Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Making a case for Chinese books

Chinese books, usually softcover, often have a hardbound case for protection.

Folios folded and pressed will make up four books.

Folios divided and collated.

Two books, the xian and the baobei zhuang, feature "paper nails."

The books are covered in the traditional indigo-colored paper.

Finally, the last image/project for the book is done—models of the four earliest bindings aside from the scroll, along with a hardbound case in which to house them. Along the way, I have checked, rechecked, and triple-checked measurements, hoping I avoid any angst or wrath from newbie bookbinders looking to learn the age-old techniques.

The books try the case on for size; measurements are taken
at 32nds of an inch for a perfect fit.

Speaking of the book, I received my first rejection letter! This puts me in the company of so many other authors I admire, and hey at least it is a response. A response from a query sent five months ago, but a response. My first job in publishing involved writing hundreds, maybe thousands, of rejection letters, so it's probably my turn.

Since I submitted to other publishers and agents, I expect to receive more, and also am pushing forward on self-publishing if it comes to that. One author I met recently described his experience working two times with a publisher, and then self-publishing his third book. The latter is the only one that's turned a profit, so I'm heartened. He says, too, that you can no longer count on the marketing muscle that used to be the chief reason to be publish with one of the bigs; many publishers leave it all to the authors now. So I don't feel so timid about taking this path more independently traveled.
Two ties and a couple of biezi clasps, and we're done.

Come to think of it, that's how the book came about in the first place. The foundation that funded my project to learn bookbinding in China stipulated that the learning couldn't come about as a class or through some academic route; it had to be a person-to-person exchange. Pre-Internet, I worked hard through the mails and networking to get a toe in the door at the National Library of China. I twisted that toe until my foot fit, and once I was in there, I smiled big and never let on that I was desperate for a chance to work elbow-to-elbow with master conservator Zhang Ping.

It worked. This many years on, I'm still amazed.


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