Visual Editions: using visual writing as a starting point

Anna Gerber and Britt Iversen, Founders, Visual Editions

It all started one night over Dim Sum. Britt was on maternity leave with her second kid and we got to talking. You know, the usual, one of those “wouldn’t it be great if” conversations. We started talking about how much we love books and how much we love the idea of books as objects. Anna had co-written an article for Print Magazine a few years back looking at the idea of visual elements being used in literature. Between glugs of green tea, the conversation quickly turned into, “wouldn’t it be great if we only published these kinds of books.” That was almost two years ago. And now…

Visual Writing

Now we’ve just launched Visual Editions (nicknamed VE), a new London-based book publisher. We’re setting out to do just what we started out with over Dim Sum, only now we say that visual writing is our starting point and we’re setting out to publishing books (literary fiction and non-fiction) with this kind of writing and visual experience. We think of visual writing like this: it’s when the visual feeds into and adds to the storytelling as much as the words on the page.

We’re interested in how to best enhance the experience of reading, bringing more interactive and visual components into everything we produce: we’ve had wrapping paper made from reject printer sheets to go with our first title, large die-cut sheets as posters for the second title and plenty more ideas to come.

Great Looking Stories

We wondered why there is such a large divide between text-driven literary books on the one hand and picture-driven art and design books on the other. And we wondered why this divide seems so extreme, when most of us compute visuals in our everyday more than ever before. We think that this visual everydayness actually adds to the way we read, it adds to the way we experience what we read and the way we absorb and understand the way stories are told: both through words and pictures.

Books as Experiences

We like to think of our books as more than objects, we think of them as experiences. That’s why we only publish literary fiction and non-fiction books that are as visually breathtaking, and compelling as the writing is. Even if that means publishing books that others say are impossible to produce; or books that aren’t worthy of being called a book; or illustrated tales of children stories gone wrong; or classics whose breakthrough brilliance and lustre has been buried and lost over the years. So, while we’re not the first to discover these kinds of books, we are the first to bring them together, celebrate and think of them in this way.

Our books

We’ve just published our very first title: a re-imagined edition of Tristram Shandy, with an introduction by Will Self. Our ambition for the book was bring its brilliance and playfulness back, dusting it down from its shoddy Dover classics image and make it accesible and relevant again for a contemporary audience.

We’re following closely behind with our next book: Tree of Codes by American author Jonathan Safran Foer. Safran Foer has taken what he calls his favourite book, The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz and literally cut into it, sculpting his own story. The book is as much a remarkable object as it is a beautiful story. And really must be seen to be believed.

We’ve got plenty more in the pipe-line, but for now, we’re working around the clock to make sure we keep to all those dreams we talked about over that Dim Sum dinner conversation. Here’s to more dreams, dim sum and champagne, too.