Below: The cover of actor Jeff Bridges’ duotone book. Julianne Moore pictured as Maude Lebowski.
She has celebrities like Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Beals on her speed dial. She has the pulse of book publishers – big, small and micro – and self-publishers, too. She’s Joanne Bolton of Bolton Associates, a family business based in California. Joanne travels the globe in search of book-printing deals, and she more than pays for her services with savings and quality (and I don’t say that lightly). I stumbled over Joanne on the internet, and after a few phone calls, realized that she was a rare resource. Over the last year, we’ve developed a working relationship. Honest, warm and super-helpful, Joanne agreed to share some inside info on the art of book printing, e-books and her work for and with celebs. —Elaine Ash
Elaine: Hi Joanne! I’m dying to hear about working with Jeff Bridges on several books, but first, can you please tell us about your Agatha Christie connection?
Joanne Bolton: My dad was in the Navy, and we went to Northern Ireland [where I enrolled in school] and had to take extra French. The mistress of French was Miss Christie. She was an imposing figure in black robes, and she had one good eye and one glass eye. I hated going to her chambers because she had an ancient Scottie dog who sat beside me and he really stank! [Other than that] Miss Christie liked me and was quite kind. Talk about a character! She turned out to be the cousin of Agatha Christie.
Elaine: File that story under “one degree of separation.” Now tell us please, what the heck is a print broker?
Joanne : I got a call last week from an 85-year- old woman who blurted out the same question. My job title could be, “Book Making Midwife,” or “”All-Purpose Production Maven,” or “General Dog’s Body Designer, Photo Editor, Proofreader, Marketing Guru, etc.”
[Today, lots of printing is] overseas, so I have to be able to eat exotic, unrecognizable food for days on end, travel places on my own without fear, know when to talk and when to listen (that goes for most jobs doesn’t it?), and decipher meaningful information out of gobble-de-gook, and NEVER get emotional.
LOWER RIGHT: Joanne with her printing team in China.
Elaine: What’s the biggest challenge for newbies?
Joanne: Ha! The biggest is to keep them from using up all their capital on design work before it gets to the printing stage! Aside from that it is getting everything out of Word and into the right publishing program, photos properly sized and formatted. All the production parts are enormous for a newbie and take much longer than you would think to get ready to go.
LEFT: With husband Derek, Financial Officer for Bolton Associates
Joanne: Getting the pricing sorted out seems to be the biggest challenge. Educating self-publishers about the pros and cons of using a broker is the largest challenge for me. It’s amazing to find that some designers don’t know the correct number of pages to give a book, or that dot gain is high for most US printers, so black-and-white photos need to be lightened unless you want mystery added to the mix. “Huh, what is that, is it a horse, or your brother Tom?” Comparing bids is fraught with surprises. Assuming anything that isn’t written down is risky, such as assuming high-resolution proofs are included in the price. As Judge Judy would say, “If it seems too good to be true, then it isn’t.”
Elaine: What about rates?
Joanne: Print brokers compete with printers. The mark-up is included in the price. You don’t ask the printer what his mark-up is; same with a print broker. That makes it easy to compare apples to apples. Sometimes I need to do some corrective work, or design a cover, etc. Then I propose a price to the client depending on how much work is involved. Printers give brokers special rates for volume or if they’ve been working with you a long time. Good brokers get a break on pricing, or a price below minimum quantities. Using a good print broker is like buying an insurance policy.
Joanne: I recently designed and uploaded a 150-page, full-color book on CreateSpace. For a fee, I can help people get through the demanding and perplexing issues of print-on-demand. I can refer them to other pros for more complex jobs.
Elaine: What about trade paperbacks or hard cover books with only print inside?
Joanne: I have several printers in the US who are good at this type of book and I also offer soft-cover trade books with FLAPS in the Chronicle Publishing style. There are some sizes more economical than others at some printers and I can advise writers on those sizes.
In a few weeks I hope to have some videos on my website to show the basics of book building. I use US, Canadian and Asian printers to get the best values for my clients.
Elaine: Tell us about working with Jeff Bridges. As most readers know, Jeff starred as “The Dude” in The Big Lebowski, and most recently was in the Coen Brothers’ True Grit. I loved him in Iron Man, opposite Robert Downey Jr, and he won an Oscar for Best Actor in Crazy Heart.
Joanne: I produced Jeff’s last three titles – quadtone books from photos he takes backstage while working on some of his films. He gives signed copies to his crew, and the studio gives them out at film junkets. The last three titles were Crazy Heart, Tron: Legacy and True Grit. Jeff uses a Widelux camera, no longer made, that advances the film as you shoot, allowing for very long format images. He’s well known for his Tragedia/Comedia technique where an actor frowns then smiles and both images appear on the same photo with black in-between. The three titles mentioned are quadtone printing with in-line varnish and a 6th color on the covers or title pages. These are complicated techniques completed from start to delivery in Los Angeles, in only three weeks.
During production my place was like a war office, everything lined up: one, two three. During a telephone-proofing session of the Crazy Heart book Jeff sang me one of the movie ballads while he played his guitar and I corrected the drop shadow on the cover.
Elaine: Tell us about that huge, open-up cover on The Big Lebowski.
Joanne: The cover was thirty inches long. I had to learn Photoshop really well to get the image to fit on such a long format. I did all the digital photoshop work on Jeff’s covers. He’s always great to work with—a perfectionist who keeps me on my toes.
The Big Lebowski book specs:
- 12” x 9” horizontal format
- 36 pp text
- vellum sheet tipped-in front and back
- 100# matt-coated art
- 2/2 duotone printing with handwritten captions
- Images inside 4” x 9.5:
- Copyright 1997 by Jeff Bridges, distributed by Gramercy Pictures
Elaine: You produced other exotic books too.
Joanne: The Anniversary Party was a B/W book for Jennifer Beals. She stopped by a couple of times to complete the design work. For photography I think my most sophisticated production was for 21ST Editions museum-quality book featuring the poetry of William Blake and the images of Joel-Peter Witkin, entitled Songs of Innocence and Experience. (Pictured right and below)
This 13″ x 12″ oversize book was printed on Arches 100% rag watercolor paper, using 8 colors (twice through the sheet-fed presses) using a technique that my art printer had previously only used for art reproduction, not photographs. We all sat in a warehouse in Los Angeles, provided by my customs broker, while a crew unpacked 2,000 books so Joel could hand sign the endsheets in order to get them to PhotoLA in time. It was a show stopper. By the way, some of Witkin’s pieces were in the background when Jeff was interviewed at home for the American Masters series.
BELOW: Witkin’s signature inside front cover
Elaine: What was the most unusual book you printed?
Joanne: A book 25-feet long – an accordion book – for a client who used to work with Ansel Adams. It was published by Artbook Press. One hundred images depicting life on Maui were replicated along the wall outside the Maui Cultural Center auditorium. The Dali Lama was given that book during a recent visit.
Elaine: Thank you Joanne! More info on Joanne and her services can be found at
Many thanks to Steven Albahari, publisher of Songs of Innocence and Experience.
21ST Editions fine art books can be seen at: http://www.21stphotography.com
Thanks to Jeff Bridges for permitting use of his images. “THE DUDE ABIDES!” WE LOVE YOU.
(RIGHT) A sample of Joanne’s digital fantasy art.