Noe Valley Voice December 2002 - January 2003

What Every Neighborhood Should Have: A Book Designer or Two

By Olivia Boler

Admit it--it's unavoidable. If you take part in, to put it in a p.c. way, "December gift-giving rituals," and you also spend time on 24th Street, chances are you are going to make a pit stop at either Just for Fun, Cover to Cover Booksellers, or both. If and when you do, be sure to look for a little square book, approximately 7 by 7 inches, titled What Every Woman Should Have. Do this because underneath the title is a photo of women's garments hanging on a clothesline, or because you truly want to know what every woman should have, or for no other reason than that this gift/humor book was designed by two women one block up on Elizabeth Street at Herter Studio.

Caroline Herter, 48, is the owner and founder of Herter Studio, a self-described independent publishing studio for which Herter wears a variety of hats. The company, run out of Herter's flat, consists of Herter and her associate editor, 33-year-old Debbie Berne. Berne designed the layout for What Every Woman Should Have and researched the mostly vintage photos that are included in the book's 72 pages.

Three close-to-home sources provided the bulk of Berne's foundation. Sifting through hundreds of "found photographs" from the collection of Bernal Heights friend Julie Glantz, Berne culled those she thought would go best with the text of the book, a list of the 45 essentials a woman must have (and know) to lead a fulfilling life. She then ventured down to Herter's basement and pored through boxes of Herter's family photos dating back to her great-grandparents' time. The third source was Berne's boyfriend, who also has a collection of photos.

According to Herter and Berne, found photographs are usually snapshots, such as family photographs, not originally taken for artistic purposes. Artists or book designers later "repurpose" or reuse the photos in a different context.

"When I was looking through Caroline's photos, I didn't know anything about them," Berne says. "Found photography gives you the opportunity to look at photos with a very different eye. They have a certain freshness and a lack of pretension, artistically speaking."

Technically, the copyright of found photos belongs to the photographer, but in the case of photos one finds, say, at flea markets, it's almost impossible to track down that person. As for Herter's inherited photos, nearly all the photographers are no longer living.

The studio faced a similar issue with the text of the book, which is a chain e-mail that Herter (and many other Internet users) received two or three years ago. "Ninety-nine percent of those e-mails I dump because I think they're really stupid," Herter says, laughing. "But this one I thought was actually very true, and I sort of held my breath and sent it on to a few people. At the same time, I registered that it would make a wonderful little book."

Herter has not yet been able to find the writer, even though she conducted an exhaustive legal search. She did find the e-mail text on several web sites besides hers, along with people who were also looking for the author. She's still not sure whether the e-mail was written by one person or built over time by many contributors.

In any case, Herter let the project simmer as she tried to figure out how to add a visual component that would not be schmaltzy, or as she puts it, "without a high gag factor."

Herter herself does not normally buy or give books like What Every Woman Should Have, but she likes this one's advice. Among the things the book counsels women to have are a set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra. For Christmas, Herter plans to give her 16-year-old niece the book, along with these three items (if her niece's mom approves the last item). "And we figured out that we could find all those things right on 24th Street!" Herter laughs.

According to the book, women also should have "one friend who always makes you laugh...and one who lets you cry"; "a purse, a suitcase, and an umbrella you're not ashamed to be seen carrying"; and "a good piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in your family."

What Every Woman Should Have was published by Berkeley's Ten Speed Press, which also distributes the book. Herter Studio has worked with Ten Speed in the past on other projects.

She and Berne are now working on a follow-up book, "What Every Man Should Be." They are in the process of collecting e-mail responses from friends, as well as an assortment of "guy photos."

Herter grew up in New York and attended college in Colorado. After graduating with a degree in philosophy, she was "completely unqualified to work," but she got a job with Denver's famed independent bookstore the Tattered Cover. In fact, she was the fourth person hired there.

"Someone suggested I go into book publishing because it was a great place for dilettantes," she says with a wry smile, "which I certainly was."

At the Tattered Cover, she was the book buyer. Later, she worked for Harper & Row and as a marketing manager at Simon & Schuster in New York. Eventually, she created a position at Simon & Schuster, buying illustrated books.

Eleven years ago, she landed a job with Chronicle Books in San Francisco, and moved out here as the editorial director and then publishing director. She was at Chronicle about seven years, and in that time created a division that makes ancillary gift products, such as note cards, from Chronicle's published books. "A lot of what I do [now] has been influenced by what I did at Chronicle," Herter says.

After 25 years of holding a day job, she decided it was time to embrace her entrepreneurial spirit and strike out on her own. In 1998, she left Chronicle Books and started Herter Studio. In the first two years, the company mostly did books for Chronicle.

These days, the company does a variety of things, from agenting projects to consulting (clients include 4-H, National Geographic, Heidi Fleiss, and Jeff Bridges) to packaging books, as in the case of What Every Woman Should Have.

Packaging books means that Herter Studio contracts with illustrators, writers, and designers, and sometimes takes on the production of the book for publishing houses. One of Herter's favorites is a book called Mavericks: The Story of Big Wave Surfing (Chronicle Books 2000), about the monster waves that tempt surfers to risk their lives.

Another book, for which she worked as a volunteer consultant, is called It's About Time! and was created by GirlSource, a nonprofit in the Mission founded by former Noe Valley resident Lynn Gordon. The goal of the book is to give young women advice on a variety of subjects, from relationships to preparing for college. (For more information, go to or call 252-8800.)

Since so much work is involved and because many projects are done "on spec"--before a publisher has agreed to accept them--Herter is very careful about the projects she takes on. For her to get involved, a project must meet two criteria: it must be something she likes, and it must be something she thinks will sell.

Herter worked alone for the first year, and found the success of her company a tad overwhelming ("I was drowning"). Berne, who is originally from Michigan and spent time in Manhattan working at the Pace Gallery, worked at the Fraenkel Gallery downtown for five years. She began working part-time with Herter about three years ago, but has been working fulltime since this July. Berne loves the job because of its diversity.

"I get to do editorial [work] and design, which I never even knew I wanted to do. I get to do photo research and other kinds of research. It's really challenging, and I've learned so much. I kind of feel like we're just beginning," Berne says.

A perk of working independently is that the two women can take a little time off if they need to. In fact, just the other day, needing some rejuvenation, they headed down to 24th Street for facials. Obviously, they pay serious attention to the words of wisdom offered by What Every Woman Should Have. The book advocates that all women have "a skin care regime, an exercise routine, and a plan for dealing with those few facets of life that don't get better."

For more information about Herter Studio, call 282-8143 or check out the studio's web site: