Thursday, November 12, 2015

That Time Alpha Heroes Became a Boutique Publishing House

Hey, it's Thursday again. Conference Thursday!  Let's talk about swag.

Here's the sad truth: I'm just not that clever about coming up with awesome swag ideas. But I really wanted to have something to put in the swag bags at the Reading Until Dawn conference.

I'm not sure where I first found out about the use of signatures in bookbinding. I think it was random topic at a writers' workshop in regards to children's books, and how picture books always had either 8, 16 or 32 pages. Fascinating! I decided to play around a little bit with bookbinding and make some chapbooks of the Five Words stories that were created just for Alpha Heroes' readers.

The first step is to learn origami. OK, not really, but kind of. I took a sheet of standard 8.5"x11" printer paper and folded it in quarters, so each page was 4.25"x5.5". Staple the vertical folded edge, and once you slit the top folded edge, you have a small, 8-page book. I numbered the pages without making that slit or stapling, and then unfolded to see what my text layout needed to be. It looks like this:

Now, maybe you are a better wizard with your word processing application of choice, but I knew right away I was going to need to do this in more of a layout program than a word processor. Someday I'll get around to learning Publisher, but for this project I used Visio.

Belle's and Candy's stories just fit into 7 and 8 text blocks, respectively, with a little tweaking. For reference, Candy was just under 2300 words, and Belle was right around 1900. To look the most like a real printed book, I set up the formatting to remove white space between paragraphs, add a first-line indent for each paragraph, and to justify to both edges of the margin.

Margins are tricky!  I used .25" margins for the top, bottom, and outside edge, and a little more space on the interior bound edge. It worked out OK, but I would leave a little more than .25" the next time because the photocopying wasn't quite as precise as I would've liked. I adjusted them a couple of times and it required a lot of editing and tweaking, partly because I found out that Visio does some funky things when pasting in from Word, so I needed to check formatting every time I pasted. Bleh. It works much better if you lock in the margins before you break it all up into individual blocks.

I got a rough sense of how the pagination was going to work out by setting the margins to 3.5". I tried to set the page height to 5" but it didn't really help me visualize the way I wanted to.  There might be a way to do it but I just moved on.

I converted from one to the other by manually creating text blocks in Visio of the width I wanted and copy/pasting from the Word doc.  If/when I do this again, I'll start by lining up the 8 blocks side by side, paste everything in, do all the formatting, and double-check that for skipped or double-pasted words or lines. Once the pages are lined up right, then I moved them into the correct location and orientation as shown above.

Once I was 100% sure that everything aligned properly, I took the master pages to Staples, where I was very happy to learn that they would not only make my copies for me, but would also fold them for a very nominal fee.  Given that I of course waited until the last minute, saving me that time and effort was golden.

Did you know that in the old days, if you bought a new book, you used a knife or a sharp letter opener to slit open the signatures? It's true! You'll have to take my word for it, because I can't find a succinct reference that backs me up, but trust me, it's true.  I thought it would be OK to leave the top fold intact and have the recipients open up their own, but this sort of confused people, and it was hard (ish) to do once the pages were sewn in.  Next time I'll go ahead and cut them.

The next thing I need to obsess about was covers. I considered leather, pleather, vinyl... anything that I wouldn't have to hem or worry about fraying.  After thinking about how much time would be involved in cutting and costing out some options, I decided to go a little more downscale with cardstock.  But I was not looking forward to cutting out covers.

Readers may recall that I am a bit of a scrapbooker, so I'm pretty familiar with the cardstock and fancy-paper section of my craft store, but I've never been that interested in making cards. But! it turns out that card blanks look a LOT like a chapbook cover.  I found a standard size that was a little more than 4.25x5.5 and ordered 100 pieces from an online store. I considered several ways to do the cover art, including a custom stamp or stickers, but I decided to go with the simplest thing and use my printer. This meant I couldn't go too dark, so I chose a medium blue color.

Yay! But the best-laid plans, and all that.  What I got were plain rectangles of 4.5x6 card stock, not folded cards.  Well, I decided to make them work, and put together about 45 books using two pieces for each book.  I bought some cute washi tape to make a binding and cover the raw edge (in a leopard pattern, for the Beauty/Beast story, get it?!)

But I had another 45 or 50 books I wanted to make, and I was out of time for ordering. So I hit up the craft store and bought a package of A2 cards in a silvery color, and held my breath to see if the printer ink would stick.  Luckily, it did! (mostly).  These cards were smaller than I wanted, measuring exactly 4.25" x 5.5". I thought the books would look better if the covers were a little bigger than the pages, but I ended up liking the closer fit better.  Here they are before binding:

How did I put them all together, you ask? How did I turn cardstock and folded printer paper into a book? I ran them up on my sewing machine! It worked very well.  I was a little worried I'd break the needle, so I bought a package of heavy-duty needles, but it was fine. I didn't even need them.  I aligned the pages with the cover, clamped them with a large binder clip, and then ran a seam up the bound edge.  Isn't it cute?

One tip, if you've never sewed piece parts before, is that you can run the books through the machine one after another and cut them apart when you're done.  You have a little chain of books connected by thread in between.  It just goes quicker than stopping and starting.

As a finishing touch, I used removable glue dots to stick one of my blog cards to the inside front cover:

My production assistant did a great job with these. (She's 11 and very crafty.)

Last comment on the whole process: the delicate washi tape binding on other books, with the separate top and bottom, didn't hold up very well.  It did look very good, but just wasn't sturdy enough. Since I liked the way the pre-folded cards looked better, I'd probably plan on just using them without the tape, but if I did want to use tape on the binding, just for cuteness, I'd probably pick a narrow DuckTM pattern.

Now, if I were a really good DIY blogger, I'd have scads of lovely photos with perfect lighting and just so styling for each step, most likely involving homemade tassles and tiny succulent plants and maybe some shiny confetti. (Errr, it's possible that I'm spending too much time on blogs like Emily Henderson's and Oh Joy!).  As it is, I can't even find any of the Beauty chapbooks to show you the difference in the finished products (dammit! they're around here somewhere!)  Next time, maybe.  But if you ever feel like making a few copies of a short story, these turned out very cute and I think the recipients at the con liked them a lot.  And I must admit, I did have fun making them!


If you thought about going to the Reading Until Dawn Conference, but for whatever reason decided against it, I would recommend that you go over the Facebook group and torture yourself with the photos of what a great time we had. (I'm assuming that if you did go to the con, you're already following the awesome photos that are going up). Like so:

Me and Super-Woman Casey

If you want to kept informed of planning for the next one, Casey has just opened up a newsletter sign up -- go subscribe and don't even think about missing the next one.  My collectible publications and I will be there.


Kaetrin said...

oh wow. They look great Nicola!

Nicola O. said...

Thanks! I enjoyed putting them together.


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