I would lie if I said I wasn’t a little giddy when I opened a box of new books to find them padded with the crumpled signature pages of other books.
So, what exactly is a signature page and just how big is one?
The answer depends. A signature page consists of blocks of text (what we know as pages in a finished book) arranged on a giant sheet of paper. If you look closely, you can see just how messed up the pages can be. The arrangement is upside down, backwards, and not at all in order like you think it might be. This is to accommodate the folding that will later take place.
To see these pages in action, look at the top or bottom end of a book. In traditional publishing, those little bundles of pages are made up of ONE piece of paper which are folded like an origami swan and cut to fit between the covers of a book. These pages are then nestled into each other and are put into a book as a single unit. This is why if your binding breaks, you often lose an entire chunk of pages.
It’s also why we sometimes get books that are still stuck together or even out of order. Sometimes things just get a little wonky when you’re working with something as large as a signature page.
The largest signature page that I’m aware of is made up of 32 blocks of text and/or illustration–16 to a side. This is the most economical way of printing, making many traditionally published books divisible by 32. That said, depending on the capabilities of individual printers, signature sheets can consist of two, four, eight, or 16 pages.
Of course, there are print on demand books and e-books, but that’s a whole ‘nother post!
embrace your inner book nerd~ jody