Press Note: Split-form Chapbook Construction

In this new series, editors of the Poetry International Chapbook Series and Poetry International staff will discuss the process of running a contemporary press and literary journal: from collaborating with fellow editors to navigating design technologies to promoting a new publication, and all the spaces in between.

Split-form Chapbook Construction
By Nathan

As Stephanie described in a previous post, our team is creating an anthology chapbook with a formal twist: it’s constructed of excerpts split into top and bottom halves. We rearranged those halves between authors in ways that we found informative or provocative. For details on that process, please check out Stephanie’s write-up.

Our plan is for the book to have a physical cut between the top and bottom half of these pages, inviting the reader to reassemble the original excerpt by the turning the top or bottom section, and to try unexpected configuration of texts.

In this post, I’ll take about the mockup process and some of the chapbook construction challenges our formal decision has created. In a following post, I’ll talk about what decisions we make as we execute our print run (as of this writing, still undecided, and in need of a visit to the printers with the outputs of this mockup experience).

Our initial plan was just to create a regular half-letter, stapled chapbook, because it’s a standard offering. But we noticed a problem with that: because the top and bottom sections are cut, they operate a bit as independent books whose pages can be turned without regard for the other. That means that our careful curation of which author top-half goes with which author bottom-half is essentially erased, allowing the reader to experiment with new pairings, but not highlighting our choices. This was a problem with both light- and heavyweight paper stock.

It helped some not to make a clean cut all the way through, but with anything more than a tiny amount of connective tissue, it made the pages not turn easily, and isn’t as clean a reading experience:

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In the next photo, I tried sewing the chapbook (B-stitch), which worked a little better than the staple, but not much. The additional physical reinforcement of the thread gave a bit of alignment to the pages it actually ran across, and broke the rest into two halves, but the turning within those halves was still essentially unaligned.

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I tried running more threads through the book, which worked pretty well, because it created some more physical “attachment” between the pages we wanted together, but created a strange aesthetic (as additional threads were wound and not sewn) and would require manual labor for each book.

Outside appearance of loose strings:

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Showing how the string loops “align” the page spreads they run through the book:

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A lot of the problems seemed to rise from the fact that a chapbook of this type is a single signature, with all of the folios folded into it. This means all of the page spreads pivot at the same point, and don’t have their own positional alignment. To experiment, I tried creating a glued version of the book, where each folio was placed as its own signature:

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This worked quite well. It would be hard to show without a video, but each of the page spreads naturally held its default alignment, because it had its own “spot” glued to the spine: there was a tendency to snap back to that original spot.

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This implies that a perfect bound or other glued construction, particularly with single-folio signatures, would achieve the desired effect. However, there are minimum page limits for perfect bound books, and they have design implications—because of the spine width, we wouldn’t be able to just use a folded 8.5”x11” page (and corresponding InDesign spread) for the cover. Finally, the printing is student-funded, and perfect binding would have cost implications over staples.

We need to create 50 of these chapbooks, so our next step is to take this information and investigate low-cost (and preferable low-effort) printing and construction options, balancing those with our creative goals.

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