Quill and Quire

Canada's magazine of book news and reviews

Scott Richardson

The author down the hall

By Tim Johnson

After seven years of contemplation and writing, Scott Richardson — an award-winning book designer with more than two decades of experience in publishing — did a brave thing. He submitted a fiction manuscript to his colleagues at Random House of Canada, where he has been vice-president and creative director for several years. “I was absolutely petrified,” says Richardson. “It was nerve-wracking. I had more than one day of complete doubt, of wondering, ‘What was I thinking?’”

It was an act that induced some anxiety in his colleagues, as well. “There’s always a moment of trepidation when you realize that a friend has written a novel,” laughs Martha Kanya-Forstner, editorial director for Random imprint Doubleday Canada. But she and her publishing board liked the manuscript, and Doubleday will publish The End of the Alphabet in January. “After the moment of trepidation, there was a huge moment of relief,” says Kanya-Forstner, the book’s editor. “There was something quite glorious about the discovery of this side of my friend and colleague.” Richardson’s novel is the tale of a man who is informed that he has only one month to live, and the story follows him and his wife on a hasty A-to-Z tour of places exotic and treasured.

Initially, Richardson and his agents, Suzanne Brandreth and Dean Cooke at the Cooke Agency, submitted the manuscript to several publishing houses. Four of them expressed strong interest, but it was Doubleday that acquired the book. “There was the risk of an uncomfortable situation, where I’m literally sitting down the hall from my publisher, and that was a consideration,” says Richardson. “But at the end of the day, the decision was that Doubleday was the best place, given their track record, the way they publish books, how they treat their authors, and other strengths they bring to the table.”

The arrangement did require some workaround measures, though. Richardson did not design any of the titles on the Doubleday Canada spring 2007 list — the list his novel will be on — and he stayed away from meetings that involved sales or design discussions about his book. Correspondence always went through the usual channels; for example, when the book jacket design was ready, it was sent to Richardson via his agents. “We didn’t just walk down the hall and pop it on his desk,” says Doubleday Canada publisher Maya Mavjee. “We’ve tried to keep Scott Richardson the art director as separate as we can from CS Richardson the author,” says Kanya-Forstner.

“For the first little while, it was a little strange to remove myself, because I’m very close with the people I work with,” admits Richardson. “And I’m sure it was equally strange and awkward for everyone else.” But all parties made it work. Richardson says he wasn’t even bothered that strategic discussions about his book were taking place behind closed doors, just a few feet away from where he was working. “I think it would be unnerving to be in the same room when they start talking about you in the third person,” laughs Richardson.

His faith in his colleagues’ advice extended to a last-minute change in the title from Richardson’s original “The Grand Tour of Ambrose Zephyr.” The End of the Alphabet was suggested as a way to broaden the book’s appeal.

Perhaps the most difficult job of all was left to Kelly Hill, who was given the task of designing a book written by her boss. “There were all sorts of feelings at first,” says Hill. “I was very honoured that I was going to be designing this book of his. It was intimidating. I was insecure, and I was overwhelmed.” Although they continued to work together on a daily basis, Richardson and Hill did not discuss the book. Richardson says he had no more design input than any other author, and his input was channelled through Kanya-Forstner. He admits that he would have been more nervous if another, less familiar house was publishing it. “I knew I was in very, very good hands,” he says.

Hill and Richardson did have the advantage of knowing one another. “The one leg-up I may have had is that Kelly and I work together all the time. Just on a personal level, she has a sense of my design sense,” says Richardson. One tangible result of this is the typeface used for the book, Filosofia. “It’s elegant and a little bit unusual, and I knew it was one of Scott’s favourites. You don’t often know that about your authors,” Hill says. In the end, Richardson says he’s thrilled with the look of the final product: “Kelly has done a phenomenal job.”

Despite all the challenges, Richardson says that his experiences as an author with Doubleday were extremely satisfying. Which raises the question of whether or not he will go with the same imprint for his second novel, still in the early writing stages – a book about a man who cannot read. Doubleday has the first option on it, he says, but everything is still up in the air. Besides, he adds with a smile, “that’s a while down the road. It is a slow process.”