Last April I worked on a rough draft of what I hoped would be a novel that became a novelette that then changed its mind and became a novella… or at least that’s where it is now. Dragon/Mage is just over 51,000 words and unfinished, so maybe it’ll grow up to be a real novel someday.
The main character is the dragon L’ra, named for my friend Laura. I’ve been writing stories for her for Christmas for the past few years and this novelette/novella was written to be this year’s present.
As Christmas 2019 approached, though, I was feeling like it wasn’t the gift I had in mind. I had gaps in the manuscript that I hadn’t written yet and no time left to write them. So I figured hey, I’ve always wanted to make a book, so why don’t I just bind the pages of this manuscript. It’ll be a unique present that I’ll be proud to give
No matter that I’ve never bound a book before.
Day one – two days before Christmas
I plunged into the project the way I always do: no prep, a lot of optimism, and a willingness to wing it as necessary.
I spent all that morning figuring out how to print the pages in folio form so the manuscript could be stitched and glued like a regular hardcover book. I wasted a bunch of paper, and I ended having to painfully print folios individually (pages 1-16 using 8 sheets of paper, pages 17 – 32 using 8 sheets of paper, etc). Then I stitched the folios on my sewing machine and I figured out how to make a press to hold the folios together so I could glue it. (Note to self: remember to replace the sewing machine needle — stitching paper has dulled it and it’ll mess up fabric)
The so-called press was a wood clamp and two vise-grip pliers that applied pressure on window shims (approximately 1″ wide x 12″ long thin strips of wood). (Note to self: research DIY book presses and make that my next project. Or pretty soon. At least before I make my next book, whenever that might be.)
By that evening I was gluing while talking with my mother on the phone. I don’t have a headset so most of what I was doing on the book was one handed. Sometimes I crooked my head to hold the phone between my chin and shoulder so I could use two hands… well, let’s just say that it’s not the best glue job I’ve ever seen. I have cleaned the mess off the table and various objects nearby that failed to duck when glue came out of the bottle in huge globs.
I hoped the glue I used would work. Elmer’s Craft Bond is recommended for book repair since it’s acid-free and flexes when dry. Seemed to me that would be good glue for making a book. I could have sworn I had some white Elmer’s glue but I couldn’t find it. I figured Elmer’s Wood Glue would have to do. Maybe not so flexible when dry — but heck, this isn’t meant to be a book to last the ages, right? It’s not even an ARC. At any rate, it was wood glue or no glue.
And it fought me the whole way. (Note to self: Buy some Elmer’s Craft Bond. Also more Elmer’s Wood Glue).
The glue dried in no time at all. When I removed it from the “book press” I started giggling. It actually looked something like a real book!
I decided to end the day’s work on that high note. Sure, the next day was Christmas eve, but that still gave me lots of time to put the cloth binding on and make the covers.
Day two – Christmas Eve
After putting the cloth binding on the back of the book — a fairly simple process (emphasis on ‘fairly’) — I moved on to the cover.
Did I mention I did no prep work before starting this project? First thing I had to do was disassemble a matted photo to steal the backing cardboard for the covers of my book. I could have used something thinner or thicker, but the matte cardboard was perfect. (Note to self: get more cardboard and repair the photo).
I very carefully cut the covers. I swear those were perfect right-angled corners when I measured, but somehow… never mind. Then I carefully measured and cut the fabric. I swear…
Then I used more globs of wood glue to glue the fabric to the covers. Um. Apparently the glue is to be used sparingly, but the cap had broken off the glue bottle and it would only come out in globs suitable for furniture building but not so good for book binding. I spread the glue as thinly as I could but it soaked the cardboard and warped it.
Time out to press the cardboard while the glue dried. And to calm down before the next step: gluing the folio to the back cover.
I will admit, there was a certain amount of cursing going on while all this was happening. The glue would not allow for repositioning, for one thing. I know for a fact that my inside paper covers were squared but then of course the cover itself wasn’t, so…
So I just let it go. If I was going to give this book to Laura for Christmas I couldn’t take till New Year’s to make it perfect. I got everything all glued together and then I stepped back and looked at the results.
It was a book. An ugly book, to be sure, but I had done it. The cover was wrinkled, the inside covers were wrinkled, as were the first and last few pages, due to the moisture in the glue. The instructions said that I could iron out the wrinkles but I wasn’t sure wood glue would take kindly to ironing. So I decided to just press the book overnight and see what it looked like in the morning (the title page photo shows still-damp pages that night).
Day three – Christmas
What it looked like in the morning was… almost done. The wrinkles weren’t too bad. But there wasn’t any way to tell the front from the back cover. I needed to put the title on it. I had this idea of using iron-on transfer of the lettering but I still wasn’t sure about the heat factor and that glue.
So I cheated and used a metallic ink Sharpie. That certainly gave it the home-made look to match the rest.
I gotta tell you, when I wasn’t cursing, I was giggling as I made this book. I knew the end project was kind of ugly, I knew the manuscript was not complete — but I didn’t care. The making was the joy for me. I can create a complete and polished looking book someday if I want to — but there will never be another first book that I ever made.
The Dragon/Mage bound book is no longer in my possession but it’ll always have a special place in my heart: a book that’s all mine, from the first word written in April to the last word written on the cover.
I can’t wait to do another!