Making this Zine, and the Possibilities of Print

Hello friend! Thank you for grabbing a copy of my story. I will eventually post a modified version of this page to my actual blog feed, but for now it’s a QR-coded exclusive! I’m going to talk a little about my thoughts on print media, and about the process of making this booklet. Also there’s some digital downloads for you below, so if you want you can jump right down there.

The Possibilities of Print

So my first major premise is that reading on a screen sucks. It sucks because a lot of people already spend most of their day staring at a screen. It sucks because you are staring into a light source. It sucks because that light source is refreshing, shooting 60 images at you every second. It sucks because there is other stuff on that screen that can distract you—even if you are good at focusing, notifications can still pop up depending on the device. (I do see the irony that you are reading on a screen right now—but I think these annoyances are more tolerable for short texts. Also I couldn’t print downloads. Sorry.)

E-readers are the exception. Although it’s still a screen, most e-readers use e-ink displays, not LCDs. The display reflects light, like paper, rather than shining it at you, and it has a much lower refresh rate—the text just sits there, stable, until you “turn” the page.

Turning pages in itself is another benefit of e-readers. There is some satisfaction gained with each page turn that is totally absent with scrolling. As I understand it, this is part of why kids’ books are printed with large text and broad margins—to provide a sense of accomplishment even when reading relatively little, relatively slowly. Each page turn is a little mile marker surpassed. Even as an adult, I find my brain switching modes depending on how much white space there is on a page. Big, chunky paragraphs: serious reading ahead. Dialogue and two-sentence paragraphs: yes lets go fast fast fast!

With all that said, there are two problems with e-readers, from a writer/publisher perspective. First, not everyone has one. I read a ton, and have done so for a while, and I only just got my first e-reader a few months ago. They can be pricy, at least compared to the free pair of eyeballs in your head.

The second major issue is that ebooks are a pain in the ass to design, and you basically can’t guarantee they will look nice across multiple devices. Ebook files are like html files, in that they are meant to display the same content across multiple different devices and apps. The content stays the same, but the style and layout might shift. E.g. Chapter 4 of a .epub may start on page 100 on a computer, page 200 on a phone, and page 150 on an e-reader. That’s pretty minor, but there are bigger issues when it comes to style. “Keep with next” doesn’t seem to work, ever. Drop Caps look dramatically different across different devices, with the one commonality that they all look equally jank (check out this article about it and scroll down to the example screenshots.) Why do websites look good, and consistent across devices, and ebooks don’t? My guess is that it’s because the corporations selling the e-readers do not want cross-compatibility. Amazon even has its own file format. There is no effort at coordination, no effort to make an ebook look good if it wasn’t purchased through the given e-reader’s marketplace. I guess people think books are just text, and who cares about the container.

Well, I care about the container! Sitting on a park bench and unfurling a risograph-printed brochure to read about architecture, I can tell you from experience, it rules. The same text on a computer screen in my stupid bedroom, or on a phone screen at my stupid job—that would not rule. The text can still be very good. It can be transcendent, and someone reading it can recognize and appreciate it as such. But the actual reading experience will be worse.

An analogy: the text is the food, and the format is the waitstaff. Of course bad service does not change the taste of the food. But it can ruin the meal, or make you not want to eat there anymore.

So all this to say, I think zines are cute baristas. Or something. I hope this booklet format has made the experience more enjoyable for you, and enticed you to read rather than repelled you.

I actually have a ton more thoughts on this that I haven’t included cause I don’t want to get too long-winded. But real quick I want to shout-out the New York Review of Architecture. They are the “risograph-printed brochure” I referred to above. I’m not sure what the technical term for the format they print in is. It is loose-leaf, 16 10.5”x17” pages, folded four times, though in such a way that you can easily make it into a large, squarish booklet and flip through like that. In their email confirming my subscription they said, “Each of our issues is a limited edition risograph printed edition that celebrates the possibilities of print,” and that last phrase, “the possibilities of print,” has been bouncing around in my head ever since. You can check them out here. (And if you are interested in subscribing, I have a discount code I can give you so just let me know.)

With that said, I’ll move on to the development of this booklet in particular.

Making this Booklet

Although I have been intrigued by zines etc. for a while, this project really started when I figured out how booklet formatting works in MS Word. Essentially, if you took apart your booklet, tearing out the staples and laying out all the individual sheets of paper, you would notice that the pages are not really in order. Page 1 is on the same sheet as page 36, for example. But when they’re all folded in half and nested inside each other, they’re perfectly arranged. I always assumed that to achieve this I would either need an expensive program like InDesign, or I would need to manually order the pages myself. But no, Microsoft Word will do it for you.

Having that imagined barrier of complexity removed, realizing that formatting for a booklet was just a simple function in Word, was massively inspirational. (Sidebar: I think convenience is under-appreciated as a motivating creative force—I first started writing short stories because I learned that to submit them to magazines, you just had to email them. No postage, no proposal, no agents. Good shit.) Over the next week, in idle moments I would open random old short stories and convert them into booklets, playing around with formatting and design. I eventually focused my efforts on “Cartographer” because that was the story that I was preparing to self-publish, so I figured I could distribute this physical edition shortly after I released it digitally.

Here follow some nitty gritty details! Caveant consules: there are actual tutorials out there if you are seriously interested in doing this, and it seems the simplest way would be to go to Page Setup, change the page size to 8.5×5.5 (or half the size of whatever paper you’re printing on), print to PDF, open the PDF in Adobe Reader, then print with booklet settings. Also, I did all this on a Mac, using the Microsoft Word 2016. Maybe it is easier or harder on a PC.

So the way I did it is Format > Document … > Multiple pages > Bookfold. Make sure this is formatting the whole document, not just the current section. Then in Page Setup, change the page size from whatever weird thing it auto-generated to US Letter, and select landscape mode. This is basically a “six of one, half dozen of the other” situation—Word generates a custom page size that is 11×8.5 in portrait mode, instead of 8.5×11 in landscape mode. But I found that trying to print it in the custom generated layout would give me error messages.

Also in Page Setup, set “Format for” to the printer you will be printing with. For me, using these booklet settings, Word will always default to “any printer”, which applies a bizarre .56” minimum to the “header” size—which in a booklet is actually just the margin of every other page. Very weird.

Also also in Page Setup, make sure this is applying to the whole document—by default it will just apply it to sections. To do this, click the drop-down menu where it says “Page Attributes” and change that to Microsoft Word, and then it’ll show you how the settings will be applied.

As soon as you have everything set up, print to PDF so that you never have to deal with this shit again! The PDF document will have all the pages in the right arrangement, and will be print-ready. Word has a habit of reverting some of these settings to dysfunctional defaults, so its good to have something that doesn’t need to be fussed with. As long as you set the printing to flip on short-edge binding, you’re good to go.

Once again though, probably best to just format Page Setup for half-sized pages, print to PDF, then do the booklet formatting through Adobe Reader (which is a free application.)

Future Stuff to Look Forward to, I Guess

So there’s actually quite a few things that I feel like I messed up with the “Cartographer” zine, which is great! That’s the point of doing something like this, and making it available for free. There’s formatting stuff that I want to do better on in the future, and probably I will use different, less-bright paper. The construction will not get any fancier—DIY bookbinding is cool, but I want these things to be cheap and quick to build, so staples and cardstock it is!

I’d also like to figure out something other than hand-lettering for the cover. “Cartographer” was just one word, the spiral, and my initials, but a lot of my short stories have long titles, and I don’t want to write all that over and over. Maybe custom stencils using an exacto knife and cardstock? Stamps?

I have more ideas than I can really do anything with—there’s only so much time, and anyway all of this stuff is just fuss if there’s no one reading it. I mean to say: thank you, reader, for reading; I need to ensure you and others like you are reading before I can start playing around with these ideas I have. It would be cool to do a subscription service with 4 or 6 zines a year; it would be cool to have a letters column; it would be cool to have backmatter like this QR code, but linking to other people’s zines; ah, the possibilities of print …

So yeah lots of castles in the air, but I can promise a couple things. 1st: I would like to do, in addition to zines, some single-sheet stuff. It turns out that if you format things in narrow columns, text is still quite readable even at 10pt font. Like, it isn’t even tiring on the eyes. (Essentially, I have made the brilliant discovery that has been the basis of all periodicals for as long as they have existed.) So short stories etc. up to around 2800 words can be printed on a single sheet of paper, as long as the margins are small. I think it would be cool to issue some stories or other things like this. Here is a 1-sheet version of my “manifesto for a speculative theatre,” as an example; you can print it yourself and see how it reads, if you have a printer.

2nd: The next one of these that I do, I will release for Public Domain Day 2023! (That is, Jan 1.) It’s a story about a printers guild; I wrote it without thinking about zines at all, but looking back on it, it is kind of a story about making a zine with your friends. But the zine is magic wine. Anyway, I will be issuing physical copies of that for free as well, and posting digital downloads on the site. Celebrating the possibilities of print!

Downloads

Thank you, again, for picking up a copy of this weirdo story. Please enjoy a fully print-ready PDF of the very story that you already have! If you would like to print copies of it, and distribute them, or distribute the files, you have my blessing. To print it, just make sure your print settings are set to 2-sided, short-edge binding. To actually bind it: fold it in half, then stitch it together with a needle and thread or use a stapler. I used a special booklet stapler for the copy you have, but you can also use a regular stapler, following this method.

Cartographer Booklet PDF

Also, here’s an editable docx format, and an epub & mobi just for fun. In case you have an e-reader, disagree with my screed against screen reading, or are just a masochist.

DocxEpubMobi

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