Category: Book

Deeds (and Words)

1972 electoral college map

As we lurch towards Thanksgiving, still dismayed at the outcome of the election and the steady appointment of very conservative white men as cabinet leaders, we are taking some time to look back and regroup before we move ahead. It’s difficult to find a silver lining in what feels like a crushing defeat, but we are hardly the first to walk this particular mile. Many of the women featured in Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color suffered incredibly disappointing losses. As the first woman to run for President on a major-party ticket, Shirley Chisholm turned over her 152 delegates to George McGovern, who was crushed by Nixon (who resigned in 1974 to avoid impeachment). Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony spent their lives working for the cause of suffrage, but both died before women got the vote. Alice Paul penned the Equal Rights Amendment, but never saw it passed—nor have we. (In 1972, the ERA was finally passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. The original seven-year limit was extended by Congress to June 30, 1982, but at that deadline, the ERA had been ratified by only 35 states, three states short of the 38 required.) All these losses are a reminder that we have so much work to do, and it’s going to be a lot harder than we ever thought.

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This fall, we have traveled around the Pacific Northwest sharing the stories of the women in our book. It has been largely celebratory—preaching to the choir, and meeting other authors with whom we agree. We spent several days in Portland for a long run of events, including the opportunity to speak on a panel at Wordstock about boundary-breaking women with best-selling author Laurie Notaro and moderator Elly Blue. An event at Powell’s on Hawthorne let us share the stage with Rad Women Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl. The tour wound up with an appearance at Beach Books on the Oregon Coast, attended by Jessica’s mom and three sisters—an intense feminist posse. We even hit the road on election day, speaking to a standing-room-only crowd at the University of Puget Sound, everyone jubilant with the thought that we’d be celebrating that night.

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A post-election event at Third Place Books last week was—in contrast—fairly somber, lightened by host Lish McBride (YA author of the fantastic Necromancer and Firebug series, who shared some tips for us newbie authors) and an earnest audience. Carole, an insatiable reader, asked us to sign a copy of our book to send to Donald Trump, thinking the abundant visuals would be welcome by a self-acknowledged non-reader. Another woman introduced herself as a Republican, sharing how she scolded her reading group, admonishing them that they could “still be Feminists and Republicans too.” We left that evening feeling recharged, having been told by many women there that they found some comfort in the gathering and were inspired by a message of action.

While it has been amazing to see our books in stores throughout the country, we are especially excited to have our work in Washington, DC. The National Museum of Women in the Arts will feature our broadsides through the inauguration, until March 17th. Knowing that others have tread this path before us, and still others are following behind us, both heartens and strengthens us. And more than ever, we are reminded that all of us have the right and responsibility to act, for our words and deeds have an impact on the future.

Dead Feminists broadsides and steamroller print by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring, on display at the Chartreuse Gallery in Phoenix, AZ.

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Leading the way

Hand-lettered illustration from the book "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

When we were coming up with the action-word titles for each chapter in our book, some words came to mind easily, while others were a challenge. Since we had to include three different feminists under each umbrella term, we had to think outside the box of each word’s literal meaning. “Lead,” though, was a no-brainer, and one of the first words that sprung to mind.

Dead Feminists broadsides by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

The women we featured in that chapter were all natural leaders, both literally and figuratively. Harriet Tubman, of course, literally led people to freedom in the North. The four members of the Washington suffrage movement led the way to gaining women in their state the vote. And Shirley Chisholm was elected to lead her constituents in the U.S. House of Representatives—then led the way as the first woman candidate on a major-party Presidential ticket.

Women's suffrage picket line, c. 1912

So since today is Election Day in the U.S., Jessica and I have our minds occupied with the women who came before us, who forged the path that led us to where we are today. And we’ll be focusing on this topic in our talk today at the University of Puget Sound:

Pressing Matters: Election Day
Artist talk, book signing and pop-up shop
Today, November 8, at 4 pm, in room 020
Collins Memorial Library
University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA

1913 women's suffrage campaign program cover

First came the seemingly endless fight to win women the vote—

Women's suffrage illustration in 1909 Seattle Times newspaper

—not just nationally but also within their individual states. The amount of campaigning, organizing, writing, publishing, and picketing done by Emma Smith DeVoe and her colleagues was staggering, but their cumulative efforts built momentum that turned the campaign into an unstoppable train of force.

Historic political cartoon about western states leading the way for women's suffrage

Since women in Washington gained the vote in 1910, a full decade before women could vote in national elections, the suffrage movement saw our region as progressive leaders, trailblazing the path to political equality.

Shirley Chisholm election ephemera

More than sixty years later, Shirley Chisholm took the lead by running for President, which made her, in her own words, “literally and figuratively the dark horse.” Though she lost the 1972 Democratic primaries in the end, she fought hard to make the path a little easier for any women who came after her.

Women's suffrage campaigner in 1920

Today we stand on another historic threshold, where at long last, American women have the chance to vote for the first woman President—not just in the primaries, but in the main event. When we cast our ballots today, we’ll feel the presence of all the women who led the way.

Vintage women's suffrage and voting campaign buttons

A century’s worth of campaign buttons has got it right: your vote counts, especially if you are a woman. Please get out and vote today, and help us make history, not just write about it.

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Tell tale feminists

Hand-lettered illustration from the book "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color has been out in the world for a few weeks, and most folks have been excited (beyond our immediate families). A common response has been one of surprise: “it’s a real book!” Dashing expectations of a coffee table book, Dead Feminists is more than 180 pages of the women, history and social issues entangled in our series of broadsides. Questions about the writing process have come up, from assumptions that we worked with a “real” writer, or that I did the writing while Chandler illustrated. While we definitely worked with talented editors at Sasquatch Books who steered the book towards “real” bookness, both of us did the research, writing and photo research over nearly two years.

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Many of our dearest Dead Feminists are writers, artists, or both– evidence that we all find a way to tell our stories. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who launched our series, wrote most of the speeches delivered by Susan B. Anthony. Some writers and their books are well known, like Gwendolyn Brooks and Rachel Carson—who both confronted ongoing challenging social and environmental issues—and their voices can guide us still. We have mere fragments of poetry from Sappho and carefully handwritten letters from Jane Mecom to her brother—they give us insights into their lives and eras when words from women weren’t often valued or recorded. In the chapter entitled Tell, we focused especially on women who had stories to share, like Virginia Woolf, who carefully crafted and composed both the pages and handset type for printing. Knowing the time and care involved, there is little doubt in my mind that the act of being writer and printer sharpens both crafts.

Historic image of woman printing, from the Library of Congress

Without the discovery of Rywka Lipszyc’s diary found in the ashes of a Auschwitz crematorium she would have disappeared from history. Sarojini Naidu dreamed of independence for India through her poetry (“Waken, O slumber Mother and be crowned”) and was revered as a nightingale, filling the night air with song. We hope you’ll explore these stories more in depth through the book—and for local folks we have some opportunities in the next few weeks to join us in person.

Dead Feminists event at Ada's Technical Books for Lit Crawl Seattle

Here’s what’s coming up this week and next, when you’ll find us invading first Seattle, then Portland. You can find future events and more info on our events page.

• • •

LIT CRAWL Seattle: book signing and artist talk
Thursday, October 27, 2016, 8 pm
Ada’s Technical Books and Cafe
425 15th Ave. E., Seattle, WA

• • •

BROADS AND BROADSIDES
A retrospective exhibition featuring our series through broadsides and steamroller prints
Reception, book signing & costume party
Come dressed as your favorite historical feminist!
Saturday, October 29, 4 to 7 pm
(the show continues through December 16)
School of Visual Concepts
2300 7th Ave., Seattle, WA

• • •

DEAD FEMINISTS and RAD WOMEN: joint author event
with Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl, authors of Rad Women Worldwide
Thursday, November 3, 2016, 7:30 pm
Powell’s Books on Hawthorne
3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, OR

• • •

LIT CRAWL Portland: book signing and artist talk
Friday, November 4, 2016, 8 pm
The Big Legrowlski
812 NW Couch St., Portland, OR

• • •

WORDSTOCK: Portland’s Book Festival
Chandler & Jessica appearing on an author panel
with Danielle Dutton, author of Margaret the First
and Laurie Notaro, author of Crossing the Horizon
moderated by Elly Blue of Microcosm Press
Book signing to follow
Saturday, November 5, 2016, 1:30 pm
The Old Church
1422 SW 11th Avenue, Portland, OR

• • •

BEACH BROADS(ides)
book signing and artist talk on the gorgeous Oregon coast!
Saturday, November 5, 2016, 6:30 pm
Beach Books
616 Broadway, Seaside, OR

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Lively Dead Feminists

Costumed historical feminists at the Dead Feminists book launch at King's Books in Tacoma, WA. Photo by Eli Gandour-Rood.

What a week we’ve had. It started with an incredibly fun party at King’s Books for our book release. Dead Feminists fans arrived in awesome costumes, filling the bookstore with Fridas, some Zimmermans, Georgia O’Keeffe, Harriet Tubman, Babe Zaharias, Rosie the Riveter, Woodrow Wilson and John Stuart Mill and lots of Live Feminists. Victoria Woodhull (aka sweet pea, the owner of King’s Books) presided over the event, remaining on fairly good terms with the Susan B. Anthonys, despite their historic friction.
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Susan B. and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (aka Jessica & Chandler) signed piles of books, and especially enjoyed hearing about gifts intended for cool feminist grandmothers or soon-to-be-born feminists. Many, many thanks to Northwest Costume and especially Ricky German, who costumed us with aplomb then arrived as Harriet Tubman; to sweet pea, Raissa and Kenny for their excellent book wrangling; to friends who waited patiently in line to join us in celebration, to our editor Hannah from Sasquatch Books, and photographer Eli Gandour-Rood.
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This was just the first of many events to come, in Tacoma, Seattle, Portland, and other places throughout the Northwest and beyond. If you’d like to join us this fall, check out our events page!

 

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From print to page

Hand-lettered illustration from the book "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Earlier we shared some sneak peeks of the chapter spreads, but now that our book is out we can tell you a bit more about how the book is structured.

Page detail from the book "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Of course, we go into detail about the process and stories behind each of our broadsides, including a “director’s cut” of each print.

Page detail from the book "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

The great thing about the book format, though, is the ability to expand beyond the short colophons we include on each broadside. So each chapter goes in-depth about the women we featured and the social issues we highlighted with each broadside. Each story is anchored with archival photos and vintage ephemera to paint a more complete picture of these 27 women and their lives.

Page detail from the book "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

To tie everything together and reinforce our letterpress roots, the pages are peppered with vintage hand-set metal and wood cuts from Jessica’s incredible collection. Each one appears like an easter egg, linking our content to our process and bringing the past to life in the present.

Major thanks to our amazing editorial and marketing team at Sasquatch Books—every member of which is a fellow woman—for getting us to this point, and for continuing to support the Dead Feminists Fund through a portion of every book sale. And last but not least, thank you for supporting our series and our book. We hope that reading the book will be as rewarding for you as it was for us to write it.

See you tomorrow with more information about our 24th broadside!

 

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Today’s the day!

Readers with "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

People everywhere can finally read our book, because today is the official release date! You can find your copy wherever books are sold—you’ll find all the major retailers on our book page.

If you’re in the Seattle-Tacoma area, just a reminder that you can pick up your copy tonight (and see Jessica and me in costume) at our official release party at King’s Books!

Official Book Release Costume Party
Tuesday, October 11, 7 pm
Hosted by King’s Books
218 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, WA
Event is free, all ages welcome; more info here
Come in costume, dressed as your favorite historical feminist!

We’d also love to see you at Tacoma’s Studio Tours, happening this Saturday and Sunday. This is our biggest event of the year, where we join more than 50 Tacoma artists for a city-wide free event. We’ll be selling (and signing) copies of our book at the event, as well our new Dead Feminists broadside and a special new mini letterpress print. We’ll also have a host of new gifts and stationery for sale, plus free hands-on activities: print your own keepsakes at Jessica’s studio, and create a die-cut greeting card at my place. Sstamp your Studio Tour Passport at at least 8 stops on the tour, you can enter a drawing for a variety of artist-made prizes. Here’s the scoop:

Tacoma Studio Tours
This Saturday & Sunday, October 15 & 16
11 am to 5 pm, free!
Chandler is stop #9; Jessica is stop #15
More info and maps here

If you’ll excuse us, we have some costumes to get into… See you tonight!

 

Get gussied up

Tuesday is the day! Our book will be released worldwide on October 11, and we’re celebrating with a costume party! This is where you can be the first to get your hands on the book—and extra worth the effort if you want to see Jessica and me wearing ridiculous wigs. We don’t want to be the only ones celebrating Halloween early, so come on down and join the party. We’ll have prizes for the best outfits, Dead Feminists cake and punch, and a printing press ready to make your own keepsake. We’d love to sign a book for you, too. If you’re looking for costume ideas, you might dress up as one of the ladies in our book…

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…or you might choose another favorite historical heroine, or a beloved fictional character, or even an historic feminist dude! Anything goes, and we can’t wait to see what you come up with. Here’s the skinny on the event:

Official Book Release Costume Party
Tuesday, October 11, 7 pm
Hosted by King’s Books
218 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, WA
Event is free, all ages welcome; more info here
Come in costume, dressed as your favorite historical feminist!

Installing the Dead Feminists exhibition at the 23Sandy Gallery in Portland, OR

In addition to finally sharing the book with you next week, we also wanted the chance to share some of our original artwork. So for the past two years we’ve been planning a big retrospective exhibit with the 23Sandy Gallery in Portland, OR. Laura Russell, the owner and curator of the gallery, has been a major supporter of our series since the beginning—and this week it was no different, as she jumped right in and helped us install our artwork in her space!

Exhibit of the Dead Feminists series by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring at the 23Sandy Gallery in Portland, OR

The show features 10 original letterpress broadsides from our series, two mini-broadsides, original process materials, plus vintage ephemera from our book. This is the first time we’ve done a show like this, and 23Sandy is the only place you’ll still find some of our older, out-of-print broadsides available for sale.

Exhibit of the Dead Feminists series by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring at the 23Sandy Gallery in Portland, OR

The exhibit also includes our 24th and newest broadside, but since she comes out on October 11, alongside the book, we have her hidden under a black veil for now. But you can see her—and all the other artwork—unveiled at our reception and book signing later this month. Here are the details:

Make-Ready: Dead Feminists from Print to Page
A Dead Feminists retrospective exhibit
on display through October 29

Reception & book signing Saturday, October 22
4 to 6 pm, free!
23Sandy Gallery
623 NE 23rd Ave, Portland, OR

Exhibit of the Dead Feminists series by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring at the 23Sandy Gallery in Portland, OR

If you can’t make it to Portland, you can also learn more about the exhibit and view an online catalog on the 23Sandy website.

Make-Ready is just one of many different exhibits in the works this fall—we’ve got the Dead Feminists coming to galleries around the country for both solo and group shows. We’ll be sharing more info here on the blog soon, but as always, you can find all our events, shows, book signings and talks listed on our events page.

See you Tuesday—in costume!

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Calls to action

Hand-lettered illustration from the book "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

One of the biggest challenges of turning the Dead Feminists into a book was figuring out a way to tie all our broadsides together in a way that was engaging for the reader. Aside from the size and format of each broadside, our prints had little in common with one another. Our feminists were a diverse group without much of an underlying thread—even the style of illustration was different for each one.

Hand-lettered illustration from the book "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Jessica came up with the solution: using action verbs to tell our story. After all, our aim with the series was to use the literal and figurative power of the press to change the world around us. The women we featured had also created change—they were active, not passive. So we divided our 24 feminists among eight action words, choosing for each chapter a trio of women who shared qualities or deeds with that particular verb. And since we’re so close to the release of the book (just two weeks!), we thought we’d share a few of those words with you.

Hand-lettered illustration from the book "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

The best part for me, of course, was being able to make more hand-lettered illustrations! Each chapter’s verb is done in a different style, and elements of that illustration are carried throughout the rest of the chapter.

Hand-lettered illustration from the book "Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Of course, shoe-horning each feminist into one of the eight action themes was sometimes a convoluted business, but we got there in the end. We’re super pleased with how it all turned out—and hopeful that it might inspire more women and girls to take the lead with some action of their own.

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T-minus…

Book process photos for "Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Jessica and I were so immersed in the process behind our book for so long that it still feels weird that the final product is almost here. Yet here we are, just under a month away from our release date! We have a metric ton of events planned in the next few months, with more being added all the time. And since releasing a book is a bit different than releasing a broadside, we’re already getting lots of questions about how this is all going to work. Here are the ones we’re hearing the most so far:

Where should I buy my copy? Should I wait until the release date?

You can preorder the book now from your favorite bookseller. Large or small, brick-and-mortar or virtual, indie or corporate, they can all get our book into your hands, and we have links to the book on both large and indie retailers over on our book page. Here’s the thing, though: preordering your copy really does help. Preorders can help retailers foresee how popular a book is going to be—the more preorders there are, the more they’ll stock when the book comes out. And more stock raises the book’s ranking, making the title more visible and searchable on retailer websites. It helps spread the word for us and introduces our book to a wider audience. So if you’re so inclined, preordering now will help ensure we get a good head start.

Would you rather I buy it from you and Jessica directly?

Thank you for thinking of us, and wanting to support us directly! In the end, though, we’ve decided that we will only be selling the book ourselves at certain local, in-person events. Events where we will sell the book ourselves include:

Tacoma Studio Tours, October 15-16
• Our exhibit opening at Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts, October 29
• Our Portland Lit Crawl event, November 3
• Our artist talk at the University of Puget Sound Library, November 8
• Our library talks in University Place (December 14) and Lacey (December 15)
• And by request/appointment for Seattle/Tacoma-area folks (you can always contact us if you want to do this)

If you want your copy shipped somewhere, your best bet is to order from your favorite bookseller. And since many of our other events are being hosted by bookstores and galleries, those folks will handle sales at those events. Here’s where you can find an up-to-date list of all our events so far.

What if I want a signed copy? If I’m not local, can I still get one?

Absolutely! Our local bookstore, King’s Books, is offering signed copies, which you can preorder on their website. They can ship anywhere in the world—all you need to do is specify that you want a signed copy in the “order comments” box when you place your order. Also, please specify if you want your book simply signed, or if you want it personalized to a specific name.

I am local, and I want to celebrate! Are you having a book release party?

You betcha! We’re having our official release party at King’s Books in Tacoma, on Tuesday, October 11 at 7 pm. And it’s a costume party! Come dressed as your favorite dead feminist and celebrate with us.

I’m a retailer, and I want to carry your book in my store. Do I purchase copies from you?

Retailers can buy wholesale copies direct from Penguin Random House, who is distributing the book. You’ll need to set up a retail account with them first, but from there bulk orders are easy. To get started, call 800.733.3000 or email csorders [AT] penguinrandomhouse [DOT] com.

Since the book is coming out, does that mean the letterpress broadside series is ending?

Not at all. Actually, our 24th and newest broadside will appear both in person and in the book concurrently. So that means we’re keeping it under wraps until the book comes out, but we’ll have some sneak peeks to show you in the next few weeks. And if you’re local, you’ll be able to see the print in person at Studio Tour on October 15-16, or at our upcoming exhibits in Seattle and Portland.

826chi

A young writer at one of 826CHI, a writing center we supported with our Warning Signs broadside. Photo courtesy of 826CHI.

And that brings us to some other great news we wanted to share with you. As you might already know, previously when we have released letterpress broadsides, we have also made donations to nonprofits that align with the issues we highlight with each print. With the book and broadside #24 about to come out, we’re starting a new chapter by inaugurating the Dead Feminists Fund.

In honor of the power of women’s work, the Dead Feminists Fund supports nonprofits that empower girls and women to create change in their own communities. Like our book, funding is organized under a series of Action Verbs (“Make,” “Grow,” “Lead,” “Tell,” etc.), which translate to micro grant categories. Each year the Fund will support nonprofits with micro grants in one of our Action categories.

The Dead Feminists Fund is a component fund of the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, which manages, administers and invests in over 400 charitable funds, right from our home community of Tacoma. Being under the auspices of the GTCF allows donations made directly to the Dead Feminists Fund to be tax-deductible, and provides the proper legal framework to protect both our donors and our grant recipients.

iprc

Artists typesetting at the Independent Publishing Resource Center, an organization we supported with our Paper Chase broadside. Photo by Caitlin Harris.

We seeded the Dead Feminists Fund with a large percentage of our book advance, and we will continue to donate a portion of our future broadside proceeds to supporting the Fund. Best of all, thanks to the generosity of Sasquatch Books, a portion of the sales of our book will also be contributed to the Fund. We’re especially grateful to Sasquatch because as an indie regional publisher, they understand the importance of giving back to one’s community, and how small gifts can make a big impact. And Sasquatch also knows the importance of supporting women and girls—after all, the team of editors, designers and marketing folks who have worked with us on our book with us are all women. If that’s not girl power, we don’t know what is.

If you’d like to support the Fund directly, you can make a tax-deductible donation directly through the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation website. (At that link, scroll down to find the Dead Feminists Fund in the alphabetical list.)

As always, thank you so much for your support of our series over the last eight years—we can’t wait to share the next chapter with you.

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Cover to cover (to cover)

Book cover process sketches for "Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

It’s hard to believe we’re only five weeks out from the release of our book! A few advance reader copies are making their way around to media outlets already, and several people have asked us how we came up with the cover design. Since getting to the finished cover was quite a process, we thought we’d show you a bit of the winding path that got us here.

When Sasquatch Books first signed us as authors, they offered us the chance to design, illustrate and hand-letter the cover. Needless to say we jumped at it. But designing a book cover can be very different than designing other things—the stakes are higher, for one thing. In some ways, it’s more of a science than an art: a good cover can have a lot of sway in terms of book sales, so it has to be as eye-catching, informative and readable as possible. So to make sure we got it right, it was a hugely collaborative process—not just between Jessica and me, but also with the publisher, the art director, our editors, the sales team, and lots of other people we never even met in person.

Jessica and I started brainstorming and sketching cover ideas way back in November of last year; above are a few of the concepts we sent along. We had a lot of feedback that large, legible type was key, so that was a good starting point. We also had to be really careful about the hierarchy of type. We had to make sure “Feminists” caught the eye first, followed by “Dead,” then the subhead, then the byline, etc. Later, when we got the happy news that Jill Lepore would be writing the foreword to our book, that added another level to our type hierarchy. In addition to all of this, we wanted to give the Sasquatch team plenty of options, so we tried to make each concept distinct from the others. Right away the clear favorite was the one in the lower right corner, so that was the concept we took to the next level.

Book cover process sketches for "Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

Then came a long parade of versions in color. We worked closely with Sasquatch’s art director and lead designer, Anna Goldstein, to try to catch that elusive unicorn that is a cover that works. I’d mock something up and send it to Anna; she’d mock something else up and send it back to us; rinse and repeat. Each time it felt like we were getting closer, but every time it felt like something subtle was missing. So we made a million little tweaks, to color, to lettering, to texture, to contrast, to composition, to kerning, etc. Each time one of us would have what seemed like a great idea, and each time the result was lacking somehow. I don’t even remember how long we stayed in this holding pattern. (Normally I keep all the iterations of a design carefully numbered in chronological order, but at some point I just lost track. I gave up and labeled that file “VERSION WHATEVER.” It makes me laugh every time I see it.) Everybody was frustrated: the elusive unicorn had transformed into the Holy Grail.

And then I think we all finally conceded that small tweaks were never going to get us there. We needed something to change in a big way, and we needed to scrap much of the work we’d done thus far. This is a really hard thing to admit to oneself—that maybe one’s brilliant idea wasn’t so brilliant after all. But the finished product is more important than anybody’s ego, and no matter how good a kernal of an idea might be, it’s not worth bringing down the whole design over it.

Book cover and process sketches for "Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color" by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

So we quite literally went back to the drawing board. I knocked together a few more pencil sketches, and we asked the whole team again what elements they thought were essential. A lot of people responded to the little cameo portraits of the various historical figures, so we came up with the idea to use them as more of an overall pattern (that’s the green cover on the left, above). Then our editors gave us the feedback that maybe the cover should be more like the style of our broadsides, with bold lettering in many different styles. Anna added the suggestion of making those cameo portraits more of a faint pattern than a major focal point, and then the lightbulb seemed to go on at last. That peach version in the center, I think, was what I put together next. Jessica and I could see that the most recent advice was on the right track, but we were still worried it wouldn’t stand out when seen on a display shelf with a hundred other books. Our editor asked us if we had any ideas for how to make it pop, and in wild desperation I fished out one of our earliest pencil sketches (above), the one with the face in silhouette, and gave it another look. What didn’t seem to work in sketch form suddenly felt like the missing ingredient when paired with the cameo pattern and the bold lettering. We sent a version back to Anna, and she gave it that antique texture and the gold-grey-and-teal color scheme you see here. And that was it—it was like she’d flipped a switch, and voilà: finished cover.

Over the course of eight years of printing our broadsides, Jessica and I had grown accustomed to just doing whatever we want in terms of design and content. With small editions to print, and nobody to please but ourselves, the stakes were low—and there was always plenty of room for experimentation. This book has been an entirely different animal, and I think designing the cover has been a perfect metaphor for the whole process. Writing a 40,000-word manuscript about history and feminism was never something we thought we could do, but with the incredible help of our editors, we got there. Likewise, designing the container for that content was a massive group effort—so major props and big thanks to Anna for sticking with us. Getting to the finish line required stepping way beyond our comfort zone—and more importantly, it took the whole team. We couldn’t have done it alone, and that’s a good thing, because both book and cover are the better for it.

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