Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

It's a Micro-press Thing.

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It's a Micro-press Thing.

McClelland & Stewart, tremble in your boots.

I run what is probably one of the smallest publishing houses in Canada. It's called Sixth Floor Press, after the place where my poetry group, The Long Dash, first met. You won't find any Sixth Floor Press titles at chain stores or that big electronic book retailer. In a big year, I issue two new titles. Yet in its tiny way, my press has contributed to Canadian culture; even better, every title has sold out and I've found a way to do this that is neither stressful nor expensive (many literary presses in Canada persist largely because their owners subsidize them with money as well as free labour).

I've published a few art exhibition catalogues, an ill-advised DVD (technical problems) and one “real” book: a 72 page, full-colour collection of poetry by my group in response to visual art by the studio members of the Women's Art Association of Canada. Resonance: Poetry and Art, has sold over 400 copies (a massive bestseller by my standards) and is still in print. But my mainstay is poetry chapbooks, of which I've done about half a dozen by now. The most recent publication is Notes to My Prostate, in which Nova Scotia writer and Acadia University professor John J. Guiney Yallop takes us through the emotional roller coaster of being diagnosed with prostate cancer, undergoing surgery, and recovering. Shameless plug: it's available for $9.95 from The Box Of Delights Bookshop, 466 Main Street, Wolfville, NS B4P 1E2, Website:

A chapbook is traditionally smaller in both page count and dimensions than a full book (which according to UNESCO has 48 or more pages). I don't apply for publication grants, accept unsolicited manuscripts or run literary contests, which keeps my workload down. And I’ve found a formula for doing poetry chapbooks which is relatively low-cost and not too labour-intensive, yet produces some good-looking little publications that mean a lot to their creators and readers. You can do the same thing. Here’s how.

You start with either a standard 8.5 X 11” page or a legal 8.5 X 14” one. Now picture it folded in half so you have pages of either 8.5“ tall X 5.5” wide, or a nearly square 8.5X 7”. Set up the page definition in a word processing program to be two vertical columns on a landscape-format page representing the full size of the paper. This is easier, of course, if you work with a desktop publishing program like Microsoft Publisher (in fact, you can download an easily-customized, preformatted chapbook Publisher layout which John Chalmers has kindly donated at

It'll help to visualize where things go if you make a rough dummy and sketch in pencil what will go on each page – just fold paper in half and staple it. Because of the way the sheets are folded, the outside page of your dummy will have p.1 right of the fold and p. 40 to the left. The other side of this sheet will have p. 2 on the left, page 39 on the right. Look at a printed chapbook if you have trouble visualizing this.

Input a title page, put publishing information on the flip side (you can get ISBN’s issued by registering as a publisher – for free – with the National Library of Canada at http://www.collectionscanada.g...). Leave the next page for your table of contents. Now put the poems or short stories in. You can cut and paste from a word processor into a publishing program, but you may get some funny formatting codes carried along – it's best to save the manuscript as a .txt file and then import from that.
Use no more than two fonts: an “emphasis” one for the titles, and a good legible body font for the text. Because you will be printing double-sided on sheets which will be folded to make four chapbook pages, you may end up with a few blank pages at the end when all the contents have been input. Put a bio of the author on the last page.

Now create your cover design in a separate file (this avoids problems with page numbers popping up on your cover, and anyway the cover will be printed separately). The very cheapest is to have a black and white cover, but a colour one has more impact and makes the book look more professional. Use an appropriate colour photo for the cover, or get an artist to design something. The cover is just one side of a landscape-format page – you won't be printing anything on the reverse.

When you have everything formatted the way you want, get a couple of people to proofread it against the original. Now print out master copies of the internal pages in black, and a colour final of the cover. Take these and get quotes from a couple of printers or copy shops. You want black and white “guts” pages printed both sides, folded and trimmed, then a colour cover on cover stock (semi-gloss paper makes the colours look good without bruising or scratching too easily in handling). It can be saddle-stitched with a couple of staples, or if you're really feeling crafty, you can sew the pages with tough thread and a good-sized needle. You should be able to print copies for $3 to $4 apiece.

Now you need to sell them. The best way to do this is at readings by the author. Most bookstores won't take chapbooks(except on consignment) unless they know you or the writer. But there's no reason to print big runs and end up storing boxes of unsold books – do a first run of 50 or so. That's how you sell out, and it's easy to reprint if there's a market for more. Assuming there were no typos in the first edition, you can re-use the same masters.

Have fun, and welcome to the low-stakes world of mini-micro publishing. The next time someone attractive asks if you can help get her/his work published, you can cough modestly and say “Well, actually, I am a publisher.”


Wow, this is some great information. I do feel, however, that this is information that you cold make quite a bit of money off of. I hope to read more of your expertise and information in the future. online casino

Thanks, Pete, for your appreciation. My payment will be when tiny presses spring up all over the continent, issuing offbeat titles despite governments' best efforts to squash them.
John Oughton

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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John Oughton

John Oughton is the author of several books, including Time Slip: New and Selected Poems, published by Guernica Editions.

Go to John Oughton’s Author Page