Occasionally even the most fluid creative process is interrupted by the need to actually make something tangible. Often, this can be as simple as asking Word to print your document, but when the scope exceeds what Word naturally handles, you need to turn to different tools.
If you are lucky enough to be part of a larger media team, then this is the point where you get to pass the work on to an editor and move on to other fun things, like defending your work from the editor, getting the director to not rearrange your carefully crafted world, and getting the lead actor to not make your character unrecognizable. Or just getting the blasted rabbit to learn his cues and be ready for the hat when needed.
But most of us are not doing this with a support team.
Self-publishing a longer work can be mechanically very simple. There are a number of services that will take a PDF file of your well laid out book body and convert it to bound books. I’ve personally used Lulu for a trade paperback, and have seen a number of books they printed and bound. Especially if you need a small quantity (perhaps only one, even) it is difficult to do better in price and quality.
But that presupposes you have a well laid out PDF to begin with. And cover art, and all the interesting other bits (title page, publication info, copyright declaration, author bio, etc.) that turn a batch of chapters into something that really is a book. That task can be handled by Word for simple cases. Google Drive’s Document can also do this for simple cases. But neither will make getting a professional look and feel for your book body easy.
This post will identify some tools and resources that I’ve personally found useful. But do remember that I’m an engineer and magician, and am writing mostly to support those roles. My needs may not be normal. I may not be normal. I’m okay with that, but this advice is certainly given from that perspective.
For professional quality typesetting, I personally turn to the extensive family of tools based on TeX. Specifically LuaTeX these days. Distributions are available on many platforms. For Windows, I like MiKTeX. These tools turn plain text with somewhat arcane markup annotations into beautifully laid out pages of PDF.
When the arcane and cryptic markup gets in the way of my writing, I turn to Pandoc which can convert marked up text in many formats into many other formats. The process I personally favor is to write in [Markdown] because for running text it resembles the kind of marks that have been used since the invention of typewriters (things like using underscore characters to indicate italic text) and is easy on the eyes when proofreading. Pandoc supports a lot of other formats, and you may find that one of the others is better suited to your style. For output, it can produce many formats include several flavors of TeX, as well as HTML for the web or ebooks, and even RTF if you are desperate to get back into Word.
The workflow with these tools (aside from the writing itself) is a lot like programming. Your documents are written in a kind of source code which is converted into PDF (or something else) for eventual printing or display. To that end, other source code workflow tools are also handy, including Lua for automating things, make for capturing all of the details of building the end result, and fossil or another version control system for keeping a history of your document.
When a more visual workflow is needed, I turn to a graphical page layout tool, such as Scribus. While scribus is hardly the only such tool, it is one that has been field tested in the production of numerous commercially available books and posters. And it is free. The PDFs it produces are considered to be very high quality and suited for consumption by professional printers.
Sometimes you need a small quantity of documents quicker than an outside service, but want them to look more slick than just a staple in a corner of a stack of paper.
When the document is short enough, you can consider making a single-signature booklet. If the target page size is about half of your printer’s paper size, then the booklet will be made by printing four finished pages on each sheet, ordered so that with the sheets stacked up and folded in half, you have the logical pages reading in order from cover to cover.
The shuffling needed to place each logical page into the right position (and orientation if you use more than one fold per sheet, look up the real meaning of “folio”, “quarto” and “octavo” for example) is called “imposition” by printing press operators. Real imposition includes small shifts in each page’s image to account for the thickness of the paper as it is folded, but for a simple saddle-stitched booklet this detail can be ignored.
There are software tools that take a finished book in a PDF in reading order, and write out a PDF containing the images of printer pages such that after printing, stacking, and folding according to the imposition plan, the result is a signature of pages, in order, and right side up. Two I plan to spend some time attempting to make work for me are PoDoFo and PDF Bookbinder
Once you have a stack of physical printed sheets, you need to fold and stack them into signatures according to your imposition plan, then collect the signatures together inside covers. Book binding is an art and craft all its own, but some simple techniques are accessible without much (if any) special equipment or tools.
The simplest binding to create at home is a single saddle-stitched signature. A typical comic book is produced this way. A number of sheets are printed on both sides with four pages of the finished book. A single sheet of cover stock is similarly printed with the front and back covers. All the sheets are folded, and then stacked so that the cover sheet contains all the rest of the pages. Staples at the fold hold the stack together. A standard office stapler does not have a deep enough throat to saddle stitch a booklet made from standard letter-sized paper, but a special stapler can be found that has a deep enough throat to saddle-stitch tabloid sized signatures.
Of course, you can also use a waxed thread and sew the pages together along the fold. Use an actual saddle stitch for that for a strong joint, but experiment with various hand sewing techniques and find a stitch that works for you and allows for a neat finish.