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Between an individual poem published in a magazine or journal and a full-sized collection of poetry lies an interesting middle step known as the chapbook. A chapbook is traditionally a small collection of poems, sometimes built around a unifying theme, that a poet might hand out after a reading or sell as a self-published work. They are rarely reviewed, and are usually produced in small press runs. Many printing companies are eager to help the beginning writer create these chapbooks, because they are easily designed and relatively inexpensive to produce. But the average printshop has certain minimal ordering requirements that may still put the cost of a chapbook out of range for a struggling writer. Here are some ideas on how to produce your own chapbook at home, with the possible aid and assistance of your local copy shop or office supply store.

1. Computer programs designed for desktop publishing should have the templates you need for a traditional chapbook arrangement. If you are not familiar or comfortable with these programs, find a friend who is. This will save you time and aggravation in the long run. What you want to do is create a four-sided page, with the paper orientation on the horizontal, not the vertical. Two poems, or one long poem broken into two pages, should fit side by side on the page, with at least a 1/2 inch 'gutter' (page design talk for the space in the middle) on both sides of the center fold. Have your poems prepared as separate files on disk, and then flow your text into the available space. You may have to resize your text size and change your fonts, but you should be able to fit an average 32 line poem into one page. If you cannot fit the entire text into one page, then you must think like a book publisher. Only the page that will eventually be in the center of the book will allow you to continue the poem directly across from its beginning. Everything else will have to be put on the back or front of another page. If you're using a good desktop publishing program, it's just a question of formatting the correct page with the correct text. If you are doing this manually, then be aware that you will have to plan out your pages to include some two-page poems. Some writers without benefit of computers will make a mockup of the book, and physically glue the poems into the book to account for extra pages.

Once you have the poems formatted correctly, then you need to decide what kind of paper you'd like for the poems, and what variety of cardstock you'd prefer for the cover. On a limited budget, go for the cheapest 20lb paper you can afford, in bulk if possible. For your purposes, paper is paper and there is no measurable difference in quality when it comes to the standard white office variety. If you can afford it, the 24lb paper does offer some advantages over the 20lb standard, primarily in terms of 'feel' and overall printing quality. The ultimate in papers are the parchment and resume-quality styles, but they are very expensive and not generally available in bulk.

The cardstock you choose for the cover should generally be in the 65 to 110lb weight category. You want something with a little heft to it, to keep the finished chapbook from becoming bent from rough handling. The heavier cardstocks also allow for more intensive printing techniques, which you might need to use if you intend to have artwork or photography on your cover.

Find whatever printing/copying method works best for you and print out as many copies of the formatted poems and covers as you can. Once you have a complete set of all the pages for a chapbook, create a sample book by which future books will be measured. Fold all the pages in their intended directions (you'd be surprised how easy it is to miss this step) and set that sample book aside for easy reference. Some copy shops or office supply stores with a print shop area will fold and trim your pages for a nominal fee, but if you are on a budget you will have to do this yourself. Folding pages by hand is tedious, so recruit some friends and have a folding party. Once the pages are folded, then assemble them in their final order. Again, it pays to have friends.

Now you should have sets of folded chapbooks sitting everywhere you look. What you need to do next is called saddle-stapling in the publishing business. Professional printers have electric saddle staplers that work fast and efficiently, so you might want to take your unstapled chapbooks to a willing copy shop for this step. If you choose to do it yourself, find a deep-throated stapler and adjust the depth to exactly 5.5 inches. A average office stapler won't do it- you can find adjustable staplers at a good office supply store. Open each book to the center page and slide it into the throat of the stapler until the guide stops it. Aim for approximately 1.5 inches from either end and staple. Two staples should be plenty. Once you have all the books stapled, you have only one step left.

You should notice that the pages have started to 'telescope' out as more pages are added. For a more professional appearance, the pages should be trimmed with a paper cutter. Find the spot on the paper that would require the least bit of trimming to even out the pages, and lock down your cutter guide. Trim each book consistently. You shouldn't have to remove much material at all, just the bare minimum. Check to make sure you haven't cut too far into your text. Once the books are trimmed, you are now the proud publisher of a chapbook. Congratulations!

Share these books with family and friends, or have them available at your first reading. They make wonderful gifts, and once you've made one, the process becomes much easier.