It was supposed to be a zine and it ended up being a mini-manual. That’s how we do it in Oficyna Peryferie – always giving our 200%! “How to make a book” is our largest publishing project to date, so we wanted to reveal to you a bit of magic involved in the backstage of making it. We will talk about designing, printing, and issues that we encountered.
The whole Oficyna team was involved in the process of creating HtMaB. Michał was in charge of the content and substance: he wrote the text, did the research and overlooked the overall organization of work. Natalia, on the other hand, took upon herself the design aspects of the project: layout of the book, visual concepts and making the majority of the books ‘technical’ illustrations. Then Marta put a cherry on top, making additional illustrations and managing the project logistically.
This post will be written as a duet of Natalia and Michał. All of the text in black is Natalia’s words, and Michał’s comments will be in red.
We wish you a nice read!
Oh yeah, if you are waiting for the second edition it will be out around 15.04. You can save your copy in the presale today:
Zine, not a book. Book, not a zine.
Natalia: Those of you that follow our work or supported our crowdfunding campaign to buy the RISO machine know, that at the beginning we wanted to publish a slender zine. But then Michał got a bit overexcited (wouldn’t be the first time :)) and so the idea of creating a short step-by-step manual evolved into a small textbook. Michał started with basic instructions but it was still not enough, and so the next chapters grew and grew. I’m honestly not surprised, in the end after a couple of years of leading bookbinding workshops he did collect some cool knowledge that was worth sharing.
Form, form, form
There were a couple of ideas on what form our book should have. First, we came up with a book of a size similar to our previous zine, “S is for Screenprinting” (so a 100cm x 70cm sheet folded 8 times). Can you imagine how different it would be?
After a long mental battle we decided to go for a much smaller format, nicely cut B6 (around 117 x 165mm). What led us to choose a size like that? Well, we won’t lie – we have a certain fondness for small things. Matchboxes for example. In this case, our love for the small went hand in hand with usability. We wanted our manual to be able to fit in all bags or backpacks and be able to travel with you anywhere. Won’t you agree that there is nothing quite like reading about paper formats in a crowded morning tram, or bus to lighten up your mood? Or in a plane. Or a lift.
…or having it previously packed into your hand luggage and read it during a sunset in warm Portugal.
We can also say that another thing that influenced our decision was our collective love for Penguins pocket size books (take a look at the Great Ideas series, we definitely recommend it!).
How to write (or: man, get to work!)
Michał: One of the biggest challenges we faced during our work on the book was… starting to write. There is nothing worse (in my opinion) than promising to do something – and then procrastinating it in fear that what we do will not be good enough…
But at the end of the day, public declarations are motivating in a way. In reality, the credit for completion of this book should go to the bunch of people that waited for the promised zine from the Riso for Oficyna crowdfunding rewards. Even though at some point it was more frequent for me to write them about lack of progress, than actually writing the book, finally something moved…
When the work finally started I took a very methodical approach. First I wrote the overall draft. Then I divided it into small and precise problems, adding subsections and laconic comments. In that way – working with a top-down approach – the frame came to be.
Planning it like that allowed me to get a hang of the whole content and focus on the hierarchy of text and composition. In reality that was the most important part of creating this book.
The next step was writing the text. The book is not big, and because everything was already nicely put together the whole process of writing took only three days! And they were not nervous or filled with the creative dread – words just came by themselves filling up the free space in the frame.
I remember that those were quite warm and sunny days. I would come to work before breakfast and write more narrative bits of the book (Introduction, history of the book). Marta was away for workshops, Natalia would come a bit later – I could focus fully on writing. When it was getting noisier I’d focus on the technical sides that would come to me quite easily – practice and routine from leading bookbinding workshops were definitely a big help here.
I was writing in Evernote, a digital notebook that synchronizes online, thanks to which the whole team could keep up with the work’s progression and add some corrections. And when everything was almost done a weird error popped up for the very first time… One of the girls opened the older version of the text and over-saved the file, deleting last corrections to the instructions on how to figure out grammage and the volume of paper…
That was a real crisis – I hate moments like this! Fortunately, we always have good coffee in the workshop – a minute of a break on the sun and I’m getting back to work. We got this!
Editing and correcting
Everyone that ever wrote any kind of text knows, that it’s totally different how we hear our words, and how readers are going to understand it. Writing the text to HtMaB I mainly depended on my verbal expression, that coded within the written word, was not readable for everyone. That’s why editing ended up being crucial.
And here I’ll need to come back to our crowdfunding campaign once again. Giving regular reports on the work progress I asked people waiting for the publication for their feedback on the first draft (sharing the text in Google Docs) and help with finding the editor. It ended up being a great move. The audience got really involved in the corrections and additionally out of people waiting for the publication Dorota Szopowska offered her editor services!
How to make illustrations?
Natalia: We decided on how we want to illustrate the book right after we settled on the format. You might not believe me, but illustrations were made with a complicated technique, drawing with different tools on masking films, ones you use to build a greenhouse or securing the floors.?
Then we scanned that foil and worked on it digitally. From today’s perspective, this idea that seems a bit silly. Or crazy. Just as silly (or crazy) was a sudden spark in Marta Tomiaks eye, an idea to introduce reading dinosaurs to the book.
Respect the mock-up, ‘aight?!
One of the important elements of making a book was creating a mock-up of it in 1:1 scale. Printing on RISO was a no-brainer, and so our format did depend on that technology – we had to work on suitably divided A3 format (that’s the biggest sheet size for our RISO printer)
And so we took a sheet of this format and started folding it in different directions. Everything to experimentally check how the book would lay in one’s hand and what opportunities does it give us. That made our design work much easier and helped with placing the content on particular pages.
After the initial completion of the full design, we printed a second mock-up, this time on a regular laser copier. It’s way different to read text on screen rather than on paper. Thanks to printing it out we spotted many technical and design errors, that we missed during our e-corrections.
We also used our second mock-up during printing of the first edition. It helped us when our minds failed and forgot what way to put the paper on the machine, so the second side of the sheet wouldn’t be upside down. Work with a dummy like that is really important for us during the creation of a book. Well-prepared mock-up is a friend that will never betray us.
A clear-headed quotation, or, the cash needs to be right.
Against our national aversion to money talk, I’ll say a bit about finances. A clear-headed quotation is probably one of the hardest tasks and it’s better to deal with it at the first phases of planning the book. Especially when we are the ones bearing all the costs.
While creating a quotation it’s better to be a pessimist. It’s a rarity for things to go exactly our way, for production to go smoothly and materials being the exact right amount. Preparing a financial plan for publishing the “How to Make a Book” book we tried to be very particular in estimating the costs of the materials. I thought that we did a really good job! If you are wondering if we earned or lost in making the book, read on.?
Seeking the financial support
In our case, after calculating the costs it turned out that production will take a bit more out of our finances than we anticipated at the beginning. Eh, that optimism again… Fortunately, we managed to interest Europapier representatives in our project and they agreed to supply us with paper needed for the production. In our “Production notebook” (yea we made that!), under the date 14th of September 2017 it says:
“Michał talked with Europapier people today. We managed to get a partner thanks to whom part of our expenses will be cut! Europapier committed to supplying us with paper for the book production, yay! Conclusion – if something is too much for you financially don’t be afraid to look for partners and sponsors. Try to interest someone with your idea! Cutting the costs – YAY!”
Alright, so how much does it cost to make a book?
Michał: Let’s start with putting down how big the first edition was in numbers:
We printed 320 copies, that ended up in 296 books (24 were destroyed during the bookbinding process). Out of those 26 copies of “How to Make a Book” were sent out as prizes for our crowdfunding supporters. We wanted to save 5 copies for the Oficyna (where the hell are they?! – the lady from the ISBN National Library calls us daily to ask when will we send them a mandatory copy or two). Additionally, we had to give out 5 copies as gifts. So to summarise for distribution we had around 260 copies– 3 of which ended up getting lost during shipment – greetings to the Ruch Packages :/
PAPER for the book – free (thanks to the courtesy of Europapier Polska)
PAPER for flyleaf of a book (not included in the deal with Europapier) – 150 PLN
– RISO stencil – 1 roll – 300 PLN
– Paint – 1 x every color, 3 tins x 160PLN = 480 PLN
– commisioned bookbinding services – 2460 PLN
– bookbinding fabric Cialux 18,35 PLN/m^2 x 23 meters = 425 PLN
WORK OF NATALIAS HANDS AND MIND (LABOR):
– two months entirely devoted to design and illustrations (August, September) + a month for print and logistics (October) – 3x3300PLN = 9900 PLN
(I’m not counting the costs of the labor of Marta and me. Marta was making illustrations on top of her other Oficyna responsibilities. During this time Natalia worked only on the HtMaB)
– costs of transport and production logistics – 250 PLN
costs of packing – stickers, foil bags, postcards, envelopes (not included in shipping) – – around 2,50PLN/piece x 297 = 740 PLN
– costs of barter for editing and photo documentation – (hard to estimate)
It’s also worth mentioning that on top of production costs there are also distribution costs, although in our case, everything took place on our already existing online store infrastructure. The only distributing cost was the provision for the online payment 2,9% – with a book price of 55PLN it’s almost 1,59PLN! So the entire provision throughout the sale of the first edition was 1,59 x 260copies = 413PLN.
To sum up: The combined cost of production of 296 copies of a book took 14946PLN. After deducting a 3months salary (9900PLN for labor) the cost of materials and commisioned services was 5068PLN.
That gives us costs of production for one copy of 50,49PLN (!!!). Who would expect results like that?
If we count in only material and outsourced service costs, the price of a copy comes to 19,49PLN (without printing time).
But if we add to that the fact that we put out around 260 books on the market, that were supposed to compensate our expenses, then the price of a single copy should at least come to 14946PLN divided by 260 copies = 57,48PLN.
Who remembers how much the book was in presale? That’s right? 55PLN! So by selling 260 books for 2,48PLN below the production costs altogether, we lost 644PLN.
Do you know any ‘worst business of the year’ awards? Send me a link I need to nominate myself!!!
In the end – a fun fact. Always while putting out a new project we try to sum it up and ask your opinion. We asked people that bought HtMaB to fill out a questionnaire. Below you can see on the chart answers on feelings towards the price.
As you can see the answers are very diverse. A slight majority points, that it is a bit pricey. I hope that thanks to the numbers above it will be easier for you to understand why we settled on a price like that.
5 financial conclusions
1) Full sell out of the first edition is mainly a mean to cushion the burden of design costs.
2) What’s interesting what does not affect the costs dramatically was using alternative production methods (Riso!). If the printing technique has its consequences, it would be limited numbers within the edition and elongated production time.
3) Even though the price of the book seems large in comparison to its size, it can not be any cheaper due to production costs!
4) Due to a cost of a single copy, we can not allow ourselves for the outsourced distribution, and so we can not put the price within the 40% discount. In a situation like that the cost of the book would have ended up being around 100PLN.
5) The last conclusion: count your expenses thoroughly, really thoroughly and never set the presale price below production cost, cause then when you sell the whole edition in a presale…?
Natalia: In reality, our weak point was not money, but time, but that’s quite different. Of course, we established a work schedule, everything was nicely written down on the board. But then we had delays at the point of creating the text and design, and that affected the production deadlines. We really tried our darndest to catch up and publish the book as soon as possible, but then everything kept on taking longer and longer.
What else went wrong? Well… Putting the sheets into Riso the wrong way, colors going apart on a page, paper getting stuck, folding errors, loses during binding and gluing the books and other catastrophes not yet known to the human kind… ooff, it turns out that there are many opportunities for stuff to go wrong.
Making a book by yourself it’s good to remember that there are a couple of steps in production and on each of them something can go south. And let’s be realistic, it probably will. Especially when we print that book ourselves.
We took the finished pages to bind at the printer’s (we couldn’t have done that ourselves). We worked with that place before with Instytut by Gabriel Orłowski, so we did not expect any extra issues.
But! Although the previous artbook could have been hand-binded, with HtMaB – due to large numbers of copies – we had to work on machines, and that’s when the issues started.
After a couple of tries, it turned out that some of the pages with RISO paint would smudge all over the machines to the point that further work is a no-go. We have fallen into a pit of despair for a bit.
Michał: It was a regular November day. It was pouring cats and dogs, the sun would go down before it went up and it was overall no the best atmosphere going on. We moved all deadlines possible. We thought we could already see the light at the end of a tunnel, books were given out for binding… And then the lady from Łódźs printer called: Don’t ever bring this shit to us, it keeps on smudging!!! Come and get it!
We managed to negotiate that they will send it with a courier. They did, but no to our address but to Efekt printers office, from whom we got their contact. Oh yeah, and they sent us 11 instead of 13 parts of a book. After my hysterical reaction, they found part no. 12 and two days later they called Efekt that they accidentally found no. 13…
Natalia: For a while, we considered binding it ourselves but finally we decided that with that number of copies it’s too ambitious of a task. We had to look for another printer, that would agree to work with our book, and so we contacted Poligrafia Bracia Szymańscy, and their irreplaceable Mr. Antonii.
Michał: Szymańscy are not the cheapest but they are the best! It’s a small family printery (and bookbinding workshop) that specializes in impossible and unorthodox tasks. If you find a cool book in a bookstore published by, for example, ambitious art institution, check who made it. Half of it will be signed: Print and binding: Poligrafia Bracia Szymańscy!
Natalia: Szymańscy printery got through with our smudging issue (but not without some dillydallying) and soon we could move on to the last step of production, printing the covers.
Szymańscy glued around 300 covers from our fabric. Then we took the initiative, took it to our workshop, put the fluo pink on the screen and with impossible pace started printing our designs. Next day, again: packing, ride to Zalesie and unloading in the printery.
Great work with Mr. Antionii and the overload of work took some misery out of our heads, and when we saw our first put-together and covered edition – that was the moment when all of the struggles went forgotten. The only thing that was left was happiness and unhidden pride. But you will feel that when you put on the market (or even out to your friends) your first book. Or a zine.
What’s next? Second edition!
Michał: I’m really proud of how you liked the first edition of HtMaB. I’m not talking about the presale results but the replies that we got in questionnaires sent out to people that managed to get a copy:
We promised the second edition since December. And as it did not go that smoothly the last time… But I will not write about it now, it’s a story for another day. Anywho, the whole edition is already waiting for its time at Szymańscy printery, waiting for its turn to be released in the mid-Aprli 2018*.
In the second edition, we decided to go an extra mile with the cover. We changed the color of the fabric (orange, equally bright as the yellow from the first), flyleaf design (also flaming). But that’s not all!
According to the good ol’ publishing standards, we decided to introduce a soft cover variation from the second edition. At first it was supposed to be a simple, glued cover, but finally, we settled on glued/ bound ota-bind type.?
If you want to order your copy, you can do it now! We will send it your way as soon as we get the finished product from the bookbinding workshop!
* when the employee of the printery saw our Riso printed books, he cursed under his breath and I heard a quiet “and I told boss to never again take this x%Y&!!!””