trying to do?
We worked closely with the wonderful APFEL who embraced the design of this book with all the care and thoughtfullness it deserved. They were "first class" in bringing new ideas to the book (the folded page for a "shut door", is one of our favourites) without ever being decorative or gimmicky. As for the printers, we ended up working with a Chinese printer, who were great and made the hand-finishings not only possible, but affordable. Our hope is that all of our books will be read (not put behind prestine glass cabinets) and that they are priced in a democratic way.
You don’t have to look very hard to find articles on the death of print and publishing companies having a hard time of it, what makes you think Visual Editions will be any different?
The thing is, we don’t know what the future of publishing is going to be. No one does. But we’ve given this a lot of thought and our answer comes in two (related) parts. First thing is, we think there’s a place for Kindle. Tescos 3 for 2 disposable holiday books should and will live on Kindle. But we also think that for a book to merit being printed, there’s got to be something about that experience that can only live on the page. Our second book, by Jonathan Safran Foer, is completely die-cut. It’s a paperback book on the outside, that when opened, is a sculptural object. A sculptural object that has a story, that you can read. That kind of tactile, sensory experience you just can’t replicate on the screen. The second part of our answer, though, is this. We keep thinking of our books as more than just objects, we think of them as experiences. And every book we publish is a different experience. So it may well be that one of our books in the future will live better on the screen than on the page. Watch this space.
What can we expect from Visual Editions in the future?
After Shandy we have Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer (as mentioned above). Our third book is a book in a box. It’s called Composition No.1 and it was first published in the early sixties. It’s literally loose pages that come in a box, that you can read in any order. We’re also working on another book with Jonathan Safran Foer and a collection of short stories by an emerging writer, Seonaid MacKay. Our ethos is this: as long as the book is a great looking story, in whatever shape or guise, and as long as we (our writers, our designers and even our printers) have fun making them, then we’re up for it.
Visual Editions first title, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne is available to buy through the It’s Nice That shop, for more details please visit www.itsnicethat.com/shop
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