Work Proof

I've been interested in book-binding since I was a small kid. I experimented constantly with making my own hardbound and paperback books.

Hand-printed proof copies of my book "Ribeye the Bullbarian and the Jewel of Baloni"

As a writer, I've found that what I've learned over time about do-it-yourself binding has really come in handy. For example, I love to make perfect-bound, trade paperback-sized proof copies of my books at every draft stage.

The benefits for a writer are enormous. First and foremost, you can hand a good-looking perfect-bound copy of your latest manuscripts to your friends/family/co-authors/illustrators/ – anyone whose opinion you'd like, or who is a part of the creative process with you. You stand a far greater chance of them reading a perfect-bound book (and therefore giving you in-depth feedback) than you will just handing them a cumbersome stack of manuscript pages. People may not always tell you, but most folks don't like reading lengthy tomes in other than a book form they're used to.

For myself, I find a proof makes editing and re-writing far easier. I don't know what it is, but reading through your work in actual book form makes mistakes and needed changes just leap off the page- far more than viewing copy on a screen, and more than in just loose manuscript form. Not just copy errors, but actual story element mistakes. It's far better to find all those mistakes in a proof copy, than later in the real published thing. I find it more intuitive to mark up a proof and it's easy to do from anywhere I happen to be. Consolidation of time and effort is a writer's best friend!

A current proof copy of the latest Ribeye book. Note, red lines on every page, margin notes, illustration notes, etc. A proof is a perfect overview of your book in physical form.

And best of all, the process is so ridiculously simple and inexpensive. I use a word processor to format and print my pages correctly, standard inkjet paper, an inkjet printer, and the right kind of glue. I don't need any special book-binding press, nor special tools.

Generally a single black inkjet cartridge at a standard setting will yield about 10 copies of a 200-page (50 sheets x4) book. Consider that I use an Epson printer with cheap knock-off brand cartridges that cost $4 each for black, and you can see that it's quite cost-effective. Print time is roughly 20 minutes for 2 copies of a 200-page book. If a person owns a laser printer, the process is even faster.

The covers are simple to make as well- all one needs is some oversized matte-finish card stock of just the right pound weight, and a paper-cutter to make legal-sized sheets that will go through an inkjet. (Obviously you can't use a 8.5×11" sheet- there's no room for the spine!)

Printing, cutting and gluing your own perfect-bound proofs is far easier than you might think.

I'm thinking of producing a tutorial on the process if anyone is interested. It's easy to do, but there are some pitfalls that I've learned to avoid over the years. One involves cutting. Always make copies in even pairs, for a very simple reason. First off: don't waste time trying to cut the copies yourself. You can take an entire ream of printed copies to the local Kinkos and they'll cut the entire stack for you for a mere 50 cents to $1. However, no cutter in the world will produce two perfect halves! There's almost always a slight overhang of one side or the other. That's why you always print and cut in pairs.

Imagine cutting just one copy. You've got an 8.5×11 stack face up, with the center spread of two facing pages on top. You have the stack cut down the middle, and fold the two cut sections together to form the complete book- only right off you notice a problem- the two halves will almost guaranteed not be perfect. One side will be slightly bigger than another. Even if the difference is only a few millimeters, when you glue the spine, the overhang will cause problems. Look at any perfect-bound book- the spine has to be flat.

The solution is never cut uneven numbers of copies. Cut two at a time. The first copy is laid center to center with the second. Each side of the stack forms its own complete copy. When cut down the center- both copies are perfect. A ream ready to be cut, is always a stack of facing pairs.

Anyway, there are a few other details I'd love to outline in a tutorial at some point- the exact glue to use (took me a lot of trial and error to find the best kind and exactly how to spread it to form a perfect bind) exactly how to make the covers, certain crucial do's and don'ts, etc. None of my techniques require complicated book presses, irons or hot glue guns, or other clunky binding set-ups, and produce very nice results that make a comfortably readable book.

It's all in the spine. Flexible enough to bend properly, yet strong enough to bind.

Currently, I'm getting ready to fire up a run of fourth-draft (near finished) copies of the latest Ribeye book, complete with illustrations. At this stage and as with previous drafts- only my creative partner and illustrator Mike gets a copy. We'll both tear the draft apart, make notes in the margins, x-out passages, jot down changes, whatever- then get together and compare notes. I'll then make the changes to the next (hopefully final) draft. Keep in mind, none of this would work very well without a proof copy to hand off. I'd never expect Mike to bother lugging around a loose manuscript, yet a proof copy of the book is perfect.

When it's at a very final stage, I'll send out proof copies to my close family and friends who I always love to have review my work before the absolute final goes out. My mother in particular, an avid reader and very creative person (whom I get most of my own creativity from!) always has good advice after reading my work. My wife of course always has her set of very good suggestions and changes too. The feedback is invaluable, and I'd feel much worse about sending out a final draft to a publisher before I took all this great feedback into consideration. Readable draft copies make that level of extra feedback possible.

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