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Riverbend Books

The Nation’s Leading Publisher of City and Regional Picture Books

Acclaimed publisher Riverbend Books, an imprint of Bookhouse Group, Inc., is the nation’s preeminent publisher of custom, coffee-table photojournalism-style books of America’s communities and regions.

Riverbend launched in 1992 with a fresh concept in city-book publishing. It was the first company to commission all new photography (in lieu of using stock images), often shooting more than 30,000 frames to portray life in a community from myriad perspectives: Healthcare, education, workforce development, technology, downtown living, the arts, recreation, neighborhoods, entrepreneurial spirit, manufacturing, and more. The subject matter is customized to meet the needs of the chamber and community. Click here to see our Riverbend photo gallery. Working closely with our chamber of commerce hosts, and after several on-location photo-scouting trips and focus groups with community leaders, our photographers fan out over the community to capture how the community lives, works, and plays. It’s all custom—we create what you want and need—and all at no cost to your Chamber. (more…)

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Importance of Archival Research

Boxes, Drawers, and Hard Drives—The Importance of the Archival Search.

Searching for the right images for your book is a tedious process, but we are almost always successful.

Searching for the right images for your book is a tedious process, but we are almost always successful.

Searching for the right images for your book is a tedious process, but we are almost always successful. The reason is we know what we’re looking for before we get to that point.

Your company or institution has been around for 25, 50, 100, maybe even 250 years. You have a manuscript that tells your story. Now you want that story illustrated in a coffee table book commemorating your significant anniversary. Over the years, you have collected pictures that are being housed in boxes, files, scrapbooks, and past employees’ homes.

Once the manuscript is written, our archivist comes to you with a wish list of images that she thinks will best illustrate your story. This list is pegged to the manuscript on a page-by-page basis. It is her job to dig out those images from those boxes, files, computer hard drives, etc., that are on that wish list, or at least come as close to the right and perfect image as possible.

We don’t just rely on old photography. Sometimes we use old newspaper articles, advertisements, interesting documents, and memorabilia to help illustrate portions of your story. Once the item is found we scan them using a scanner that you may have on hand or one we bring with us then leave with you for future use. Our archivist knows the just right settings to enhance the newspaper article so there is very little moiré from the printing dots showing, or eliminating the dust that may appear on an old photo. A very small photograph can be scanned so that it is several sizes larger, which would work better on the design page. It is her job to help make the historical portions of your story as interesting as possible with the images that have been hiding in all of those obscure places.

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Focusing on What’s Important

Focus Groups: How They Help You

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Rob Levin holding a focus group for Dallas Theater Center, Dallas, Texas.

For over twenty years, I’ve been conducting focus groups with new clients. These focus groups are typically held at the beginning of the research phase and the writer is in attendance. For the writer and myself, as the book’s editor, the focus group is a prime opportunity to put our fingers on the pulse of the organization. By the time we arrive, we’ve already been through the client’s website, had long conversations with the client, perused the web for related articles, and perhaps read additional material provided previously by the client. But now we are able to actually talk to warm bodies and experience a taste of the personalities. Some of my questions are specific and expected—“What is your job title and on a day-to-day basis, what do you do?” Some are broader—“What makes a really good (or bad) day for you at the office?” On a college or independent school campus, I might point to someone and pose a scenario—“Your niece is thinking of going to school here and she’s coming to visit so you can give her a personal tour—what are you going to show her and why?”

Some of the questions go nowhere and I quickly change direction. Other queries are designed to intentionally be uncomfortable—“The Acme Manufacturing acquisition was a disaster. What happened?”

And then lastly, of course, this: “What stories should we be telling in this book?”

One thing to note is that if the CEO, or head of school, chancellor, or chairwoman is sitting in, I ask them beforehand to not contribute until the very end—otherwise her or his comment can change the tone and force the direction in a way that isn’t entirely conducive.

The best focus groups develop their own head of steam and within twenty or thirty minutes  the participants are ignoring me and talking across the table to each other, marvelous story ideas erupting like fireworks, the writer furiously typing notes, just trying to keep up. You can’t pull this stuff off the website. After ninety minutes, we’re done—and the book will be richer for it.

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Too Much Information?

You Can Never Provide a Client Too Much Information

. Our project schedules are divided into essentially three phases: Research and Editorial; Archival Search and Design; Manufacturing and Shipping.

Our project schedules are divided into essentially three phases: Research and Editorial; Archival Search and Design; Manufacturing and Shipping.

Several times over the last year, we’ve had to modify the project schedule for a client in New Jersey, one of the largest retirement entities in the eastern United States. Nothing unusual there—schedules are often adjusted as the realities of a client’s own activities block the way. Our project schedules are divided into essentially three phases: Research and Editorial; Archival Search and Design; Manufacturing and Shipping. In each phase, there are periods for client review and revisions and certainly some overlap. For us, the schedules (and their updates) are important because they allow us to properly allocate talent and resources and (just as importantly) give us an idea of when we can invoice for completion of key phases. We have to eat, right? For the client, however, the schedule is even more critical. At Bookhouse, we have but a handful of people on a project at any given time, but a client might have as many as fifteen or more people reviewing each stage. Additionally, they often have dates and events to work around. By seeing a schedule in advance, they can immediately advise us of a conflict (try having an educational institution client focus during the week of graduation) and we can make adjustments.

At least that’s the ideal process. But in this case, the schedule for our client—the continuing care retirement community (CCRP) in New Jersey—kept slipping further behind, a few days here, a week there; it was adding up as other aspects of the client’s business took front and center. After we were in the design phase, we ceased providing updated schedules because all the previous versions noted that no matter when we went to press, it would be 84 days from there until delivery of the book (we were printing this book out of the country, thus a longer manufacturing time). We assumed they saw and understood this, right? Wrong. Once again, we came to realize that clients should not be expected to remember every detail of the process or every word of the contract. To say, “But we sent you the schedule,” is an easy out and doesn’t do the client any good. Doubtless, we could have done a better job of not only sending updated schedules, but also reminding them in the email cover notes as well as other communications.

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Just Leave the Pros Alone

One of our favorite book designers lives in Minneapolis, where it begins snowing around Halloween and doesn’t thaw out till Mother’s Day—or so it seems. Rick is talented, a fitness animal, good natured, and I’ve come to understand certain truths about him. One is when I present an idea he likes, he is quick to point that, “Sure, I’ll sent you something later today.” But when I present an idea he’s not wild about—“Rick, can you make the font on this page big. I mean REALLY BIG?”—the response on his end of the line is, well, underwhelming. In fact, it’s usually several moments of silence followed by a slow and deliberate repeating of what I just said, but without my enthusiasm. “So, you want the font really big?”

Michele Cohen Marill, one of our talented writers.

A writer we use often, Michele, who is as talented with words as Rick is with design, often responds to my off-the-wall editorial ideas for her manuscript with an “Okay,” but it’s stretched into multiple syllables. “Okayyyyy?” And, yes, I can hear the question mark and deep concern when she says it. Photographers have indulged me the same way—listening to my detailed instructions of how I envision a shot being set up . . . and then simply ignoring it altogether.

In the end our pros know that you, the client, have the ultimate say so, and leave their egos at home. Well, some of our designers, not Rick, have had a problem with this. They are creative types after all, but they respect our clients wishes. They know that an engineering firm may wish for a precise and angular concept, while a university will love a more creative approach. But, isn’t that what makes us all unique?

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Your Book is Printed, Now What?

By deciding early on, how you plan to use your books you can ensure your investment functions as a significant corporate or institutional resource.

By deciding early on, how you plan to use your books you can ensure your investment functions as a significant corporate or institutional resource.

What are You Going to do with your Company’s Commemorative Books After They Are Delivered? Thinking about commissioning a history or anniversary book to commemorate a milestone event? No doubt, your book will be meticulously planned and custom crafted to tell and illustrate your organization’s impressive story. However, it’s equally important to know what you want to do with your books after they are delivered fresh off the press. Your books aren’t doing you any good sitting in boxes in a backroom. By deciding early on, how you plan to use your books you can ensure your investment functions as a significant corporate or institutional resource. (more…)

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The Curse and Joy of Digital Photography

Our photographers would send us several rolls of film that we would have developed into slides, and we would search for the best images using a magnifying loop and light table.

Our photographers would send us several rolls of film that we would have developed into slides, and then we would search for the best images using a magnifying loop and light table.

The advantages of digital photography far outweigh the old print or slide (transparency) format. But it also means they can be created by anyone with a camera or cell phone, and that often means ill-composed and poorly lit images. But even those images can sometimes help illustrate a story. But when going to press, nothing can overcome low resolution, no matter how it looks on your computer screen. Understanding that will help the process enormously. (more…)

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The Project Budget

When we present a budget to you, the client, it’s usually broken into a pie chart of a small handful of categories (writing, design, printing, etc.).

When we present a budget to you, the client, it’s usually broken into a pie chart of a small handful of categories (writing, design, printing, etc.).

When we present a budget to you, the client, it’s usually broken into a pie chart of a small handful of categories (writing, design, printing, etc.). But on our end, there are as many as eighty different line items that are compressed into those pie slices. Some of them are large—writing, design, and printing, for instance. Many of them are small and will include everything from travel (airfare, lodging, auto rental, meals) to supplies, postage, and whatever. (more…)

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Press Check

Renée on press at Bang Printing Company in Minnesota

In printing, there is what is called a “press check,” which is going to the printer to oversee the actual printing of a job. For many print jobs—newsletters, brochures, etc.—you’re there for twenty minutes or so, approve the color or make changes to the sheet, and then bid your farewells. But with books it’s different. There are many sheets to approve and each can take one to four hours or more to print before the next one is ready for review. If the book is a high page count—say, over two hundred pages—and a large press run (maybe five thousand or more) the press check can literally take days. And with some printers who work twenty-four hours a day, it can be . . . well, very tiring. But it is seldom that we don’t find some error, or make some adjustment, that makes us glad we went. (more…)

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The Value of an Index.

The Index, a small budget line item, but an invaluable resource.

The Index, a small budget line item, but an invaluable resource.

(For more on indexing, please read the posting from Shoshana Hurwitz, an indexer who we’ve often used.) Most clients forget about their book containing an index until we remind them of it. And most readers ignore the index—until they need it. The index, that small collection of pages in the back of the publication that detail the placement of names, places, and events in the book, is one of the smallest line items in our budget. But it is also one of the most important. It is your road map into the book, the reader’s friend and guide and invaluable for future researchers. The index is one of the first things a recipient of the book will thumb through, trailing their finger down the appropriate column, searching to see if their name is in the book. And then upon being directed to the correct page, quickly flipping right to that spot. (more…)

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