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I'm writing a detective story set halfway between San Francisco and the internet. And the more people who reserve a copy, the better each one will be!
Created by

Robin Sloan

570 backers pledged $13,942 to help bring this project to life.

His dark materials

So this afternoon, I walked over to a lauded local printer here in SF—the one that everybody says is the absolute best—and I was all set to do a little Mr. Rogers-style tour of the facility. But I hit a roadblock right away.

I was sitting with Marco, the Guy Who Helps You Figure Things Out, and sketching the basics of the project. Such-and-such size, this many copies, etc. And the first thing Marco Helped Me Figure Out was that it was going to be way too expensive to do it with this printer.

I'm only just starting to wrap my head around the economies of scale involved in printing. I still don't fully understand when they kick in and when they don't.

For instance, in this case, it's a printer that's known for extreme flexibility. That's the appeal: You can get your stuff printed on the craziest paper, with the wackiest ink, all in some weird oblong format nobody's ever seen before. And I have to admit, I went in imagining a book bound in rubber recycled from moped tires. Something just utterly unique and awesome.

But flexibility means every job is different. Flexibility means they have to set up and tear down the workflow for every book (or brochure, or stack of business cards) instead of just adding it to a more-or-less homogenous hopper the way they do at, say, Lulu.

Flexibility means you sacrifice those economies of scale.

Also, there was something about sheet-fed vs. web-fed presses, which I had to Google later.

I realize this is pretty basic stuff, but you have to be patient with us bloggers—we live sheltered lives, well-insulated from the exigencies of the physical world. I'm learning fast.

Anyway, a few more things worth mentioning:
Marco says hi. I explained the process behind the project—I pitched this idea, I've got this posse of backers, etc.—and, let me tell you: This is not the backstory they hear at the local printer most days. He was actually really excited about it, and correspondingly disappointed that his shop was so far out of my price range. As I was leaving, Marco said: "Listen, let me know if I can do anything to help! Or, if you need any advice. Or, just let me know how it goes. Good luck, man." Cool, right?
I've been to the paper library. Imagine blonde wood shelves lining three walls of a small-ish room, all bursting with binders, booklets and folders, all full of... blank paper. Vaguely Borgesian, right? Thick paper, thin paper, rough paper, smooth paper. White paper, eggshell paper. Paper made out of recycled beer labels. Paper you could sew into a shirt and wear pretty happily around the house. Frankly, way too much paper to meaningfully evaluate.
Don't forget elbow grease. Walking back to the office, I mused on materials and cost allocation. I thought about—for instance—using Lulu for basic production, but then compensating for the relative boring-ness of Lulu's format with some creative post-production steps. You could add extra materials and graphic elements in a little home-made assembly line—binding, stamping, painting. Gotta remember that I have total control over this entire process and product—it doesn't begin and end at the printer.

Still kinda want a book bound in rubber recycled from moped tires, though. More news TK as I chat with more local printers.
Next update: Oh just you wait.

Comments

    1. Creator Marsha LaTessa on September 27, 2009

      Maybe one of the handbag designers using recycled tires could give you some ideas. passchal.com, kastd.com, lucuma.com, englishretreads.com.

    2. Creator Kimberly Cain on September 12, 2009

      Hi Robin! I'm just getting ready to post my project on KickStarter. I'm also finished with my novel & a year into the research for printing it. I already have a GREAT printer - they specialize in book printing, which is cool because it's different from printing all the other stuff. They're called Friesen's. Call the gal who's been my rep - Tiffany - & she can walk you through the process. You'll be surprised at what you can get - quality, quantity, etc. They'll send you samples, blah, blah, blah. Excited for you! 204.324.6401 http://www.friesens.com/Bookplant/

    3. Creator Peter on September 12, 2009

      Tubes come in different circumferences, so some of them you could get a pretty wide series of strips out of...

    4. Creator Robin Sloan on September 12, 2009

      Not 100% sure I want rubber. But it's a weird/interesting idea. It's certainly very San Francisco. I wonder how you'd practically use the inner tubes... like, you'd have to make a patchwork of pieces, right? Or maybe it's just a strip that gets used -- on the spine, perhaps.

    5. Creator Peter on September 11, 2009

      So you need recycled materials and you want rubber? I seriously think bike inner tubes is a great resource. Call some bike shops and ask if you can have their throw aways from changes. Call the Bike Kitchen. Not sure how you could rope in some SFBC people, but it should be possible. Reusing your bike tubes for bike related maintenance is already kind of a thing in the DIY bike community...

    6. Creator Robin Sloan on September 11, 2009

      @Saheli: That's actually a good, and serious, point. The book will be vegetarian. It will also, to the degree possible, be made from recycled materials. (I'll be writing about those choices as I make them.)

    7. Creator Saheli on September 11, 2009

      Wait a minute, is it too late to ask that I not receive four copies of a book made with chicken legs or anything like that? Vegetarian book, please?

    8. Creator Robin Sloan on September 11, 2009

      @Jason: That's a good benchmark, and a good idea (getting the books from the printer in a sort of unfinished state). Thanks for both.

      @Mike: You just ruined the surprise.

      @Saheli: Bookhunter is one of my favorite comics <i>ever</i>. Talk about utterly unique. I don't need to get it printed locally, no, but it seems like a good move if possible, for reasons both karmic and logistical.

    9. Creator Ray Aguilera on September 11, 2009

      Moped tires FTW!

    10. Creator Saheli on September 11, 2009

      Have you been to the Center for the Book Arts? I feel like I've seen handbound books that are not rustic at all, but very non-traditional.
      Do you need to get it printed locally?
      Have you read The Bookhunter by Jason Shiga?

    11. Creator Mike Shen on September 11, 2009

      Back when my wife was into bookbinding, I went with her to a bookbinding supply store in New York. There was an enterprising salesman there trying to persuade the storeowner to buy chicken feet as a novelty bookbinding material. I kid you not.

    12. Creator Jason Black on September 11, 2009

      In my other life as a small indie publisher, we did a print run of 500 books for something like $3.50 apiece. Granted, that was by going as absolutely stock-standard as we could: trade paperback size, perfect-bound paperback. We did do a glossy color cover, which looks awesome. This was from a printer somewhere in the Seattle area--local for me, anyway. Let me know if you want me to track down their details or anything (one of my business partners handled the logistics there).

      With your pagecount (which will be low), you ought to be able to trade page-count-driven cost for other snazziness somehow. Maybe you can find a cheap printer who will be willing to print and bind the books with a _blank_ cover, and sell them to you _untrimmed_. That'll definitely save cost. Then you can take those to the we'll-do-anything shop, have them fuse thin neoprene sheeting to the front--Maybe die-cut it with a title or something first. That'd be cool--then trim to final size.

    13. Creator Brendan Curry on September 11, 2009

      The paper library sounds amazing. Thames and Hudson did a book with a rubber cover a few years back: http://www.thamesandhudson.com/books/Rubber/9780500284902.mxs/23/0/ As I recall, the rubber cover was glued to a traditional paperback cover.

    14. Creator Cara Powers on September 11, 2009

      I definitely agree that hand binding won't give you the right aesthetic for this project. Instead of rubber, could you use practically indestructible water-proof paper. I know it exists: zazzle.com offers to print business cards on it.

    15. Creator Mark C-F on September 11, 2009

      Sounds like you're having fun with every step of writing this book. Both happy-fun and sad-fun. As others have commented, if you want something unique, but also want the economies of scale, might need to look outside of local printers...

    16. Creator Robin Sloan on September 11, 2009

      @Peter, @Valerie: I love the way you guys think. I need to get exactly that creative.

      @Aaron: It wasn't any particular material or step -- it was the fact that they weren't optimized for any of it. At Lulu, it's cheap not <i>only</i> because you're printing many copies of the same book, but because Lulu is printing many books of the same basic dimensions, materials, etc.

      I have some hand-bound books, and I have to say, I don't think hand-binding provides the right feel for this story, considering the style and the setting. It tends to be so... rustic. That said, I'm thinking hard about some extra steps that could be done by hand...

    17. Creator Aaron Mcleran on September 11, 2009

      You know what? Do it yourself! I'll come over and help...
      You probably already read this, but the wiki article on book binding has all sorts of cool links to do-it-yourself tutorials... and companies that do it:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bookbinding

    18. Creator Aaron Mcleran on September 11, 2009

      I admit I don't really understand what was so expensive... I'm curious as to the details of your book design. Maybe give us a number as to how much it would cost? I say you bypass the locals!

      And check out these guys:

      http://www.feltonbookbinding.com/gallery.aspx
      or
      http://www.oldleather.com/home.html

      Just think -- the book could look like a 500 year old artifact!

    19. Creator Valerie on September 11, 2009

      We should go on a quest for rubber. Bring out the pitch forks and we will scour the neighborhoods!

    20. Creator Peter on September 11, 2009

      You could totally get rubber donated by SFBC folks...

    21. Creator Anna Marie on September 11, 2009

      This was a great post. Thanks.