Book Binding: Intro for Authors
Self-publishing means learning a lot about the publishing process, but bookbinding is one step most authors skip learning entirely. You don’t need to know how books are made and printed to publish a good book. Printing on demand is simpler than starting your own printing press, and most self-published books sell better as ebooks than as physical copies.
So why would you want to learn bookbinding?
For one thing, it’s fun. It’s a good book-related craft that lets you put your words on the page in a different way, and it lets you explore your creativity in a way you’ve probably never seen it before.
Familiarizing yourself with bookbinding can also help you master layout when you prepare your print edition. Have you ever wondered why you get those blank pages in the end of your books, or whether an experimental page layout could technically work? Try binding your own sample and see how it plays out.
Lastly, there are times when you might want to get a much smaller book bound than POD publishers will accept. This is especially true if you write poetry or short stories and want a chapbook to offer or give out. In this case, binding your book yourself might be your only option, so it’s good to learn the ropes.
Do you need fancy software?
That depends on what you mean by “need.” Technically, you can format a book to be home-printed through Microsoft Word. You’ll need to turn the pages into landscape mode (instead of portrait), add a column so that the text doesn’t run through the middle, and make sure your double-sided printing is in order. This is a complicated method and not for the faint of heart.
The good news is that there are several options that can make layout much more pain-free. Software like Adobe’s InDesign (preferred) or Blurb’s Bookwright allows you to better customize your page layout without as much hassle or trial-and-error. Keep in mind that there’s still a learning curve, but with a few tutorials you should be able to clip your text in place exactly the way you want it.
Things to know:
Why do you get those blank pages in the back—and can you do anything to avoid them?
First of all, blank pages aren’t a bad thing, and you shouldn’t count them as a defect in your book. All books—without exception—have a multiple of four pages in the end because each sheet of paper contains four pages (two on the front, two on the back).
If you’re printing a chapbook or a smaller book where every page makes a difference, keep your page number in mind as you work so that you don’t get extra blank space. If you see you need to add or cut pages to reach a number divisible by four, fix it before it becomes a problem.
Fun fact: If you look at any comic book or magazine, you’ll see this in action. Every page count is divisible by four, and smaller publications are specifically formatted with that in mind.
No, I’m not talking about doing an author signing (though you certainly can if you want to). When it comes to bookbinding, a “signature” refers to a series of papers stacked up and folded in half. Very small books, or publications with thin paper (like magazines) might have only one signature, folded down the middle and stapled in place.
If your book has too many pages, however, a single signature will leave to an uneven page display as the middle pages poke out further away from the spine than the side pages. This makes the book harder to read and harder to bind!
Instead of stacking all of your pages together, you might need to create several signatures, fold them individually, and then stack them on top of each other. This is how standard books are printed, and the smaller your signatures are, the more consistent your layout will appear.
Binding the book.
I could probably spend a whole book describing different binding methods and techniques, but there are sites that do it better. If you want to learn how to stitch, glue, or otherwise attach the pages to the spine, you can learn more from these guides at Undercover Print and The Curiously Creative.
Once again, bookbinding is very different from other self-publishing tasks you’ll want to focus on, but it’s a good way to understand how print layout works, and it can give you a fun alternative hobby in the meantime.
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below or join my Facebook group for self-publishing fiction writers for further discussion.