Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Story-papers : a working definition

A thin, unbound periodical that issues extended prose and poetic works serially and economically.

Let's take apart this concise definition to see what it all means.

Firstly, note the word 'unbound' : almost all newspapers are unbound, while all books and virtually all magazines are bound ; in fact a book must be bound to meet the most commonly agreed definition of being a book.

So unboundness ties into the implied meaning of the word paper (really short for newspaper, rather than also implying a book, magazine or leaflet which are also made out of paper.)

Note the odd pairing of specifying that a story-paper must be 'thin' (many newspapers are quite thick and few aspire to actually remaining thin forever) and yet  also that its only objective is to issue 'extended works'.

A newspaper consisting of folded but unbound pages gets ungainly if it is too thick - most big newspapers are actually broken down into a half dozen sections each the size of an average (thin) small town daily.

So choosing to use a newspaper unbound/folded format rather than staple-bound like magazine format or the perfect bound book format implies a deliberate decision to make each issued portion of the extended work rather small and thus to issue it in stages, ie 'serially'.

This is because breaking a work , that would be very expensive if sold in one volume,  into many small portions is a great way to attract more readers because the price is so small initially and they can try it out before they buy the whole thing.

Hence the word 'economically' stuck in at the end of the definition.

The original story-paper publisher's objective was partly to make more money by this method  but also partly to further the democratization of literature and knowledge.

(Best known for their fiction/entertainment , story-papers also issued much of what we'd call non-fiction/knowledge ---- about the only thing these newspaper-looking objects didn't contain was news !)

All this because newspapers were and are the cheapest form of literature to produce physically.

No expensive binding material or labour costs, no cover at all ( their outer pages are their cover (a so called self cover or self mailer).

And no useless pages at front and back devoted to 'stuff'  that many readers rightly suspect are more meant to pad up a thin book to offer a thick enough spine to be visible , spine out, on a bookseller's shelves, than to aid the reader.

Today's newspaper crams all its publishing details into a tiny box somewhere and starts the main story right at the very top left of the front page in a big bold headline.

And despite the fact that a newspaper's (non) binding is by far the cheapest, it is actually very resilient and will last longer than any hardcover books when repeatedly dropped --- it only loses out in the ease in which a page spread can be removed.

One more thing : a multi-volume biography issued one volume a year on the same month each year for five years, is not a periodical.

Not in the librarian's sense of the word.

That is because the author and publisher intend to see it to have a finite end.

By contrast, a  tiny volunteer-run literary journal may issue its volumes very very irregularly, hardly periodically at all in fact , but because the publishing intent is to go on issuing volumes forever, it is considered a 'periodical'.

As is the story-paper - its publisher sees no end to the issues it intends to release.

21st century story-papers

Personally, I have added a few features to my own 21st century story-papers.

A nineteenth century story-paper was about 14 x 21 inches a page - roughly the size of today's tabloid newspaper.

It only averaged 8 pages in size, But its many narrow columns allowed the type size to be very small yet remain readable and it could easily handle the complete text of a good sized novel.

But it deliberately choose to publish parts of six to eight novels at a time, doling out chunks in each weekly edition, leaving the hero or heroine dangling above some mortal crisis at each weekly climax.

Few readers could resist wanting to buy next week's issue for five cents.

My story-papers will be 8 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches in size, one sixth as big, with my type much bigger (and in one column). So in spite of having 36 pages to their eight, I will only have portions of one extended work in each issue.

Now my size is not a newspaper format, not even in Europe, where some big circulation dailies are issued in roughly 8 x 11 sized formats. (Ie folded from a 11 x 17 printed sheet.)

But most work and consumer computer printers are designed to handle paper roughly 8 x 11 unfolded, which when folded makes up my story-paper's size.

Increasingly , many of those printers print most sides of the paper in one go - removing the need for occasional printer users to remember how to correct orient the second side to print right.

My story-papers will be downloadable PDFs, so the printer will print the work as I intended it to look, without any fussing by the end user/reader.

Most PDFs print out as one vertically oriented page per sheet of paper, from page one to the end.

A newspaper pages are printed sides , two to each side of the sheet and with the last page coming out seemingly as the first , until it is folded and it comes out magically right-reading.

Imposition makes that magic happen and very inexpensive imposing software - I use Cheap Imposter - does it all automatically.

Cheap Imposter not only instantly rearranges an ordinary PDF into any number of printable 'signatures" , it even corrects automatically for "creep" ,  a known minor problem of fold-bound publications.

My reader has only to download and press print on a nearby double-side-printable  computer printer (aka duplex-enabled printer) and presto an instant chapbook-sized (about 36 printed pages) 'book'.

I know that many organizations, from the religious to the poetry minded, already offer free downloadable chapbooks or pamphlets but all I have seen, so far, insist on you stapling them with a special long neck stapler and possibly also printing a separate cover on heavier paper.

I happen to think that all this is overkill that stops most potential readers from making the mini books - I hope my story-paper approach avoids these needless difficulties.

One more thing - the hardest one actually - I wanted economical, trouble free colored illustrations throughout.

Full coverage illustrations like a painting or a photo, use lots of ink - that is expensive, causes smears and paper jams and bleeds through to the other side of the typical thin copy paper.

In addition, typical cheap copy paper ,being soft and open surfaced, renders artwork soft and fuzzy.

So I designed my illustrations so they will all be very simple and all in one plane (think Matisse  - ie composed to spread the objects horizontally) to better suit the resolution limitations of soft cheap paper.

They will be simple thick contour line drawings with a very thin color wash underpainting and blackish pencil or charcoal crayon loosely detailing the shapes over that transparent wash.

I will then pump the contrast, exposure and sharpness in the computer to make picture that will subtly glow with grain and color yet are easily readable even when rendered in a small size on poor thin soft paper.

In addition they will not cost the reader printing them out any high ink costs or trouble with smears and paper jams.

Now my own story-papers are each quite short because of their generous amount of space devoted to their illustrations and large print font.

So they are basically short story like in length and totally free, ie released to the Public Domain.

But this idea could be taken up by other authors and publishers as a way to sell non-illustrated novella length complete works (about 20,000 to 30,000 words) in one go ---cheaply and yet profitably - at a reasonable price of 99 cents to the publisher and  about 99 cents for ink and paper .

We'll see how my idea takes off...

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