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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Book Printing: How to Approach a Small Poetry Booklet

A poet was referred to me recently by a husband-and-wife publishing team for whom I do print brokering work. The couple publishes fiction and poetry, and they wanted me to help a friend of theirs produce a print book of poems about her recently deceased husband.

So I called her and worked up specifications for her book of poems (called a “chapbook”), a very simple design with a small format of 4.5” x 6”, saddle-stitched, on 70# cream text stock with a 10pt. cream cover, and comprising only 28 pages plus covers. She only needed 20 copies for her close friends.

Clearly, due to the press run, it would require custom printing on a digital press, so I sent the specs to two vendors with HP Indigo presses. One printer’s price came in at almost $800. The other barely exceeded $200. It was a clear choice.

Interim Thoughts

At this point there are two interesting things to note:

  1. This client was self-publishing her work. And her press run was very small: 20 copies. As I noted in an earlier blog, many of my clients are now self-publishing their work. I think it’s a growing trend, and it necessitates access to quality digital commercial printing equipment.
  2. My client had never produced a chapbook, so she didn’t know how to get her poems ready for the printer. She had used MS Word comfortably, but I told her that many printers will not accept MS Word files because they can be problematic. (They prefer InDesign files or PDFs.) Since my new client didn’t know about preparing press-ready PDF files in InDesign, I offered her my design and production services.

The Design of the Print Book

I approached the job as follows. It was small and required only a few hours of design work. However, since I no longer do more than about one design job a year (I used to be a print designer and then an art director), I was more conscious and conscientious about the steps. They were no longer second nature.

I thought that you, as designers, might benefit from my approach to the layout process.

  1. The first thing I did was design a sample page spread for the text of the print book. I used master pages, and considered such things as margins, treatment of poem titles, and treatment of folios. I gave my client two options based on her stated preference for Palatino type. (I chose Palatino for the text and heads, and then Garamond as an option.) I selected Garamond because of the serious nature of poetry about a deceased loved one. I also set the poem titles in all caps, again due to the gravity of the subject matter.
  2. My client had noted a preference for 11pt. type to ensure readability. Based on the length of her lines of poetry, I made the outer margins of the booklet slightly smaller than usual. I didn’t want any line of poetry to wrap onto the following line.
  3. I didn’t take the easy way out. Instead of just coding the type, I created style sheets in InDesign, knowing that I could later apply these to all poems in the book. Time spent in preparing style sheets would be worth it later when I could just apply these to all poem titles and text blocks.
  4. When my client had approved the typeface (Garamond), I produced all pages of the text based on her MS Word file.
  5. Then, for the cover, I used a similar type treatment (all caps for the most important words in the print book title). I wanted the tone and appearance of the cover to match the tone and appearance of the text and poem titles inside the book.
  6. In spite of the fact that my client had specified a 32-page book, I noticed that the laid out book actually came to 26 pages. I told my client that it would have to be 28 pages (for a saddle-stitched book, binding would necessitate 4-page signatures for the staples to hold the pages together). So my client added some back matter and an extra poem.
  7. Early in the process I had suggested a cream white 70# text stock. I said this would look somewhat subdued. My client had suggested a russet brown solid color for the cover, with the book title reversed out of the solid. Without thinking, I had initially specified a 10pt. white cover stock (C1S, or coated one side). I thought the uncoated, interior side of the cover would match the texture of the uncoated interior pages. However, I had not initially thought about the color. Having a white interior book cover followed by a cream text stock would look odd. Therefore, I asked the printer for his suggested cream cover stocks (both coated and uncoated). He suggested a 100# cream uncoated cover stock.
  8. By this time, I had designed the cover, and my client had approved it. (It was a type-only design reversed out of a full-bleed reddish brown background.) I had built the brown out of 4-color process toners since the print book would be a digitally printed product. If my client had needed 500 books, the printer would have offset printed the job, and we could have used a PMS color for the brown, but since the job would be digital, the brown had to be built out of the HP Indigo’s 4-color process liquid toners.
  9. The printer had suggested a dull film laminate over the front and back covers. I was a bit concerned, because at this point I thought an entirely uncoated book (text and cover) might be nice. That said, the printer confirmed that the heavy coverage of liquid toner on the front of the print book could be scratched unless it was coated in some way. So I shared this information with my client, and she agreed.

As of today, this is where we are in the process.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Apply good habits to all jobs. This is just a small, text-only booklet of poems. But using InDesign style sheets and master pages is a good practice whether the book is 28 pages or 500. It will ensure consistency, make the overall production process go more smoothly and quickly, and allow you to easily make global style changes (fonts or point sizes, for instance).
  2. Think about the paper as well as the design. If possible, get a paper dummy so you can see how it will feel in your hands. Consider the paper color. Be wary of using a white cover on an off-white text.
  3. Consider the coating you will apply to the book covers. Some printers have aqueous, some UV coating, some film laminate. If your book printer thinks the inks or toners will scuff, make sure you add one of these coatings. They come in dull as well as gloss. If you want an uncoated cover, make sure your printer sees a sample PDF of your art to ensure that scuffing won’t be a problem.
  4. In fact, it’s a useful practice to send a PDF of the book to your printer early in the job (as you’re specifying the parameters for the print book). If he sees anything that might be problematic, he can tell you.
  5. Look at print book design as a fluid process. I changed both the page count and the cover paper stock as the design progressed and then requested updated pricing for my client.

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