I’ll Take Colophons for $400

This is a colophon from 1471.

We were looking over glossaries of industry terms for publishing class this week, and I spent a good chunk of that time reviewing terms I already know: things like body copy, copyright page, and front matter. Things that I’m familiar with not only as a reader but as somebody who’s lucky enough to get to write, edit and produce books and magazines with college students every day (well, most days) for my job.

Usually by the time I talk to people about their books they’ve already read lots of blogs and online articles about publishing and they just want to have a conversation about what all this stuff means so they can figure out what to do with their project. So describing the difference between a copyedit and a developmental edit is fun for me, and it always leads to a great conversation from which I learn more than I teach. And it’s fun to see new authors’ eyes light up when they talk about the dedication in the front of the book, even if they then glaze over a little when learning what a EAN barcode is and why they need one.

I approached this assignment hurriedly because there are lot of assignments right now. I read through the lists of terms I already know about very quickly because my ego is the size of all outdoors and I sometimes miss the opportunity to actually learn new stuff. So imagine my shock and awe when I found one I’d never heard of before: colophon.

Colophon, as defined by the Association of American Publishers website bookjobs.com, is a brief listing of production information, often including typeface details and information related to any artwork. Wikipedia goes a little further, defining it as “a brief statement containing information about the publication of a book such as the place of publication, the publisher, and the date of publication. A colophon may also be emblematic or pictorial in nature. Colophons were formerly printed at the ends of books, but in modern works they are usually located at the verso of the title-leaf.” It was also apparently the name of an ancient city in Asia Minor, but that’s probably not relevant for our publishing-term purposes today.

Discovering the term made me think about, oh yeah, all those times my students and I have worked with people who do illustrations, style sheets, accounting. All the people, paid and otherwise, who advise the author; make decisions about font and layout choices and paper color and trim size; help with marketing and publicity and book rooms and order cheese and crackers and egg rolls for launch events. Their names aren’t usually on the cover of the book. Sometimes their names can’t be found anywhere in the book. When the Champlain College Center for Publishing puts out a new book, all those people’s efforts are acknowledged in one single line like “published in cooperation with the Champlain College Center for Publishing” with the date. And that’s it.

We usually have a line like that, but sometimes we don’t even have that line. Sometimes it depends on what the author wants; sometimes it depends on what we remember to do in terms of all that legal information in front of a book and whether we take the time to really make sure it says what it needs to. Thanks to this assignment, I bet I won’t forget it on future projects. It seems pretty important to sum up all the work that goes into making any book, to thank everybody involved for their help, even in this small way.