Forum / self publishing - the real DIY

  • Self_portrait.thumb
    eamon byrne
    Mar 12, 03:41am

    I recently helped my wife Erika prepare and print her series of micro-texts, "la graine ronde". What follows is an account of this project, which followed a slightly different, more hands-on approach to that of using normal print-on-demand services.


    The advantages of diy publishing are many, even if only suited to very small print runs. You have control of every aspect of the design and production. The outcome can be superior to that which is achieved from commercial printing services.

    If one compares the quality of most POD products to that of books produced by the larger, established publishers, one can readily notice the POD shortcomings. This is apparent in the typesetting, the binding and the paper used. The binding, normally of the "perfect bound" type, tends to make the book very stiff, and prone to splitting at the spine if not handled carefully. Worse though is that the paper for the pages is invariably bright white, pretty much the colour of your standard copy paper. This is just not acceptable for literary books, as any perusal of books in your library will attest.

    The formatting is also often poor, and this is down to the fact that POD publishers will simply print out the pdfs that you, the author, supply them. And since most authors will convert word docs into pdf, the finer nuances of formatting will usually not be achieved.

    Another downside of POD: you get what you pay for. And if the package of books they send you doesn't meet your expectations - tough.

    Taking complete control of the production of a small publishing project overcomes all of these shortcomings, and can be a very satisfying thing to do.

    THE TOOLS (per book - for a paper covered booklet using saddle stitching)

    for the text: several sheets A4 copy paper 125gsm of suitable colour (eg light cream, or natural, NOT WHITE)
    1 sheet A4 heavy stock 210gsm, colour optional - eg light grey, light cream etc
    1 sheet A4, 80gsm, colour contrasting, eg red: for the fly page
    1 sheet A3, 150gsm (approx), colour optional - eg light cream - the "dust jacket cover"
    some staples (or bookbinder's thread)
    a strong ruler (best is a steel ruler)
    a sharp utility knife


    Our own project involved basically 3 phases.

    The first was a careful proofreading of the text. It's worth stressing here that the very physical process of print design and production serves as a feed-back loop into the process of text proofing and revision. The printing process focuses the mind on the text as no other. Typos and unintentional grammar errors are simply unacceptable in the context of printed output, as they should be in any case. Put simply, printing enforces care.

    The second aspect is the preparation of the typesetting file. For most authors, the way to do this will be to use ms word or one of its open source clones (eg or libreoffice), and carefully fiddle with the formatting within a fiddle/output-to-pdf cycle. The reason you have to do this in a repetitive loop, is that you will have to compare different font types, play with line spacings, move orphans and widows to adjoining pages, design your page numbering headers/footers, and a number of other things - and this will depend on how fastidious you are, and how good your design skills are. But crucially, the bottom line is that you are dependent on the feature set of ms word or its clone.

    To rise above these limitations, you have a couple of choices. You can invest in more sophisticated software (for example a full desktop publishing package such as In Design), or you can roll your own formatting algorithms using a language specific for that purpose - which will most probably be latex.

    Using proprietary software is quite expensive and entails a stiff learning curve anyway. Therefore, the route we went down was to use latex, of which there are some complete and free implementations available. We used miktex.

    Once downloaded and installed (a simple process), you write a series of latex instructions and insert them at the head of your text file. Then miktex (or whatever version of latex you are using) will convert your file to a pdf which will be suitable for printing. This can result in a much superior output to anything that ms word or clones will produce.

    Although I'm presuming that most will still go with the word-pdf conversion method, for anyone interested, you can email me through fictionaut and I can send you the miktex header which we used for "la graine ronde". It's quite easy to customise, as learning to program in latex is not difficult.

    One of the things which we did was to incorporate 2 graphics files (produced using ms paint) in our pdf. If you are using ms word or equivalent, you can insert a graphics file into the text file, though it's a bit fiddly. Using latex enables this to be very precise.

    The graphics we used served as (1) a title page, and (2) an end page with a publisher logo, typesetting details and copyright notice.

    We did not print an ISBN number. An ISBN number is not necessary if you wish to market your book through Amazon.
    However, an ISBN number is necessary if you wish to market your book through retail outlets. For our purposes, we considered an ISBN to be unnecessary.

    The third part of the process is the printing itself.

    Paper choice is very important. I think it is a grave mistake to use standard white copy paper. Stark white is ghastly for a book. For Erika's book, we bought some reams of 125gsm copy paper in various colours (eg cream and "natural"), to get the desired "look" and "feel" of a real, "mainstream publisher" book.

    Note: for thin books/booklets, you want thicker paper. For normal sized books (eg 200 pages or greater), 80-90gsm is preferable.

    The other thing we did was to copy design features of other books in our own collection which most closely matched the shape and design of what we wanted.

    The reason we went with a heavier weight of paper was that we were making a small book (about 22 pages for the main text), and when saddle stitched (more of which below), the thicker paper results in a slightly more hefty feel to the final product. You don't want to end up with something flappy.

    These pages contained the output from the pdf file. We printed them on our standard laser printer. Here are the printer settings in acrobat reader (which was used to print the pdf produced by miktex).

    A4 paper, portrait orientation, booklet printing mode, booklet subset: both sides, left binding, auto rotate pages within each sheet. You might have to play around with your settings depending on your printer - just test print some sheets.

    Our laser printer was a brother HL-2365DW full duplex (so as to print double sided). If you don't have a full duplex printer, you can print double sided using two passes.

    Caveat: When printing on a laser with heavier stock, the output can be prone to "ghosting". Make sure your printer's drum is clean. We wiped ours with alcohol swipes. (Lots of stuff on this is on Utube).

    Take out: check the prints for quality.

    We also printed a single sheet on thinner stock (80gsm) for the flyleaf in a contrasting paper colour (in our case red). On this sheet we printed only the title in full caps and bold font: LA GRAINE RONDE

    This sheet encloses the text pages, which is to say that when a reader opens the book, this title page in red paper appears on the right, with the other side of the A4 leaf appearing as a closing page at the end of the text pages.

    We're nearly there.

    Enclosing all this we used a very thick (210gsm) cream coloured cardboard stock, also A4 size. This served as the "hard cover" of the book.

    Finally, we produced a dust jacket cover which would completely surround the main, bound body of the book. (Further below.)

    To clarify, we now had the makings of a bound booklet and a separate dust jacket.

    This former was a composite stack of A4 sheets: text (125gsm light cream), flyleaf (80gsm red), and cover (210gsm cream). The stack was folded carefully in half, to create a centre-line crease.

    The next stage involved the stitching of the book and the trimming.

    For stitching, we opted for simple stapling, although using thread is a better and more secure process.

    To hand staple, this is how we did it. We removed individual staples from our staple gun. We used a drawing pin to puncture one hole through either end of the crease line which was at the centre line of the stack. Then we located each staple at one of these holes, and pressed the staple against the paper stack so as to locate a dimple on the paper where the other end of the staple could go through. We used the drawing push-pin to puncture a hole through the paper at this dimple point. This gave as 2 holes for each staple.

    Now we had the holes done, we just slid the staple through the holes, turned over the stack, and manually closed down the staples. We chose to have the ends of the staples protruding to the outside of the booklet, because they could be hidden by the dust jacket sheet.

    For the dust jacket, we made up a graphics file using ms paint. We took this file on a usb stick down to our local print shop, and had it printed on A3 approx 160gsm stock, of our preferred light cream colour. The graphics file had the books title, author name, and a coloured logo at one end of the image, and the publishing logo at the other end, so that these would apear respectively on the front and back covers.

    Probably noone's reading this, but anyway ...

    The last stage was the trimming of the bound book (excluding the A3 dust jacket). You may be fretting that the A4 leaves don't exactly match up with their edges. This is all rectified in the trimming.

    A book made up of pages which are exactly half the width of A4 is ill-proportioned. Too wide. And that is another reason to avoid POD, because often that is what they will give you. You need to trim the sides of the pages.

    The main idea here is to have the A3 dustjacket fold over the blank cardboard cover so that the flap is at least 50% of the width of the cover page, both front and back.

    So we measured this, and used a steel ruler to press down on the bound booklet (after closing it), and slice the edges to their correct width using a sharp utility knife.

    Once this was done, we folded the A3 dust jacket sheet in half, and placed the closed booklet inside it. Then we used the page width as a guide to fold the flaps. The flaps only turn over the blank cardboard outside cover of the bound booklet.

    If the flaps are too tight around the outside of the cover when you open and close the book, you can retrim the booklet slightly. Your first attempt will probably nesessitate this - it's a bit trial and error.

    For us, the final result turned out to be a 24 page booklet which is every bit as beautiful as any similar size book I have seen in any bookshop. We made a dozen copies in a couple of hours, between a couple of glasses of wine.

    The cost of materials was about $3 per booklet. The result was certainly superior to a more expensive POD product.

    "Proper" hard-covered books are produced using a series of similar, saddle-stitched sections called "signatures", so Erika's book is really just a single signature with a fancy cover flap. You can make single signature booklets of up to about 40 leaves (= 80 pages). To go beyond that, you need to combine the signatures into a casing. There are many tutorials on youtube which explain how to do that.

    I hope this long-winded tutorial is of some help.

  • Erika-byrne-ludwig.thumb
    Erika Byrne-Ludwig
    Mar 12, 07:46pm

    The joys of self-publishing ... Many thanks, Eamon, for writing down so minutiously the instructions.

  • Dscf0571.thumb
    David Ackley
    Mar 16, 02:40pm

    Thanks, Eamon. I like the handcraft and the clear pleasures thereof fulfilling all the elements of "making" books.

  • Mugshotme_(3).thumb
    Mathew Paust
    Mar 17, 09:30am

    Fascinating. Daunting for a techno-klutz like me, but inspiring nonetheless. Thanks, Eamon.

  • Friendlyfun.thumb
    Smiley McGrouchpants
    Jan 21, 01:04am

    This is very helpful, eamon. Thanks!

  • Henna_carl.thumb
    Carl Santoro
    Jan 24, 11:04am

    Thanks for taking the time to help us progress with our works in a sane and economical (creative) way.

  • Photo%2015.thumb
    Gary Hardaway
    Jan 27, 02:50pm


  • Tim_picasso.thumb
    Tim Young
    Feb 02, 01:42am

    Such valuable news! Thank You.

  • Self_portrait.thumb
    eamon byrne
    Feb 11, 04:33am

    Thanks to all who've thanked me. Yay. Good vibrations.

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