Self-Publishing LED BY DESIGN

Claire Chao · memoirist

The client approached us with a memoir that reads like a novel, with communists, crime bosses, and romance, too. Added to that was a treasure trove of photos and illustrations that begged to be showcased in full color. Challenge accepted. Pushing the bounds of independent publishing, the Girl Friday design team set to crafting a package that met the spirit and beauty of the text—and would garner Best Book of the Year.

Remembering Shanghai interior spread

The Client


When Claire Chao first shared her manuscript, we could already imagine what a beautiful book Remembering Shanghai would become. Co-written with her mother, Isabel, and told mostly from Isabel’s perspective, the book follows Isabel’s glamorous youth growing up and coming of age in 1930s and 40s Shanghai, as well as the hard choices and heartbreak that came with her family splitting apart during the Cultural Revolution.

Chao came to the table having spent a lot of time polishing the manuscript. She had also commissioned the beautiful illustrations that bloom throughout the book and sourced personal and historical photographs to help bring the era to life. Could it all come together to make her family’s history come alive?


The Problem to Solve


From an editorial perspective, Girl Friday worked to smooth out the text and make sure the narrative arc was clear. We helped Chao integrate the informative sidebars neatly into the prose. But editorial was not the biggest challenge.



Remembering Shanghai is the winner of 16 literary and design awards to date including Rubery Book Award BOOK OF THE YEAR and IAN Independent Author Network OUTSTANDING MEMOIR.



Not only did our designer need to create the right feel and tone and honor the personal nature of the project, but he also needed to fully integrate the images and the text to create a cohesive whole. That custom interior design extended to the website, where the designer employed a unique look and personality that extended the book’s brand. The result—a striking book meant to be noticed and a cohesive and elegant brand for Claire as an author.

Remembering Shanghai interior spread



“This book was a great challenge in that it had to be visually rich without allowing the design to distract from the story itself,” says Art Director Paul Barrett. Not only was the book a very personal project for Chao, but there were disparate visual elements—modern and historical photos, watercolors, even scans of silk qipao (traditional Chinese dress)—that needed to be balanced with one another to create a layered and harmonious design.

“We produced both an offset print run featuring an embossed cover and a print-on-demand version as well. We had to make sure the print-on-demand version looked every bit as good as the offset edition, and I think we achieved that!”

Critics agree. Remembering Shanghai continues to delight audiences and rake in awards and accolades.



“A volume that demands to be held.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books



More Drama to Come


Girl Friday helped Claire create a book that was more than just words, but a sensory experience. Now, Claire is working with award-winning producer Corey Tong to develop a drama series based on Remembering Shanghai. Stay tuned!