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What Is a Printer?

        A commercial printer has equipment for hire.  Very little commercial printing is literary:  it may be anything from advertisements to instruction booklets to business forms to newspapers.  It is not the business of the printer to judge literary value, but simply to provide what the customer wants, though the printer may advise the customer on technical aspects of publication and may refuse to print material that is in violation of the law.  It is a straightforward business:  you get what you pay for, with no flattery and no tricky contracts regarding discounts, royalties and the rest.  All copies printed are yours.

        To work directly with a printer seems to be by far the most sensible choice for most poets and not a bad one for the rest.  Just check your yellow pages and go down and talk it over with your local printer.  Or you may prefer to work with a low-cost mail-order printer.

When you are paying a printer to do your book, the responsibility is squarely on you to design the book well and to make sure your manuscript is letter-perfect (though most printers try to catch obvious typos).  One thing to consider is how large a page you need and for this you need to know the number of characters per line and number of lines per page in the type size and page size you will use.  For example, iambic pentameter will fit comfortably on a 4" page width, but iambic hexameter, or anapestic pentameter, or longer lines require a wider page.  How many of your poems have lines longer than iambic pentameter?  If there are several, it would probably be worthwhile for you to use a 5" width or even larger page.  Otherwise you will have a lot of unsightly and expensive broken lines (expensive because they take up twice as much space on the page as unbroken lines).  But if your lines are shorter, or if most of your poems are short, and you want only one poem to a page (which many poets prefer), there is no reason for you to pay for all that white space on the larger page.  If your lines can generally fit on the smaller page, the book will be cheaper to print (and to mail), and you'll be taking it easier on our weary forests.  With the printer's help and instructions you will need to design the book, for instance, to decide whether to start poems on odd or even pages.  (Two-page poems should usually start on even pages so as to be open to the reader's eye at once.)  If there is an awkwardly broken stanza gobbling up a whole page with a few leftover lines, that is because you didn't do your job of designing carefully.  Someone has to make these decision and in my view the poet is the best one to do so.

        [In the discussion of characters-per-line above, Judson was probably assuming you would use a monotype font, which is what most typewriters have.  In today's world of computers, you are more likely to use a proportional font, which takes up less horizontal space.  Here are three examples from Walt Whitman's poetry the top example is in a proportional font, and the two lower examples are in monotype fonts.  As you can see, Times Roman 12 takes up less horizontal space than even Courier 10 takes up.  Thus, it is not necessary to count characters.  Rather, you should do a mock-up of your book before sending it to the printer, and simply look at each page to see if it fits.

 

Times Roman 12

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

 

Courier 12

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

 

Courier 10

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

        There is additional information on printing later in this booklet.]

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