Little, Big banner

He thought wildly of printing them all
on lantern slides
4 May 2022

I reminded myself: when a book lies unopened it might contain anything in the world, anything imaginable. It therefore, in that pregnant moment before opening, contains everything. Every possibility, both perfect and putrid. Surely such mysteries are the most enticing things You grant us in this mortal mere—the fruit in the garden, too, was like this. Unknown, and therefore infinite. Eve and her mate swallowed eternity, every possible thing, and made the world between them.

— Catherynne M. Valente, The Habitation of the Blessed (2010)

Supply-chain problems in the Fall slowed us down and in some cases limited our choice of materials, not qualitatively but in terms of colors; our alternate choices were not displeasing, and in one respect altered our approach in a good way. The superb archival book paper the printer ordered on our behalf (fifteen tons of it specially manufactured for the Project) was delivered 45 days late. Our own labors finalizing the interiors of the three editions were completed soon after; we transmitted the InDesign files for the entirety of the 800-page Trade edition to the printer on 22 January, with the files unique to the 820-page Lettered and Numbered editions following on Val ’n’ Tina’s Day. During those same weeks I found the ideal late-period Peter Milton print to use for the laminated litho wraps on the Lettered and Numbered slipcases; John D. Berry ratified my design conception, Milton approved it, and his gracious webmaster, Nic Goodman, provided us with a copy of the high-definition digital original. Meanwhile, the printer’s prepress work proceeded with alacrity.

Initially, the editions’ 338 interior reproductions of Milton’s art (most of them copper plate engravings, with a scattering of drawings) were rendered as duotones by the printer’s graphics lead without additional editing – a straight naturalistic rendering of the digital files as given. But we knew we had one of the finest print professionals in the business when it came to editing art for book reproduction, and we didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to benefit from his perspective on what the art might need to achieve the best effects in its manifold new contexts. The first step was to request a press proof of three carefully selected 8-page sides from the forty-five 16-page signatures common to all three editions, as first rendered. On 1 March these were printed, and the same day the production manager shot and narrated a 2m 28s cell phone video of the first sheet:

Once we received the excellent printed results, John D. Berry and I had a Zoom meeting with the printer’s graphics team. They told us that, as fine as the art reproductions already were as evidenced by the press test, they felt they could further improve the quality with some judicious editing, explaining their approach in some detail. John Berry and I gave the go-ahead with gusto; heck, we were practically cheering.

In mid-March, after much labor, I finished going over the printed imposition proofs with the proverbial fine tooth comb – all 992 pages of them (the forty-five 16-page sigs common to all editions, five 16s unique to the Trade, six 16s unique to the Numbered, and another six unique to the Lettered), and returned them to the printer with a modest handful of corrections and changes.

An enjoyable if thoroughly exhausting ten days’ sojourn in the northeast followed; my friend Don Nagy helped with driving and logistics for half that time. A few hours’ drive from Boston, we stopped for two and a quarter days in John Crowley’s neck of the Berkshires to pick up the 400-odd 4-page signatures that John had enumerated, signed, and variably inscribed. That first afternoon, after securing the signatures, John brewed us coffee and we had a delightful 40-minute conversation around his kitchen table in the home where he and his family have lived for closing in on forty years; I dearly wish I could remember the tenth part of what was said. Once again I was struck by his gracious way of making folks feel at home and at ease in his company. I spent the next two days and much of the nights at a nearby hotel going over those autograph signatures, re-sorting them and checking John’s beautiful and careful work, identifying a small number of correctable errors which he more or less happily inked on the afternoon of the last day, after which we repaired to an excellent local Italian restaurant of John’s choice to celebrate.

The next day, a Saturday, after a wonderful three-hour visit with Samuel R. Delany in Philadelphia split evenly between his delightfully overflowing book-filled fourth-floor digs and the sunshady cool outside the Green Street Café, it was time for Don to head back to Boston. He dropped me a short jog into nearby Delaware, where I sojourned for two nights and a day with friends and continued my work. Come Monday morning, one of my hosts kindly delivered me to the Project’s printer in a distant suburb of Philly, where I stayed three days and pulled more late nights at a hotel a few blocks away to keep abreast of the work that I needed to complete and deliver before I left.

Printing of our new archival edition of Little, Big began on Tuesday, 22 March 2022. Here’s the 2m 18s cell phone video I took of my walk down the length of the printing press as umpteen copies of the back side of the 45th 16-page signature ran through it (of the three videos here, this one looks the best when enlarged): look for the flashing gold light of the riverine paper rushing beneath windows in the floor, the bright emphatic output at press’s end, and those beautiful finished sheets.

A close inspection of those sheets confirmed we’d made the right move: there was a distinct uptick in the clarity of detail, solidity, range, and vividness of the art due to the art editor’s superbly nuanced graphical interventions.

On Friday, 22 April, we received word that printing was 80% complete. Four more work shifts should see it finished (shifts that of necessity will continue to alternate with others devoted to shorter, less elaborate projects on the printer’s schedule). Folding, trimming, and collating has begun. Beyond that, binding the books, finalizing our dust-jacket and slipcase designs and printing & manufacturing the same will likely take a month, all told, perhaps a bit more, with finished books due in late June.

That same day, 22 April, we received the following 17-second video from the production manager:

Weighing in at six pounds each, books will be shipped to customers in the order they were purchased, a process that may last into the Fall. Once that process starts, I plan to post every fortnight with brief shipping updates, quantities shipped and where we are in the queue. Please bear in mind: if you purchased a subscription after 2014, right now there are well over a thousand people in the queue in front of you. Once the requisite number of copies have been delivered to John Crowley, Peter Milton, Jeanne Bloom, and a couple dozen other people who made substantial investments in or worked actively on the Project off and on throughout its long history, and a few crucial review copies have been shipped out, our next goal will be to quickly ramp up the shipment of prepaid books to an average of 30 copies a week, and then focus on doubling that rate as soon as we possibly can. Shipping fulfillment options are still being explored.

As we work our way chronologically through the customer database, whenever we come upon a shipping address that has not been updated or confirmed in more than a year, we will contact the customer for an update and will not ship until we’ve received it. Of course, if you have purchased a subscription and it’s been more than a year since you’ve contacted us with a shipping-address update or confirmation, you can do so at any time. But please bear in mind – for the next while our attentions will continue to be dominated by the dauntingly large amount of minutiae involved in the physical production process itself. Once we’re ready to begin shipping individual books, we will post an announcement specifically requesting address updates. We would be grateful if you would wait for that announcement before sending your updates, if you can stand to. If not, no worries, but our response time to emails for the next couple of months may be less than ideal. Please bear with us.

In the 5 October 2021 addenda to “Midnight in Montreal”, I wrote, “The increase in price from $95 to $125 goes into effect immediately.” Given the response I received, this was not quite as unambiguous a statement as I had hoped. The sentence would have better read, “On all new Trade book orders going forward, the increase in price from $95 to $125 takes effect immediately.” I never intended the original sentence to be understood as being retroactive.

That said, we are barely breaking even. Increases in shipping and production costs over the last decade have been immense. I respectfully ask all those who subscribed to the edition prior to the October 2021 price increase to make a donation to the Project to help defray costs. Suitable amounts per book purchased would range anywhere from US $25 to US $100, with larger donations welcomed. I leave it to each subscriber to decide what is appropriate; I can make suggestions based on your particular case upon request.

You can send donations via PayPal to benkamm [at] sonic [dot] net with a note saying it's "to help defray costs.” Related enquiries can be sent to me at editor [at] littlebig25 [dot] com.

Given past delays in the Project’s completion, some may prefer to wait for their book(s) to arrive before contributing further. That’s fine.

Please understand: No one who declines to make a donation will be penalized because of it. Your place in the shipping queue will not be affected.

To all who have supported this Project and persevered with us, and especially to those who took the time to reach out to me and others to offer help and words of encouragement, solidarity, and appreciation: our thanks. You made a difference.

Ron Drummond

Published 4 May 2022