Homemade Books!

(above diagram via Mercedes Leon)

Here at Lookout Books, we spend entire staff meetings dedicated to typeface and trim-size choices. We are always asking: What dimensions communicate this book’s spirit? How can we make the reader’s experience as enjoyable as possible? What weight paper? What would the flaps be like? Every minute detail is important, because we understand how powerfully communicative a book can be with just its look and feel alone. I say all this, because, well, if you were ever interested in book design and production, you need to know that it takes a long time to get there. But most, if not all of us, started with simple, homemade approaches.

I’ve always been a bit of a utilitarian guy. This is not to say that the look and texture of books like When All the World Is Old by John Rybicki don’t send a chill up my spine every time I pull a copy from my bookshelf. Still, I recognize that there is also a lot a novice book designer can do with just 8 ½ by 11 paper and a duplexing printer.

The half-letter chapbook (2-up saddle-stitched) is a great way to start, and if you’re anything like me, the method will be hard to leave behind because of its versatility:

1) Everyone has 8 ½ by 11 paper in the U.S. Essentially, you print onto the two halves of it landscaped (horizontal) and fold in half.

2) Duplexing (two-sided) printers are a lot easier to get your hands on these days. Most universities have duplexing lab printers to save paper.

3) InDesign and later versions of Microsoft Word can export your project to a .pdf. Now you can send your zine or chapbook to a friend and they can print out their own!


But there are some drawbacks:

1) There’s something I call the “stapler dilemma.” Typically I like to staple my half letter chapbooks, but the average stapler is not much longer than 4 inches, and in order to staple a half letter booklet, you’re going to need to reach the center at 5 ½ inches. I myself, love the look of a stapled zine and I had been making so many that I wound up buying a long arm stapler. But there are plenty of other binding methods out there and I encourage you to try them.

2) Also, you have to remember the signature of four! Printing a double-sided booklet means that for every sheet of paper, there have to be two pages of your book on each side. This means, every time you add a sheet of paper, you get 4 more pages in your book. The plus side is that with just 3 sheets, you will get 12 pages in your project to work with!


Here are some other bookmaking guides I’ve found over the years:

1) Making your own hardcover journals

2) Do-it-yourself zine-making guide

3) Accordion books

4) Rubber band binding

5) There’s a whole Pinterest page full of bookbinding forms and techniques

– John Mortara, Lookout Intern

Have you been making homemade books lately? Got any cool tips and tricks?