Mini Size, Maximum Impact
With the launch of ten new Vintage Minis this Spring, Charlotte Knight, Vintage Classics Senior Editor, describes how and why she came to curate a new series of short books by the world’s greatest writers on the experiences that make us human – from birth to death and everything in between.
Is there anyone immune to the appeal of mini things? Compared to their ungainly full-size counterparts they are cuter (see miniature toiletries), more spontaneous (see mini breaks) and more innovative (see…Minidiscs). And so we conjured up the Vintage Minis: a new series of little books – little in size but big in content. Each one is about a single idea or activity central to being a human being, from Love and Death to Swimming and Eating. That’s the marketing bit to sell you the idea. But this blog is really about how we at Vintage put this series together, and why.
The book biz is very much geared towards publishing the next hot new thing. But welcome to the slightly strange, launch party-free world of the Vintage Classics editor. This is what I do and it means that my job is focused on what we call the ‘backlist’. The backlist consists of all those books published more than one year ago, that vast body of work that is no longer the subject of tube campaigns or social media and that on the whole is left to do its own thing. The big question of my job is: how do we make those older books fun and relevant and appealing to read?
One answer I came up with about a year and a half ago has come to be the Vintage Minis. The idea was to create a series that drew on the previously published work of some of our best ever writers. These books might be designated ‘backlist’ but they remain on the frontline of quality and brilliance. And ah there are such gems to be found! After all, these are the books that have stood the test of time. But there are just so many of them – how do you direct readers to the very best bits?
Well, we have tried our darnedest to squirrel out the finest writing we can find on the big important subjects of life and to republish it in Mini form – books of about 100 pages long. We’ve drawn on short stories, novels, works of non-fiction and essays, all previously published and available to read in their original form. Working out a list of twenty books was a long and tricky process. We had so many ideas! Some came together with gratifying ease, some fell by the wayside. We longed to find a subject for Angela Carter but struggled – she just wrote so brilliantly about so many different things. And we felt like a list that contained Sisters should really have a book on Brothers – but which writer to choose? (If anyone has any ideas please let me know. We’re planning next year’s intake.)
As the list of titles started to come together we began brainstorming series names. I was quite taken with SHELF LIFE until someone pointed out that it makes it sound like the books have a shelf life… a short one. For a while we were enamoured with SET FOR LIFE – more positive sounding but maybe a bit self-helpy? In the end we kept it simple and went for VINTAGE MINIS. Do we sound like we’re selling second-hand cars? Hopefully not.
And then there was the design to consider. It all seems so obvious now that we can gaze upon the beauty of the Minis rainbow. But a year ago I wrote a very ‘open’ brief for Suzanne Dean, the Creative Director at Vintage, using a lot of words like ‘playful’ and ‘flexible’. We saw a few options but it was the clean yet humorous approach that won out. And it’s such a simple format that can be adapted for virtually any title.
I hope that people will like the Minis, that they will surprise and enlighten and inspire. Most of all though, I hope that they will introduce readers to writers that they’ve never read before. Try a drop of Julian Barnes, a jus of Salman Rushdie, a sliver of Proust and you might be inclined to read more of their work. And if not, you’ll still always have the experience of having read some of the great authors, on the big subjects, in Mini form.
Charlotte’s Top Picks
If you're not sure where to start, Charlotte has picked out a few of her favourites below.
Browse the whole collection on our Vintage Minis page.