My Own Personal Grey

Chapbookery (Using Cheap Impostor)

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I decided to create a small chapbook of a short Greywalker story that I did back in 2007, so I’d have something to take to Bellingham Comic Con. So, I’m relearning how to impose and mock up a small booklet. I have a journalism degree, but I haven’t had to use this knowledge in 25 years, so I’m a bit rusty and had to start over from scratch. After a bit of looking around on the internet for a cheap alternative to professional software, I found several options and, in this case I’m using Cheap Impostor and a cranky HP printer at home.

The chapbook mock-up (on the right), with a sample imposition page with notes for various pdf and printer adjustments. (The dragon is just being a paperweight.)

This is a bit of a best-guess-rough-and-ready sort of process here, but after a lot of investigation and ruined paper, it did work, and produced a useable PDF (or in my case several variations) that can be sent to a print shop to create a 2-up print-and-bind imposition for the interior of a small book. The software can produce multiple signatures (it’s explained in the pdf manual that comes with the download) if one is a little mental and desperate to create a whole novel-length book, but it takes a bit of mucking about to figure all this out. On the other hand, it’s $35, instead of several thousand for a pro set up.

The annoying thing about this specific process is that you have to create a pdf of your text with the formatting already in place (I used Libre Office, but with a longer piece I’d be using a compiled files from Scrivener that had been tweaked in LO-pretending-to-be-Word). A big professional set up just flows the raw text into the print format, allowing you to tweak things like font size, leading, kerning, and so on as you set up the print file. This software is not that flexible. Once you’ve got a pdf that’s basically what you want, you feed it to Cheap Impostor and the software then reduces your original pdf pages to fit in a 2-up imposition of 2 pp per side, double-sided, in a landscape orientation (basically a standard letter-sized paper, folded in half to create 4 page positions). The default is standard signatures of 32 pages, but it happily creates sub-standard sigs of any multiple of 4. In this case a “half sig” of 16 pages, which is 4 sheets of standard US letter paper.

But because the software is, essentially just reducing photos of the pages and moving them around, the print gets tiny and big white spaces develop at the top and bottom of the page while side margins and gutters get a bit thin. The answer, I discovered, was to reset my paper size from US letter to A4, which, once reduced, is closer in proportion to a half-sheet of folded US letter paper than an unfolded sheet of US letter is and produces a more pleasing proportion and margins–though I did still have to tinker a bit with the margins a bit.

First page, interior of chapbook mock up with full, printed imposition.

The other thing I had to figure out was the font size. The standard 12pt Times becomes an unreadable 9 point nightmare at the standard 69% reduction required. So I had to go back into my .docx file and tinker with the font sizes, effects, headers, footers, white-space blocks, and so on, reflow, check in the print preview and then adjust again until I got it right (or acceptably close.) In my case I ended up with 18 pt Baskerville–it is a little thinner and taller than Times and “shoots down” a little less bulky, but Times would have worked all right.

Because my HP OfficeJet 7500A wide format printer doesn’t do automatic double-sided printing, I had to set Cheap Impostor’s output preferences to “manual duplex,” and (because the HP collates back to front) set the duplex printing order to “reverse odd pages.” I also had to reprint a few times to figure out exactly how to flip the paper when I reloaded it for its second run through the printer. Needless to say, I wasted a lot of paper figuring it out, but in the end, I got several pdf print files which will work for whatever type of print set up I run into.

Mock up interior showing final page (and copyright information) of the full, printed imposition.

Now I just need to do something about that lack of proper cover, but I do have one interior page and up to three cover positions (besides the front exterior, where the art or title or something will go) on which to put additional information about the book series, my website, bio, social media contacts and so on.

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