A renegade publication: how to bind & trim a fantastic beast.

For my birthday, my mother-in-law surprises me with a really great gift. She gives me a book binding machine.

This isn’t a fancy machine. It’s basically a glorified (low-heat) cooking griddle, with “flanges” that squeeze a stack of papers upright, on its back so to speak. Then the flat surface melts a strip of glue and binds a cardstock cover to the edges of the pages. 

When I get it set up in my office, I watch youtube video after youtube video. It’s clear that I’ll need a heavy duty paper cutter. I order one for $200 before I chicken out. Home-book-makers/youtube-video-creators affirm that not only can I bind my own books, I can repair books. Even better, I can replace the inside of books with any number of pages I choose. What if I repurposed hardback covers and inserted my own stories? Ask me about this later.

I’m ravenous and jittery with possibility. My mind races the steps of a renegade publication. Who needs amazon, or agents? (I do, I need them both) Now, I can print my own damn books, and each copy can be different and one day, decades from now, fans will say: 

“Oooo, is that a copy from the early era? Why, yes it is. See how the handles on the swords of the cover are different. She must not have liked this style. And see here, the spine shows the indentations of the press. She printed on coated paper then. Likely, because it was cheaper.”

This is how the gears rotate in my mind. What small step today might lead to conspiracy and archived details later?

When I decide to print something to bind, I choose my second novel, which is still in its first draft. I don’t take my time so much as waste time focusing on silly things like chapter title fonts, and drafting an acknowledgement page. I pull a public domain image from the internet and use Canva to stylize the title, spine and back cover. I write a quippy blurb that says more about why I wrote the story, than what the story is about. I type on the top of the back cover: 

“This is an ARC for the Lexington Ladies Book Club”

I reference my bookmarked youtube videos and I prepare to print. The first impossible task I encounter, is organizing a Word document to print in the order of a book. I am cursing the options in the layout menu, then swearing the paper handling menu makes no sense. I’m searching reddit for clues, experts, sages on the adventure that is home book binding. I’m panicking. 

Why is this so hard? How is there not a “I want to make a book” option? If I can’t find a one-click solution, then I have to figure out how to organize these pages by hand, post-printing. 

That’s it, I don’t want to make books. Never mind. Cute idea. Impossible execution. 

Finally, I stumble on the specific instructions for a booklet. It is not intuitive. It does not give me comfort. It is a series of steps: check this box, this zig-zag layout, this preview menu, and don’t forget short-edge binding. 

I don’t have any fight left. I can’t make sense of any of it, I just follow the steps. Fingers crossed I’ll have something that looks like a book in the end. 

The steps go like this:

  • Print booklet on cheap office copy paper. 
  • Print cover/back page on some extra cardstock, with trim lines and score marks. 
  • Cut the stack of printed copy paper in half (5.5 in.)
    • Compile these two halves. Magically, they are in order.
  • Score the cover, fold along the score lines and lay a glue strip along the spine. 
  • Slip my stack of loose pages inside this paper taco, and tap the papers into a neat stack.
  • Place the cover and pages spine-down in the book binding machine.
    • Allow it to beep at me an unnecessary amount of times before I take it out to cool in the cooling rack.
  • Trim the book to a neat 5.25 x 8.25

I have a book in my hands. The margins inside are “luxury lanes.” The grain of the paper causes the first and second half to curve away from each other like weak magnets. My font selection on the back cover is childishly large. My trimming is dangerously close to the Title Font on the cover. 

But I have a book in my hands. I snap a photo and send it to a friend who works for the Lexington Public Library. She is accustomed to receiving ARCs and I have the highest hope she will be the perfect candidate for reading this draft to tell me if it’s ready for the Book Club. She responds with a heart emoji, tells me to bring it to the next book club meeting. 

I stare at the renegade novel on my desk for days. I want to show my mother-in-law, but the title of the book has the word “Penis” in it so I think better of it. I pick out the next thing to print. None of my friends or family see me for a few days. I print They Won’t Apologize for the Mess. I print the first novel I co-wrote with a fellow writer. I print a poetry chapbook. I fight margins and fonts and trim lines and I buy new cover paper.

I attend a wedding in Whitesburg, Ky (Hayden & Jessica from a few blog posts back. Oh and the officiant is Silas House.) My husband and I are seated at the reception with local artist, musician, author John Lackey and his soon to be retired wife and the breadwinner, Jenny. My husband and John discuss the luxuries of having wives who make enough money to pay bills while they create art. John and I discuss writing. He tells me about his novel. I tell him about mine and he seems impressed, or at least intrigued. I don’t tell him I have a copy in the car. 

As the wedding progresses into the night, smokers gather outside despite the cold, aided by an open-bar. I work up the courage to tell my friend to follow me to my car. I show her two novels: my first, which she has read, and my second. When she reads the title, she laughs out loud. My friend insists on showing all those who have gathered outside. I’m a little tipsy so I let her. I am met with big eyes, big smiles and glowing compliments. With flushed cheeks, I am just drunk enough to enjoy the praise. 

Yes I wrote that. Yes I printed it at home, with my own hands. Yes, I’ll eventually publish. Maybe I’ll even walk the streets of my home town, with a rolling cart, and sell copies like a bible salesman.

The night ends, with a quick round of hugs as we say goodbye to friends we haven’t seen in a while. Silas House and his husband stop by and say hello to Josh and I. He says to me, “So, I hear you wrote a novel.” I panic with my response—say something to the effect of yes, two novels. The second one might be better than the first. He laughs, nods, says I understand that feeling. Then he says goodbye. I am a bit sidelined by the drive-by question. I figure, maybe John Lackey told him of a strange, little, velvet-clad author he ate dinner with who puts the word “Penis” right into her book titles. 

I tell a few more people about the novel. I do math and calculate the cost of paper, and ink. I am baffled that the black ink is the most expensive material. My calculations put my first book at $10.50 in black ink. I decide this might not be sustainable. I research different printers with different inks. I could spend $200 for an “ink tank printer” (ink would cost $0.01 per page) but does it do double sided? What if I try cheaper toner from the back pages of Amazon ($0.02 per page)?

I stop thinking about it. I print several books in a row, all costing $11 to my mind. I work up to printing four in a row, assembly-line style. I revisit my calculations and figure out that the estimated pages my toner cartridge can print is modestly underestimated. It is rated for 1200 pages, but I get more like 2200 out of it. This knocks the price of ink, per book, to $6-7. This is not sustainable for flooding the world with renegade copies…but it is sustainable. I have at least matched the price of Print-on-Demand with Amazon. 

And now I’m wondering why I care so much. 

Therein, lies the question I do not know the answer to. Why not hand over my novel to the brutal world that is kindle self-publishing? Why not tempt myself with pennies-per-pages read? I should just bite the bullet. Toss the novel out into the streets like a baby in the bath water. Pull a Jarett Kobek, and make it look like it wasn’t self-published. See if I can pull it off. 

But then I read the website for the ISBN numbers and it all just feels like a scam. If I want to “publish” then I gotta give my content to Kindle to track and monitor. Or I gotta agree for someone to track and monitor it, so that when it flops, it can be blackballed from the publishing industry.

Yes, it’d be cool to track my novel. Watch the numbers rise and have no idea who is getting them or where they are going. Like magic, it will just grow like one of those expanding towels in a tourist shop. 

However, I’m going to take my chances: I’m gonna print this thing like a renegade pamphlet. Like propaganda. Not the racist, rightest, leftest, centralist, whatever the fuck kind of Propaganda. Just the kind that I imagine L.A. skater punks used to advertise Big Brother, you know… posters plastered to brick, and mail boxes, and back alley doors, and bus stops. I’m gonna sell it when I can, but I’m also gonna hand it off, give it away because I can.

My theory? Like a rumor it will spread. And because I won’t have the facts (the ISBN tracking devices) I’ll only have speculation of the book’s growth. Rumors will come back that it died. Then someone will indicate they saw it in the wild, “It lives!”. Then, late one evening at a bar, some one will say, “I’ve heard it’s made it to New York.” Some one else will say, “I saw it in Canada.” Then legends will morph into fantastic beasts. Those legends will multiply, with their own dominant and recessive genes. Ears will crave the most exciting of the legends, and that legend will grow wings and breath fire and by the end of it, I’ll only have the stories of how the book became an unstoppable force. 

And there won’t be the dry facts of ISBN tracking to dispute its reputation. I’m honestly giving my book its best life: one of freedom and uninhibited imagination.

This tracking device-less novel is now available for purchase here. Read about the book, listen to the playlist and place your order. You might get an early copy, the one with a typo here and maybe there. You might get a copy with a slight hue-change. You might get a hand marked #for how many I’ve made (and remembered to mark.)

And because you are curious, and you have an adventurous spirit, you will definitely contribute to the lost art of the renegade book.


One response to “A renegade publication: how to bind & trim a fantastic beast.”

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    Hilary Miles


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