The magic of home-made chapbooks

A Writer’s Gift

By Shawn MacKenzie

Excuses for gift giving proliferate today like mice on fertility drugs. Whether birthdays or unbirthdays, showers for babies, weddings, engagements (not necessarily in that order), or the ever familiar Chanukah, Yuletide, and Dragon Day (ok, I made that one up but urge you to celebrate it regularly and with flair), these occasions place increasing demands on our imaginations and our purses.

Now, when I was growing up, I thought my parents had this whole gifting thing figured out. They’re potters, you see, and so could select a vase or unomi, a teapot or fluted jar filled with homemade marmalade (my meager contribution to the fun, tweaked and perfected through the years), wrap in a piece of madras tissue paper and, voila!…. Each piece was lovingly made and personally chosen—each was a gift from the heart.

This was the tradition with which I was raised and one I have tried to continue. But I am no potter. I never had the slightest knack with wheel or glaze. I am a writer, a spinner of tales. A different beast, entirely. Unfortunately, volumes months, even years, in the creating do not make for easy gifting (and can seem extravagant for all save the most special occasion). So what is a writer to do?

Well, a few years back, a friend and fellow scribe, John Goodrich, introduced me to the wonder of chapbooks. Problem solved!

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a chapbook is a short piece, either a brief collection of verse (if you’re poetically inclined) or a short story, etc. In modern parlance, consider it the hard-copy version of an e-book single. There are no restrictions save those of the imagination. From a writer, what could be a more personal than the sharing of one’s labors, be it a one-off (as for upcoming Mother’s Day or your significant other’s birthday) or a group printing for close friends at Samhain (what I like to call a limited edition).

So, you write your heart out, blood and sweat and appropriate affection infusing every word. With your last T crossed and comma in place, you’re ready to put it all together. This is joyful right-brain stuff: choosing your paper, typeface, and designing your cover, the wrapping and flashy ribbon for your present. I love designing books, be they chap or full-on tomes. It sooths the nascent visual artist in me and lets me play in a realm I too often ignore.

This is the time to have fun, to select the physical aspects—type and cover graphics—that speak to the heart of your words—without being too distracting or obvious or trite, of course. For those of us so inclined, it can be as satisfying as the writing itself. One word about typeface: don’t go too wild or ornate—you want something which reflects your work but is also easy on the eyes. If this sounds Greek to you, don’t worry. It just takes practice and a good eye. Standards like Perpetua, Palatino Linotype, Garamond, and minor variations thereon (serif/sans serif) are always good places to start; and if you want to jazz it up without going over the top, consider a fancy drop capital on the opening word.

Once your design choices are made, you’re entering the home stretch: time to set it up in PDF and print. Most any decent word-processing program will work for this. I personally use AdobeInDesign. It is professional software replete with bells and whistles which does require a bit of a learning curve. Still, I’ve used it for everything from a 10-page illustrated Yule cookbook to a 300+-page short-story anthology. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Text and images can be easily placed and manipulated, making it a multipurpose program that works as well for covers as interiors. Color or black and white, anything is possible.

Of course, you don’t need bells and whistles, not a one. Word, WordPro—I am not familiar with Mac programs, but I am sure they are comparable—any of these will work. Set your layout as an 8.5 x 5.5 page (aka “half letter”) and save as a PDF, then print as a booklet (double-sided). Bingo.

For cover design, Corel PaintShopPro or its ilk works well (use an 8.5 x 11 landscape layout—front and back on one image). Note: these are just the basics: with a little imagination and a guillotine, you can create chapbooks in any shape or size you wish. Go wild!

Choose good paper—something that has appropriate gravitas for the occasion—and a slightly heavier stock for the cover. Laser printers are a boon to chapbook makers, in no small part because the print is crisper than with an ink jet and will not bleed. If you don’t have a laser printer, your local copy centre or Staples-esque establishment can run them off for you at relatively little expense. They’ll usually even staple them together for you (or you can go fancy and hand-stitch them).

I know we don’t like to worry about the depth of our purse when it comes to presents, but, hey, let’s face it: many of us are but poor scribes doing our best within our modest means.

At the end of the day, as writers, we are our words. And nothing speaks to the heart like giving a piece of ourselves.

Shawn MacKenzie

About the Author:
Shawn MacKenzie had her first Dragon encounter when she was four years old and happened upon a copy of The Dragon Green by J. Bissell-Thomas. That was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Author of The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2011), and the upcoming Dragons for Beginners (Llewellyn, November, 2012), she is an editor and writer of sci-fi/fantasy. Her fiction has been published in Southshire Pepper-Pot, 2010 Skyline Review, and as a winner of the 2010 Shires Press Award for Short Stories. Shawn is an avid student of myth, religion, philosophy, and animals, real and imaginary, great and small.

Ramblings can be found at MacKenzie’s Dragon’s Nest website and her blog, MacKenzie’s Dragon’s Nest.

Shawn’s Links: Website, Blog, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn

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17 Comments

Filed under Guest Writers & Bloggers, Special Events

17 responses to “The magic of home-made chapbooks

  1. Sounds like a great idea! 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Karen.

  3. Reblogged this on MacKENZIE's Dragonsnest and commented:
    For us caring writers on a shoestring….

  4. This is a fantastic idea, Karen!

  5. Stacy S. Jensen

    Shawn, Thanks for sharing this how-to. It’s a wonderful idea for anytime of the year. (And, Thanks Karen for doing this special week!)

  6. I have some friend’s chapbooks that I treasure! They are so lovely . . .

  7. I’m already thinking of producing a bunch of chapbooks for Christmas this year! Now, if I can just find my printer… Great idea, wonderfully presented by Shawn!

  8. Being that I love paper – I love your idea. Wonderful Creation!

    • Couldn’t agree with you more about paper. In days when more and more books are going electronic, it is nice to have something solid–textured–you can hold in your hands, even pass along….

      • I love a good, heavy paper, the bumply kind. The paper you can feel. I’m also thinking leather or even faux leather for covers, or at least leather strings for holding it together, instead of staples. I imagine a cover with something other than paper, something than lends itself to a sensory emotion.

  9. Pingback: What shall I give Dad for Father’s Day? | Heartspoken

  10. There’s nothing like a good book that you can hold in your hands, smell the paper and feel the texture. E-books don’t give you that pleasure. I had no idea about how to make a chapbook but you make it sound all so simple. Thanks for the wonderful idea.

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